Acts of violence between individuals must be discouraged in order to protect US citizens from those who would do them harm. Legal statutes governing assault, battery, and aggravated assault are designed to do just that. However, there is some confusion between these three charges and what each means. Below, we’ll discuss the specifics and help you understand the differences.
What Is Assault?
Classically, assault is the intent to do harm to another person. It does not require physical contact or even the presence of a weapon. Simply telling someone, “I’m going to beat you”, or, “I’m going to kill you”, is considered assault. The verbal threat is enough to warrant arrest. However, assault also covers attacks that do not necessarily make physical contact with the victim. For instance, throwing a rock at someone and missing might not cause them physical injury, but it can still be considered assault. Similarly, carrying a pocketknife on your person is not a crime, but threatening someone with it is a crime. Again, assault charges can be filed even if there was no physical contact involved. A simple verbal threat is enough. It’s about intent, not necessarily the act.
However, understand that words alone cannot be construed as an assault. You could jokingly tell a friend that you are going to hurt them and, while that might be in bad taste, it is not a crime. In order for a charge of assault to “stick”, there must also be the intent to cause harm. The prosecution must be able to prove that you had the intention of carrying out your threat. This is done to prevent people from being arrested for saying things in the heat of the moment when a threat might be uttered that the individual has no intention of actually completing.
What Is Battery?
Battery is the culmination of the assault. If you have been charged with assault and battery, it means that you had the intent to harm someone and then took action to make it happen. Throwing a rock at someone and hitting them, causing injury, is considered battery. Threatening someone with a knife and then cutting or stabbing them is battery (potentially aggravated assault depending on the length of the knife blade, actually). Even simply getting into a fistfight with someone else could leave you facing assault and battery charges.
Why Is Assault and Battery Combined So Often?
Classically speaking, assault and battery are separate charges. However, many states have begun to lump them together into the same crime. In these states, crimes of physical violence where there is harm caused to another person as being “assaults”. Of course, many states still maintain the classical definitions, and “assault and battery” are two crimes, rather than one – it is the intent to cause harm and then the physical act of causing harm.
What Is Simple Assault?
Not all states make a distinction between simple assault and aggravated assault. However, in those that do, simple assault is the intent to cause harm without the use of a deadly weapon. For instance, threatening to punch someone in the face would be considered simple assault. It’s about the gravity of the threat and the likelihood of deadly harm. You are less likely to kill someone with your fist than you are with a gun, for instance.
What Is Aggravated Assault?
Aggravated assault is also called assault with a deadly weapon. In this instance, the individual had the intent to cause harm and was in possession of a weapon that could cause death. This includes the more obvious things, such as guns and knives of a certain length, but also includes other implements. It varies significantly from state to state and even municipality to municipality. In some areas, something as simple as a baseball bat may be considered a deadly weapon if it was used with “deadly force” and the intent to cause serious harm. Once more, it comes back to the intent behind the use of the item.
Degrees of Assault
Some states or municipalities do not recognize “aggravated” assault. Instead, they classify the assault type by the degree of threat or harm. For instance, assault in the first degree is the most serious type of assault, while assault in the second degree and assault in the third degree are less serious violations.
In these situations, there does not need to be a weapon present to charge the attacker with a serious crime. For example, someone attacking a woman with the intent to rape her would be guilty of assault in the first degree in these states and would be charged with aggravated assault in other areas even if there was no “deadly weapon” present.
Some states have extended the aggravated assault/assault in the first-degree definition to include actions or abuse against elderly or mentally ill patients by a caregiver. For example, a nursing home employee fondling an elderly patient could be charged with aggravated assault or assault in the first degree. Another example of mitigating language is “deadly force” instead of “deadly weapon”.
What Should You Do If You Are Facing Assault and Battery Charges?
If you have been charged with assault, assault and battery, or aggravated assault, your first step should be to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. These are serious charges and carry with them the potential for heavy fines and jail time. If you are facing felony assault charges, then you may face time in prison, instead of jail. A criminal defense attorney will listen to your side of the story, gather evidence, interview witness, and then fight for your rights in court in order to achieve the best possible outcome for you.