A crime can be expensive for the perpetrator and the victim alike. The perpetrator faces jail time, court costs, and a criminal record. The victim faces recovery from their injuries and psychological damage. Some courts order convicted criminals to pay restitution to the victims, but not always. How do victims obtain payments for their injuries after the criminal case is over?
This article will explain the differences and similarities between civil and criminal cases by reviewing assault and battery, one of the most common crimes and most common intentional torts.
What Is Assault and Battery?
When discussing "assault and battery," it's important to distinguish between criminal assault and battery and the intentional tort of assault and battery. The actions are identical, but the outcomes are different.
Criminal Assault and Battery
Depending on the jurisdiction, assault and battery may be two separate criminal acts, although they almost always occur together. Some states have abandoned "assault" as a separate crime and combined it with "battery" as a single offense. For this article, "battery" refers to the criminal version.
Criminal battery is "intentional and unlawful touching without acting in self-defense or defense of another." The lightest touch is sufficient to accomplish battery. Still, it's unlikely a prosecutor would bring assault charges for bumping against anyone.
Criminal battery requires an intent to cause physical harm, the mens rea of crime. The intent to harm elevates intentional contact from a tort into a crime. Simple battery is usually a misdemeanor. In most states, there are increasing levels of battery. Sexual battery is often charged as a felony sexual assault crime. Whether the parties say it is or not, domestic violence is a crime.
Tortious Assault and Battery
The tort of assault is separate from the tort of battery. Assault is any convincing threat of imminent harm. The threat must cause apprehension in the victim. The person making the threat must be doing so intentionally or recklessly. Furthermore, any reasonable person would feel that the words and actions are a threat of bodily harm.
Battery is an act of intentional or offensive physical contact. It is possible to commit battery without assault. Walking past someone and smacking the back of their head would constitute battery without assault.
Any offensive contact can be grounds for tortious battery. Unlike criminal battery, civil assault and battery only need to be intentional to be actionable.
Comparing Criminal and Tortious Assault and Battery
The difference between a crime and a tort is the intent. In a criminal act, the intent is to cause harm. In a tortious act, the intent is to cause the touch. If you walk past someone and smack the back of their head, you may not have intended to hurt them, but you did intend to touch them. If you don't hurt them, you may not be criminally charged, but you might be civilly liable.
Proving an Assault and Battery Case
If you have been the victim of an assault and/or battery, you do not need to worry about proving the criminal case. That is the prosecutor's job. If the matter was a simple assault, and no criminal charges were filed, it wouldn't affect the civil case.
Unlike a personal injury claim, in which there could be car accident photos and police reports, assault and battery cases may have nothing but your word and that of witnesses. An assault claim may come down to your word against the perpetrator's.
Burden of Proof
In a civil case, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. You and your assault and battery lawyer must show that the defendant committed an intentional act that caused apprehension of imminent harm. If you were a victim of battery, you need to provide medical bills, proof of lost income, and other evidence to support your battery claim.
In a civil suit, the burden of proof is "preponderance of evidence" — that is, showing it's "more likely than not" that the defendant committed the offense. In a criminal case, where the defendant's liberty is at stake, the standard is "reasonable doubt."
Statute of Limitations
In any tort case, the statute of limitations determines how long you have to bring your case. Depending on state law, you may have as little as one year or as many as six. You do not need to wait for a criminal case to be finished to file your civil claim. Some states “toll" or suspend the statute of limitations for civil cases while criminal cases are pending, but some don't. You should talk to an assault and battery attorney to find out what your state does. Waiting too long could ruin your chance of filing a civil claim.
In a criminal case, state law limits the terms of sentencing. In a civil case, you may recover whatever the judge or jury feels is appropriate, including:
- Economic damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and future income
- Noneconomic damages, including pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium
- Punitive damages, which are not usually awarded in civil court but may be justified in serious assault and battery cases
Tort cases, including personal injury cases, make the victim whole economically. Even in an assault and battery case, a personal injury lawsuit provides monetary compensation for the victim, not punishment for the offender.
Finding an Assault and Battery Injury Lawyer
"Assault and battery" is not a legal practice area. You need a personal injury lawyer for legal advice, not a criminal defense attorney. A personal injury attorney nearby will review your case and start your civil lawsuit.