What Is the Crime of Battery? (Definition)

Understanding the Different Elements of Criminal Battery

Lawyer Reading a Document and Advising a Man in a Courthouse in Front of a Jury
Jim Arbogast/Photodisc/Getty Images

Question: What Is the Crime of Battery?

Battery is any unlawful offensive physical contact with another person, with or without his or her consent. The contact does not have to be violent for the crime of battery to take place, it can be merely any offensive touching.

Unlike the crime of assault, battery requires that actual contact is made, while assault charges can be brought with only the threat of violence.

Basic Elements of Battery

There are three basic elements of battery that are generally consistent among most jurisdictions in the U.S.

  • The defendant had offensive physical contact with the victim.
  • The defendant is aware that their actions will result in offensive touching.
  • There was no consent from the victim.

Different Types of Battery

The laws regarding battery vary from state to state, but many jurisdictions have different classifications or degrees of the crime of battery. 

Simple Battery

Simple battery generally includes all forms of contact that are non-consensual, harmful or insulting. This includes contact that results in injury or non-injury to the victim. The battery is not criminal unless willful intent to inflict an injury or another unlawful act on the victim exists.

For example, if a neighbor becomes angry at another neighbor and purposely throws a rock right at the neighbor resulting in injury and pain, then throwing the rock could result in criminal battery charges.

However, if a neighbor is cutting their grass and a rock hits the blade and spins out and hits their neighbor causing injury and pain, then there is no willful intent and there would not be grounds for a charge of criminal battery.

Sexual Battery 

In some states, sexual battery is any non-consensual touching of the intimate parts of another person, but in other states, a sexual battery charge requires actual oral, anal, or vaginal penetration.

Family-Violence Battery

In an effort to cut down on domestic violence, many states have passed family-violence battery laws, which require that cases of family violence be adjudicated whether the victim decides to "press charges" or not.

Aggravated Battery

Aggravated battery is when violence against another results in serious bodily injury or disfigurement. In some states aggravated battery can be charged only if the intent to do serious bodily harm can be proven. This includes a loss of a limb, burns resulting in permanent disfigurement, and the loss of sensory functions.

Common Defense Strategies in Cases of Criminal Battery

No Intent: Common strategies used in criminal battery cases include the most defense which is to prove that there was no intent to cause harm on the part of the defendant.

For example, if a man rubbed up against a woman on a crowded subway in a way that the woman felt was sexual in nature, the defense could be that the man did not intend to rub up against the woman and only did so because he was pushed by the crowds.

Consent: If consent can be proven, sometimes referred to as mutual combat defense, then the victim may be considered as being equally responsible for any injuries that resulted.

 

For example, if two men get into an argument in a bar and agree to "take it outside" to fight it out, then neither man can claim that their injuries were a result of criminal battery if they both agreed to participate in what could be viewed as a fair fight. There may be other criminal charges that apply, but probably not criminal battery.

Self-Defense: If a defendant can prove that bodily harm inflicted on the victim was a result of the victim attempting to cause bodily harm to the defendant first and the defendant protected themselves within what would be considered reasonable, but resulted in the victim being physically harmed, then it is likely that the defendant would be innocent of criminal battery. The key to this defense is that the self-defense was reasonable.

For example, if two women were riding on a bus and one woman began harassing the other woman and then began hitting the woman in an effort to steal her purse, and the woman reacted by punching the attacking woman in the nose, causing her nose to break, then the woman that was first attacked used reasonable self-defense measures and would likely not be found guilty of criminal battery.

Return to Crimes A-Z