Assault and Battery

Assault and battery are threats and harm that can lead to physical injuries and emotional distress. While states define these terms differently, they are always considered crimes. Victims can also sue perpetrators of assault and battery in civil lawsuits to seek to recover damages.

What is Assault?

Exact definitions depend on federal and state statutes, but in general, an assault is intentionally putting another person in reasonable apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact. There is generally no physical contact.[1]

For instance, if someone pulls back their arm as if to punch you, but you manage to duck out of the way, or if they threaten to punch you, they committed an assault.

What is Battery?

Battery occurs when the threat or intent to harm results in the actual contact between the perpetrator and victim.[1] If the punch lands, it can be considered battery. Assault and battery often occur together, and the perpetrator can be charged with both.

The contact that the perpetrator instigates does not have to cause a physical injury to the victim to be considered battery. The intent to cause harm coupled with contact without consent is battery. Sexual touching is considered battery for this reason. The contact is offensive and non-consensual but does not necessarily cause an injury.

What is Aggravated Assault?

Certain conditions, again varying by state, elevate a simple assault to an aggravated assault. These are sometimes known as aggravating factors:

  • Use of a weapon in the assault
  • Wearing a hood or mask
  • Assault of a victim worthy of special protection, such as a patient in a nursing home, a child, or a police officer
  • Assault with the intent to commit rape
  • Intent to cause severe harm
  • Severe injuries as a result of the assault

Criminal vs. Civil Assault and Battery

Assault and battery are crimes. State laws vary, but assault is generally a misdemeanor, and battery may be either a misdemeanor or a felony. Aggravated assault is a felony. If you call the police after an attack, the perpetrator may be charged with a crime. The purpose of a criminal case is to punish the perpetrator with fines and/or jail time and to deter future offenses.

Victims of assault and battery may be able to take legal action for damages resulting from the incident. A civil lawsuit seeks to compensate the victim for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other expenses related to the crime.

A big difference between criminal and civil cases is the burden of proof, which is lower in a civil case.[2] When the government charges someone, they must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil assault and battery case, the lawyer representing the victim must only show that a preponderance of the evidence shows the perpetrator is more likely guilty than not.

What to Do if You Have Been Threatened or Attacked

The experience of being a victim of an assault, battery, or aggravated assault is terrible. Even without physical injuries, you may suffer emotional harm and feel violated. You may be unsure if what happened to you constitutes one of these crimes, but it’s worth taking these steps to get justice and to hold the perpetrator accountable:

  1. Call the police.
    Any crime warrants a call to the police. If you’re not sure a crime occurred, call anyway. If someone threatened you and made you feel as if they could cause you physical harm, it is an assault, regardless of whether they touched you or not. Having a police report will help you recover damages later if you choose to sue the perpetrator.
  2. Get medical help.
    This may be your first step if the battery resulted in severe injuries. If you can call the police first, do so, but your well-being should be the priority. Don’t be afraid to call 911 if it is an emergency.
  3. Preserve evidence.
    To the best of your ability, preserve evidence of the incident. This may mean, for instance, taking photos of your injuries. Write down your recollections of the event and contact witnesses to see what they remember. Someone may have taken a video of the incident, which can be very helpful in a lawsuit.
  4. Contact a lawyer.
    After the incident, as soon as possible, get in touch with a lawyer experienced in assault and battery cases. They can help you understand your rights and determine if you have a strong case. If you decide to sue the perpetrator, they will do all the legwork, investigating the assault and finding evidence to prove you deserve damages.
  5. Seek mental health care.
    An assault and battery, even with minor or no injuries, can be emotionally harmful. Taking action, such as speaking with a lawyer and reporting the incident to the police, can help you feel better, but it may not be enough. Talk to a therapist about the attack and work through your feelings so that you can recover and move on with your life.

Assault and battery are serious crimes and may also be reasons to take civil legal action. One of the most important things you can do as a victim is to advocate for yourself. Contact a lawyer to find out how to do that.

  1. Cornell Law School. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Assault and Battery.
    Retrieved from:
  2. Cornell Law School. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Burden of Proof.
    Retrieved from:,a%20preponderance%20of%20the%20evidence.