By Shrishti Mishra
In both criminal and civil law, “battery” is the intentional touching of, or application of force to, the body of another person in a harmful or offensive manner (and without consent). A battery is often confused with an assault, which is merely the act of threatening a battery, or of placing another in fear or apprehension of an impending and immediate battery. A battery is almost always preceded by an assault, which is why the terms are often used transitionally or combined, as in “assault and battery.”
An individual commits a battery if he acts intentionally either to cause a harmful or offensive contact or to cause imminent apprehension of such contact and a harmful or offensive contact actually occurs. Offenders may face both civil liability and criminal charges for a single act.
Civil Battery (Tort)
A battery is an intentional tort, as opposed to an act resulting from negligence. The elements to establish the tort of battery are the same as for criminal battery (details below), excepting that criminal intent need not be present. The elements of civil battery are:
- Intent (not criminal intent to cause injury, necessarily, but intent to commit the act)
- Contact (non-consensual contact with the individual or his/her effects, such as clothing)
- Harm (the battery caused actual harm meaning physical, mental, or emotional, not limited to just physical harm)
For a tortuous battery to occur, the requisite intent is merely to touch or make contact without consent. It need not be an intention to do wrong and the wrongdoer need not intend to cause the particular harm that occurs. Non-consensual touching is all that is required.
Battery can be as direct as striking someone in the face with your fists or as indirect as setting a trap that harms individual hours or days after it is set. Battery also can be unwanted sexual contact or non-consensual touching that causes harm of some kind. Damages awarded in battery cases vary widely, depending on the seriousness of the injuries.
In the case of damages, the victim must be harmed in some manner, physically, mentally, or emotionally. The harm doesn’t need to be severe; it can be as slight as a tap or an unwanted hug, but there must be harm. Damages can be assessed by a jury from there. Damages can be nominal, compensatory, or punitive.
The difference between battery as a crime and battery as a civil tort is merely in the type of intent required. A criminal battery requires the presence of mens rea, or criminal intent to do wrong, i.e., to cause a harmful or offensive contact. Accordingly, a defendant found guilty of the crime of battery is often sued by the defendant in a civil action for the same offense/incident.
The simple criminal battery is most often prosecuted as a misdemeanor. Repeat offenses or the specific nature of the offense may warrant more severe treatment. For example, in some states, a second or third offense against the same individual is a felony. In cases of domestic violence, many states do not permit battery charges to be dropped against the defendant, even at the request of the victim, because of the potential for repeat or escalated harm.
Most sexual crimes include elements of battery (since they are basically non-consensual contacts), and some states actually have penal codes listing the specific crime of “sexual battery.”
An aggravated battery is a simple battery with an additional element of an aggravating factor. This is most often the addition of a weapon (whether the use was real or merely threatened), and is almost always a felony offense. Other aggravated batteries include those committed against protected persons (children, the elderly or disabled, or governmental agents); those in which the victim suffers serious injury; or those occurring in a public transit vehicle or station, or school zone, or other protected places. These are all aggravating factors that will enhance simple misdemeanor batteries to the level of felonies.