According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, the number of aggravated assault cases in the US in 2011 was estimated to have been 751, 131. While this figure may seem large, it was an improvement from the previous year by 3.9%.
However, not everyone accused of assault and battery is guilty. According to figures released by the organization Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) in their report on Arrest Policies for Domestic Violence, more than 700,000 people are wrongfully arrested under the charge of domestic violence. Their 2010 report ‘The Use and Abuse of Domestic Restraining Orders’ also showed that 70% of restraining orders are either false or trivial.
If you’ve been wrongfully accused of assault and battery, it’s important to learn more about these charges and what your legal rights are.
Different states have differing definitions for assault and battery. However, for these charges to stand in most states, they must have been committed by one person who:
- Has tried or has physically attacked another person
- Has threatened or acted in a threatening matter towards another person.
In many states, more serious cases of assault and battery are termed as aggravated assault. For most states, these charges can be brought against a person who has:
- Caused or tried to cause serious injuries to another person
- Caused injury to another person using a deadly weapon.
Although the terms assault and battery are often used together in the listing of charges, they are two distinct terms with different definitions.
Although definitions vary from one state to another, assault is generally understood as an attempt to injure another person. This may include threats or behavior that can be considered threatening. It can be defined as the attempt to intentionally use force or violence to harm or injure another person.
Physical contact is not always involved in these offenses. However, it should be proven that the acts or attempts to use violence or cause harm would be enough to put a person in fear of their own safety.
Only evidence of general intent is required to be charged with assault. This means that the offender must be shown to have intended to cause harm to the victim. In some cases, people who act in ways that are considered dangerous may be charged with this offense even if they didn’t intend to harm anyone.
Different states have varying definitions of battery. However, in general, it is defined as intentional physical contact with another person that may be considered offensive or harmful. In order for an offense to be considered battery, it must fulfill the following requirements:
- There must have been intentional touching (physical contact)
- The touching (physical contact) must be proven to have been offensive or harmful to the recipient
- There was no consent from the recipient
Unlike assault, intent to harm is not always required to bring a charge of battery against a person. However, this intent is often present in many cases of battery. It is enough to show that the offender had the intent to contact the other individual. However, incidents in which people act in negligent or reckless ways that result in contact are considered assault and not battery e.g. if someone accidently bumps into someone else, no matter how offensive the contact may have seemed to the ‘victim.’
In order for contact to be considered a criminal act, it depends on whether it can be viewed as harmful or offensive. Battery therefore encompasses physical acts of varying severity ranging from those that cause serious physical injury to those that involve minimal contact. Victims don’t always have to be injured e.g. in incidents of spitting on someone. The act may not injure the victim but is considered offensive and as such, the contact is sufficient for a battery charge.
Historically, assault and battery charges were considered as separate crimes. However, many definitions show that battery is usually the result of a completed assault. Many state laws therefore do not distinguish between the two. Many states simply refer to any crime involving physical violence as an assault.
Many states treat different assault cases depending on the severity of the offenses. Cases are usually classified as either simple or aggravated assault depending on the gravity of the harm that results from the assault as well as the likelihood of the offender to follow through with threats to the victim.
For a crime to be considered aggravated assault, the incident should have included a weapon or the intent to commit a serious crime, such as murder or rape. Some crimes are classified as aggravated assault based on the existence of a relationship that is considered by the legal system as requiring special protection e.g. a nurse fondling a patient.
Some states go further to classify assault cases based on their severity e.g. first degree, which includes the most serious cases, second degree and third degree for less serious cases of assault.
Sentencing and Penalties for Assault and Battery
If you are convicted for assault and battery, the sentence and penalties associated with the offense will vary depending on your state. Punishments for convicted felons vary from fines to imprisonment. The type of punishment or penalty will also depend on the severity of the offense and the criminal history of the offender. Courts are usually more lenient on first time offenders.
Penalties for aggravated assault are usually significantly much higher than those of simple assault. Aggravated assault in many states is considered a felony.
The level of punishment also varies depending on the class and status of the offender in society. For example, the punishment for offenders who are public servants, such as teachers, fire fighters and paramedics would be more severe than for other people. Penalties are also harsher for assaults committed under domestic abuse or to other members of the family.
What to do when you’ve been falsely accused
If you’ve been falsely accused of assault and battery, you’re not alone. As mentioned earlier, more than 700,000 people are arrested each year under false accusation for domestic abuse alone. Many more are falsely arrested for assault and battery.
People can be accused falsely for assault and battery for any number of reasons. Some of the most common reasons include:
a) The assault resulted from self defense
b) A case of mistaken identity
c) The person acted in defense of another person
d) The alleged victim gave consent
If you’ve been accused of assault and battery, you should fight to prove your innocence. Take the following steps to defend yourself:
1. Avoid speaking to the police
Even if you are accused of assault and battery, you are not obliged to speak to law enforcement agents or even write a statement. Many people say things or make statements that can be misinterpreted later resulting in a conviction. Reserve your right to remain silent and avoid saying or writing anything that could be incriminating.
2. Get in touch with a lawyer
It’s important to ensure that you get in touch with a criminal lawyer to represent you. It’s never a good idea to act as your own representation in any criminal matter. Be prepared to pay for a good lawyer. If you can’t afford to hire your own counsel, the court will appoint legal counsel to represent you.
3. Avoid contact with the alleged victim
If you have been arrested and charged for assault and battery, the court will issue an order to prevent you from contacting the alleged victim. It is important to adhere to this order. You should therefore avoid contact with the other party in any form. This may include texting, social media or visiting their place of employment or home.
A violation of the order could result in a revocation of your bond. You could face further criminal charges including witness tampering for violating the order.
4. Gather documents and evidence related to your case
This is a great time to begin gathering evidence for your case. Take photos of physical evidence and write down details of events that are related to your vase. Make lists of witnesses and get in touch with them to help with your case. Your attorney will help guide you and will also assist in the actual collection of evidence. Criminal attorneys will have more resources available to them, such as private investigators and contacts that can help in gathering information for your defense.
5. Educate yourself
Just because you have a criminal attorney representing you doesn’t mean that you should just seat back and let the wheels of justice move. Educate yourself on criminal legislation in your area and what you can do to protect yourself. Find out what you should expect during the litigation process and what you should avoid.
6. Understand your rights
Do you know your rights? Do you know that you don’t have to answer questions from police? Do you know that you have the right to legal counsel? Understand your rights in order to ensure that you have adequate defense.
If you’ve been falsely accused of assault and battery, don’t sit back in the hope of being proved innocent. Get in touch with a criminal defense attorney to help prove your innocence and ensure that you’re not convicted.