Battery is a criminal offense involving unlawful physical contact, distinct from assault, which is the act of creating apprehension of such contact.
Battery is a specific common law offense, although the term is used more generally to refer to any unlawful offensive physical contact with another person. Battery is defined by American common law as "any unlawful and or unwanted touching of the person of another by the aggressor, or by a substance put in motion by them". In more severe cases, and for all types in some jurisdictions, it is chiefly defined by statutory wording. Assessment of the severity of a battery is determined by local law.
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Specific rules regarding battery vary among different jurisdictions, but some elements remain constant across jurisdictions. Battery generally requires that:
Under the US Model Penal Code and in some jurisdictions, there is battery when the actor acts recklessly without specific intent of causing an offensive contact. Battery is typically classified as either simple or aggravated. Although battery typically occurs in the context of physical altercations, it may also occur under other circumstances, such as in medical cases where a doctor performs a non-consented medical procedure.
Battery is not defined in the Canadian Criminal Code. Instead, the Code has an offense of assault, and assault causing bodily harm.
Battery is a common law offence within England and Wales.
As with the majority of offences in the UK, it has two elements:
This offence is a crime against autonomy, with more violent crimes such as ABH and GBH being statutory offences under the Offences against the Person Act 1861.
As such, even the slightest of touches can amount to an unlawful application of force. However, it is assumed that everyday encounters (such as making contact with others on public transportation) are consented to and not punishable.
Much confusion can come between the terms "assault" and "battery". In everyday use the term assault may be used to describe a physical attack, which is indeed a battery. An assault is causing someone to apprehend that they will be the victim of a battery. This issue is so prevalent that the crime of sexual assault would be better labelled a sexual battery. This confusion stems from the fact that both assault and battery can be referred to as common assault. In practice, if charged with such an offence, the wording will read "assault by beating", but this means the same as "battery".
There is no separate offence for a battery relating to domestic violence; however, the introduction of the crime of "controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship" in section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 has given rise to new sentencing guidelines that take into account significant aggravating factors such as abuse of trust, resulting in potentially longer sentences for acts of battery within the context of domestic violence.
In DPP v Taylor, DPP v Little, it was held that battery is a statutory offence, contrary to section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. This decision was criticised in Haystead v DPP where the Divisional court expressed the obiter opinion that battery remains a common law offence.
Therefore, whilst it may be a better view that battery and assault have statutory penalties, rather than being statutory offences, it is still the case that until review by a higher court, DPP v Little is the preferred authority.
In England and Wales, battery is a summary offence under section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. However, by virtue of section 40, it can be tried on indictment where another indictable offence is also charged which is founded on the same facts or together with which it forms part of a series of offences of similar character. Where it is tried on indictment a Crown Court has no greater powers of sentencing than a magistrates' court would.
It is punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or both.
There is an offence which could be (loosely) described as battery in Russia. Article 116 of the Russian Criminal Code provides that battery or similar violent actions which cause pain are an offence.
There is no distinct offence of battery in Scotland. The offence of assault includes acts that could be described as battery.
In the United States, criminal battery, or simple battery, is the use of force against another, resulting in harmful or offensive contact, including sexual contact. At common law, simple battery is a misdemeanor. The prosecutor must prove all three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
The common-law elements serve as a basic template, but individual jurisdictions may alter them, and they may vary slightly from state to state.
Under modern statutory schemes, battery is often divided into grades that determine the severity of punishment. For example:
In the state of Kansas, battery is defined as follows:
The law on battery in Louisiana reads:
In some jurisdictions, battery has recently been constructed to include directing bodily secretions (i.e., spitting) at another person without their permission. Some of those jurisdictions automatically elevate such a battery to the charge of aggravated battery. In some jurisdictions, the charge of criminal battery also requires evidence of a mental state (mens rea). The terminology used to refer to a particular offense can also vary by jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions, such as New York, refer to what, under the common-law, would-be battery as assault, and then use another term for the crime that would have been assault, such as menacing.
A typical overt behavior of an assault is Person A chasing Person B and swinging a fist toward their head. That for battery is A striking B.
Assault, where rooted on English law, is an attempted battery or the act of intentionally placing a person in apprehension of a harmful or offensive contact with their person. Elsewhere it is often similarly worded as the threat of violence to a person while aggravated assault is the threat with the clear and present ability and willingness to carry it out. Aggravated battery is, typically, offensive touching without a tool or weapon with attempt to harm or restrain.