Understanding What Assault and Battery Mean

By Lowry Law Firm | Posted on June 12, 2015

Do you think you know what the term assault means, legally speaking? If so, here’s a quick quiz.

In which of the following scenarios would you be guilty of assault, under Florida law?

  1. You’re walking down the street, and you see someone you dislike. You sneak up behind your enemy without him knowing you’re there, and then punch him as hard as you can in the back of the head, knocking him unconscious. Then you run away before he regains consciousness.
  2. You’re walking down the street, and you see someone you dislike. You walk up to your enemy and tell him that you hate him, and then grab him by the shirt. You tear his shirt a little bit, but you never actually touch his body. You apologize to your enemy, who was clearly frightened, and then you walk away.
  3. You’re walking down the street, and you see someone you dislike. You walk up to your enemy and yell, “I’m going to punch you in the face!” You then make a fist, and lift up your arm, frightening your enemy. But then you decide it isn’t worth getting violent, so you put your arm down and walk away.

The correct answers are Scenarios B & C. They would both be considered assault, but Scenario A would not.

Explanation

Most jurisdictions in the US (including the state of Florida) do not consider physical contact to be a necessary element of assault. Florida Statute 784.011 contains the state’s definition of assault:

  • “An ‘assault’ is an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.”

The statute also declares that assault is considered a misdemeanor in the second degree.

Scenario A would not count as an assault, because the victim was not in fear of imminent violence – he didn’t realize that an attack was coming, so he wasn’t in fear of attack. Whereas, in the other scenarios, you threatened the victim and appeared to be able to carry out your threat. You committed an act (grabbing his shirt in Scenario B, and raising your fist in Scenario C) that created a well-founded fear in him that violence was imminent.

Battery

The charge of battery, unlike assault, does require physical contact. Under Florida Statute 784.03, battery occurs when someone “actually and intentionally touches another person against the will of the other; or intentionally causes bodily harm to another person.”

Battery is usually considered a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida. However, if the perpetrator has a prior conviction for battery, aggravated battery or felony battery, then he or she will be charged with a third-degree felony.

If You’ve Been Charged

A few generations ago, it wasn’t considered a big deal to strike someone who was angering you. However, times have changed, and you can get into a lot of legal trouble for assault and battery – or just one of those two charges. If you’ve been charged with assault and/or battery, you should seek the best defense possible. Mark S. Lowry is an experienced criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale, and he knows how best to deal with these charges. You can call or email the office today to schedule a consultation.