Criminal Battery Charges

Criminal battery charges include any touching that causes another pain. Many states use the term interchangeably with other terms like assault, battery, and domestic violence. In order to qualify as a criminal battery charge, police officers must first prove that a battery occurred. Accidental injury isn't battery unless the defendant had some type of unlawful intent or other unlawful act.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Criminal battery is any touching that causes another pain. Because many criminal battery charges are classified as misdemeanor offenses, a large number of defendants show up to court and accept a plea bargain, as long as the plea involves probation or time-served provision.

Before a defendant accepts a plea bargain, he should be aware of the nature of a criminal battery charge, possible defenses, and the consequences of a criminal battery conviction.

What is the Crime of Battery?

Criminal battery is a very broad term for a classification of offensive physical contact. Many states use the term interchangeably with other terms like assault, simple battery, and domestic violence. In order to qualify as a criminal battery, law enforcement must first show that the crime of battery occurred. Words alone do not constitute a criminal battery charge, even if it’s a threat of violence. Battery requires a defendant to have physical contact with the victim. The touch can be a slight push, a slap, or a swipe with a flyswatter that does not cause bodily harm. As long as the victim experienced some type of pain or discomfort as a result of the touch, then a battery occurred. However, the touching or act alone does not constitute criminal battery.

A battery is not a criminal act unless the defendant had some type of unlawful intent or other unlawful act. For example, Nevada considers the willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another criminal battery. The element which escalates an event to a criminal battery charge is the intent of the defendant. The intent can be inferred or derived from the totality of all of the circumstances.

For example, if a defendant gets into a fight with his girlfriend, and pushes her down as she is trying to get him to stay, then the pushing could be considered criminal battery if the girlfriend experienced any pain or bodily injury. Conversely, if the defendant was simply leaving the house because he was late for work and bumped into his girlfriend trying to get out of the door, then the lack of willful intent in the incident could defeat a criminal battery allegation. Even though criminal battery charges are extremely broad in definition and application, this broadness also lends itself to a variety of defensive theories.

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What Are Criminal Battery Defenses?

Criminal battery charge defenses are very similar to the types of defenses available for an assault charge. The first defense is to negate intent. Instead of denying that touching occurred, an attorney can argue the innocent or accidental basis of the touching.

Consent is also a defense to criminal battery. This is also referred to as the mutual combat defense. Essentially, the theory provides that if a victim consented to the battery, the victim cannot later complain after having provoked the situation. By the same token, boxers and MMA fighters are not arrested for acts of battery after a performance even if a severe injury occurs.

The third defense to criminal battery is self-defense. In situations that the victim was the first aggressor, then a defendant is generally allowed to use reasonable force to respond to the battery. This is not carte blanche to use as much force as a defendant deems necessary, but rather the use of force must be reasonable under the circumstances.

The fourth defense is sudden passion. Not all states provide for this defense. However, for those that do offer sudden passion as a defense, it may be a viable defense for those a defendant that just learned about incredibly stressful news involving the victim before the confrontation, like the victim had molested the defendant’s child.

Even though not a specific, statutory defense, some defendants gamble with nullification defenses. These involve cases where the defendant admits to the assault, admits that he committed the assault with the required intent, but asks the jury to ignore and let him off of the charges for a really good reason. For example, if a victim is constantly entering a defendant’s property and throwing out racially harassing comments, then a defendant may assault the victim out of frustration and argue to the jury that the victim’s behavior warranted the action and any reasonable person could have had the same response.

What Are the Consequences of a Criminal Battery Conviction?

Most basic criminal battery charges are misdemeanor-level offenses. This means that the punishment range is probation or up to two years in jail. If a defendant is placed on probation, he will be required to complete the usual terms of any other misdemeanor probation. However, defendants can also be required to make restitution or complete anger management counseling as additional conditions. A basic criminal battery charge usually involves lower-level assaults, like a push, slap, or other contact that causes a minor physical injury.

If a criminal battery charge involves aggravating circumstances, then the criminal battery charge can be enhanced to a felony-level offense of aggravated battery. For example, in Nevada, punishment is increased for the type and number of aggravating circumstances. These circumstances can include the use of a deadly weapon, substantial bodily injury, strangulation directed at a family member, or violence directed at a public servant. If a criminal battery charge is elevated to a felony, the range of punishment expands dramatically, depending on the number of aggravating factors.

In Nevada, committing criminal battery against an officer or school employee will be charged as a Class B felony with a range of punishment from two to ten years and most states follow the same pattern. Higher criminal battery charges can result in probation or a prison sentence of up to 99 years in prison. A felony probation for a criminal battery charge is also longer and more intense than misdemeanor probation. The court can impose more restrictions on a defendant’s contact with a victim and use of electronic devices that could be used to harass the victim.

Regardless of whether a defendant is contemplating a felony or misdemeanor plea to a criminal battery charge, a defendant should also understand the other consequences outside the courtroom. If a person is in the process of obtaining citizenship, they could be denied citizenship and deported, even for a misdemeanor criminal battery charge. If a person works in a specialized profession that requires a state license (like plumbing, nursing, etc.), then some states will suspend or revoke a person’s license after a criminal battery conviction.

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