Battery is a criminal offense involving the unlawful physical acting upon a threat, distinct from assault which is the act of creating apprehension of such contact.
- United States
- England and Wales
- Jurisdictional differences
- Distinction between battery and assault
In the United States, criminal battery, or simply battery, is the use of force against another, resulting in harmful, offensive or sexual contact. It is a specific common law misdemeanor, although the term is used more generally to refer to any unlawful offensive physical contact with another person, and may be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. Battery was defined at 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 him." In most cases, battery is now governed by statutes, and its severity is determined by the law of the specific jurisdiction.
Specific rules regarding battery vary among different jurisdictions, but some elements remain constant across jurisdictions. Battery generally requires that:
- an offensive touch or contact is made upon the victim, instigated by the actor; and
- the actor intends or knows that their action will cause the offensive touching.
Under the 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.
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.
At common law, simple battery is a misdemeanor. The prosecutor must prove all three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- an unlawful application of force
- to the person of another
- resulting in either bodily injury or an offensive touching.
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:Battery.(a) Battery is:(1) Intentionally or recklessly causing bodily harm to another person; or(2) intentionally causing physical contact with another person when done in a rude, insulting or angry manner.
The law on battery in Louisiana reads:§ 33. Battery definedBattery is the intentional use of force or violence upon the person of another; or the intentional administration of a poison or other noxious liquid or substance to another.
Battery is not defined in the Canadian Criminal Code. Instead, the Code has an offense of assault, and assault causing bodily harm.
England and Wales
Battery is an offence under the law of England and Wales.
Battery involves unlawfully touching another person (this does not include everyday knocks and jolts to which people silently consent as the result of crowds). No physical injury is necessary. Battery is distinguished from the offence of common assault, where the victim is caused to apprehend the immediate commission of a battery.
The terms "battery" and "beat" are not normally used (if at all) in statutory provisions creating offences of aggravated assault. A former exception to this was section 43 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 (aggravated assault or battery on a female or a boy under 14). The term "assault" in such provisions generally includes battery.
There is no offence called "sexual battery", but the offence of sexual assault involves the non-consensual sexual touching of another.
There is no separate offence relating to incidents of domestic violence, except in the case of death, where the offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or a vulnerable adult may have been committed (s. 5 Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004).
Under English law, a battery has only been committed if the correct mens rea (fault element) can be proven. In the case of battery, the mens rea of the offence is intention or recklessness (see R v. Venna  QB 421). A person acts intentionally in terms of a result when his purpose is to cause it and he may be held to act intentionally if he foresees that the result is a virtually certain consequence of his action and he nonetheless acts (see R v. Woollin  4 All ER 103; although this decision specifically applies to the law of murder, it is generally accepted that this definition of intent applies throughout the criminal law). A person acts recklessly in terms of a result when he is aware of the risk that the result will occur if he acts and he does so act where no reasonable person would (see R v. Cunningham  2 QB 396).
Whether it is a statutory offence
In DPP v. Taylor, DPP v. Little  1 QB 645, 95 Cr App R 28, it was held that battery is a statutory offence, contrary to section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. This decision was criticised and in Haystead v. DPP 164 JP 396, DC, 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.
Mode of trial and sentence
However, if it is tried, 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.
See Crown Prosecution Service Sentencing Manual for case law on sentencing (despite the title of the page, the guidance applies to battery as well as common assault). Relevant cases are:
There is no distinct offence of battery in Scotland. The offence of assault includes acts that could be described as battery.
In some jurisdictions, battery has recently been constructed to include directing bodily secretions (i.e., spitting) at another person without his or her 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.
Distinction between battery and assault
The overt behavior of an assault might be Person A advancing upon Person B by chasing after him and swinging a fist toward his head. The overt behavior of battery might be A actually striking B.
Battery requires (1) a volitional act that (2) results in a harmful or offensive contact with another person and (3) is committed for the purpose of causing a harmful or offensive contact or under circumstances that render such contact substantially certain to occur or with a reckless disregard as to whether such contact will result. Assault is an attempted battery or the act of intentionally placing a person in apprehension of a harmful or offensive contact with his or her person.
In some places, assault is the threat of violence against another while aggravated assault is the threat with the clear and present ability and willingness to carry it out. Likewise, battery is undesired touching of another, while aggravated battery is touching of another with or without a tool or weapon with attempt to harm or restrain.