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Assault and Battery Defenses

The defenses available in assault and battery cases vary widely. Available defenses depend on the facts and circumstances. Some cases are straightforward, while others are complex. This article briefly describes assault and battery. Then, it describes legal defenses and defense strategies the accused may claim.

Assault and Battery Explained

Generally, an assault happens when someone puts another in fear of imminent harm. An example of assault includes making threats that put someone in reasonable fear of bodily harm. Battery happens when someone makes unlawful or offensive physical contact with another person without their consent. Many states combine assault and battery into one charge.

Some states classify different types of assaults based on their severity, such as first-degree assault, third-degree assault, or simple assault. Many states also bring criminal charges for aggravated assault or aggravated battery. Using a deadly weapon or causing serious bodily injury may lead to aggravated assault charges. Depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances, charges of assault may qualify as a misdemeanor or felony.

For more information about assault and battery, see FindLaw's Assault and Battery Overview article.

Assault and Battery Defenses

As with most charges in criminal law, there are many defenses to assault and battery accusations. If law enforcement arrests you for an alleged assault and battery, you may avoid jail time if you successfully assert a defense. Read on to learn about some of the most common defenses.

Self-Defense

Self-defense is probably the most common defense used in assault and battery cases. To establish self-defense, an accused person must generally show:

  • They faced a threat of unlawful force or harm
  • They perceived the threat and had a reasonable basis to fear imminent harm to themselves
  • There was no harm or provocation on their part, and
  • They had no reasonable chance to retreat or escape the situation

Consider the following examples to understand self-defense better:

Example A: Bill, a large, imposing stranger, confronts Adam. Bill begins shouting threats and lunging at Adam with fists raised in a threatening manner. Terrified, Adam strikes Bill. Adam then gets away through the nearest exit at the first available opportunity. Adam could successfully argue that he acted only in self-defense.

Example B: Adam runs into Bill and gets into an argument. Bill insults Adam. Adam then insults Bill and threatens to beat him up. Bill then strikes Adam, and Adam retaliates in kind. It would be more difficult for Adam to establish self-defense under these circumstances than under Example A because Adam escalated and provoked the fight.

The doctrine of self-defense has several limitations besides those outlined above.

The use of force in self-defense must be proportional to the threat posed. For example, if the aggressor assaults you by hitting you with a pillow, you likely cannot claim self-defense if you shoot them. But if they point a gun at you, you can likely claim self-defense if you shoot first to defend yourself.

In some states, defendants may use deadly force in self-defense to protect against home invaders. This is sometimes called the Castle Doctrine.

Also, even if a person meets the elements above, a jury may still find them guilty of assault or battery if the victim was physically no match for them in the first place. Courts look at differences in size and age to determine this.

Defense of Others

The defense of others is like self-defense. The only difference is that the person must have an honest and real perceived fear of harm to another person. The limitations that apply to self-defense apply similarly to defending others.

Defense of Property

A defendant in an assault/battery case may claim they acted only to defend their property. This defense is available if someone invades or illegally withholds their property. The availability and extent of this defense varies from state to state.

When available, this defense generally allows a person to use reasonable force to defend their property.

The law is more divided on the issue of defending personal property. Generally, if a dispute arises over personal property, the owner is not entitled to use force to retrieve it. Instead, the victim should call a police officer.

If someone directly steals from a person, the victim may have the right to use reasonable force to recover their property. For example, if someone pickpockets a person or snatches a purse from them, the victim may use a reasonable amount of force to try to get it back.

The law prohibits a person from using deadly force to defend or recover property. But, using reasonable force against someone stealing your property may escalate a situation. If so, the circumstances may change such that you may have to act in self-defense rather than defending property. In such an instance, where serious bodily harm is imminent, they may use deadly force to protect themselves.

Consent

Consent can be a defense to an assault/battery charge, depending on the jurisdiction. If a person voluntarily consents to a particular act, then that person generally cannot claim an assault or battery.

For example, consider football players. By signing up for football, the participants consent to various degrees of what society generally considers assault. If you were to tackle someone on the street for no reason, the victim could file battery charges. But, a football player consents to certain levels of contact that sometimes result in physical injury.

If the act exceeds the permission provided, the person may file assault or battery charges. For example, if a football player removed another player's helmet and attempted to hit the player with it, they could face assault charges. While the football player consented to the normal contact that comes along with football, they did not agree to assault with a helmet.

Courts scrutinize consent defenses closely and tend to find that harmful actions, even if consented to, violate public policy and should still face punishment under assault, battery, or other laws.

Get Professional Help Defending Against Assault and Battery Charges

A successful legal defense depends on the specific facts of your case. If you are facing criminal charges, consider contacting a criminal defense lawyer. An experienced criminal defense attorney can provide legal advice on the following:

  • Whether you have a valid legal defense to assault or battery charges
  • Specific legal advice on your criminal case
  • General information about violent crime, such as domestic violence
  • How potential jail time differs if you are facing a felony assault charge or a misdemeanor

An attorney's job is to help find evidence to establish favorable facts at trial. Starting this process early is essential, so contact a defense attorney near you today.

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