In Florida, assault and battery are two different criminal charges that each result in specific, and sometimes severe, consequences. Often used together, some people may not be aware of the differences between these two terms and how a conviction for one could impact their life. Since assault and battery are handled differently in the Florida court system, it is important for anyone facing one or both of these charges to understand the difference between the two.
What Is Assault?
Legally, assault is defined as an unlawful and intentional threat against someone, with the ability to carry out the threat. The threat must create a reasonable and real fear of harm. One does not need to hurt another person to be charged with assault; they simply need to threaten them.
Assault is further broken down into two types based on the circumstances of the crime in question: simple assault and aggravated assault.
The majority of assault cases are simple assaults. These are also called misdemeanor assault and carry the least severe consequences. In simple terms, misdemeanor assault is defined as the attempt to cause harm to another person without actually causing it. To be convicted of simple assault, 3 conditions must exist:
- Intended harm to another: For the defendant to be guilty in a court of law, they must have intentionally instilled fear of physical injury in another person. This can be as simple as a verbal exchange, but the exchange must leave the other person feeling threatened.
- Reasonable fear: The prosecution must prove that their client felt genuine fear of injury due to the defendant’s threats. The person must have believed they were going to be harmed.
- Harm must occur: The person in question must have suffered in some fashion for the defendant to be considered guilty. In simple assault cases, this is often emotional suffering as a result of the fear they experienced when threatened by the defendant.
For example, pushing someone during a verbal altercation or raising a fist towards someone during an argument could be considered simple assault. The consequences for simple assault in Florida are less severe than other forms of assault, but it is still considered a second-degree misdemeanor. If someone is convicted of simple assault, they may face a jail sentence of up to 60 days, be on probation for 6 months, and be required to pay a fine of $500.
If someone convicted of assault in Florida is a firefighter, police officer, or emergency medical worker, their penalties will be enhanced. They will be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor.
Aggravated assault is any assault committed with a deadly weapon or while intending to commit another felony offense. For example, if someone raises their hand at someone during and argument while they are holding a gun or a knife, they have committed aggravated assault.
In the courts, proving aggravated assault is similar to proving simple assault. It must be proven that the defendant intended to threaten the person in question and that the person had a reasonable fear of harm due to the threat. However, aggravated assault differs in that there must be proof that the defendant brandished a deadly weapon or intended to commit a felony. Consciously intending to commit a felony can include acts such as robbery, murder, or rape. The court is responsible for determining what the intent of the assault was. They can use direct evidence, such as a statement from the defendant, or circumstantial evidence to prove it.
In Florida, any weapon that could kill someone or cause great bodily harm is considered a “deadly weapon” in court. The definition is broad. For example, a beer bottle could be a deadly weapon, and so could a vehicle.
The penalties for aggravated assault include:
- A prison sentence up to 5 years
- Up to 5 years of probation
- A $5,000 fine
Aggravated assault is a third-degree felony.
Defending Against an Assault Charge
Defense strategies for an assault charge include:
- A conditional threat: If someone makes a conditional threat of violence and states that they will act on it at an unspecified time in the future, the threat is not considered assault. However, depending on circumstances, it could be classified as another crime, such as harassment.
- An unreasonable fear: If someone’s level of fear is extraordinarily exaggerated for the threat leveled at them, the person who issued the threat may be able to avoid conviction.
- A still threat: If someone makes a verbal threat of violence against someone but does not move in a way that would lead that person to believe they were going to follow through with the threat, they may be able to avoid assault charges.
What Is Battery?
Battery differs from assault because it involves following through on the threats of harm. Battery refers to intentionally making physical contact with someone who is provoking or insulting in nature. Battery can be treated as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the nature of the specific crime in question. The classification depends on the severity of the harm inflicted.
When battery is treated as a misdemeanor, it is in the first degree. A judge can sentence someone convicted of first-degree misdemeanor battery to a combination of any of the following:
- Jail sentence up to 1 year
- Probation up to 1 year
- Fines not to exceed $1,000
When someone is convicted of third-degree felony battery, they can expect penalties such as:
- Prison sentence up to 5 years
- Probation for 5 years
- Fine up to $5,000
Anyone convicted of felony battery will receive a minimum sentence of 19 months in prison.
Defending Against a Battery Charge
A battery conviction is extremely serious and can have social penalties in addition to legal penalties. However, there are some common defenses used in battery cases, such as:
- Consent: If the defendant can prove that the physical contact they engaged in with the person claiming battery was consensual, they may be able to have their charge lowered or dropped.
- Lack of intent: Intent is a key part of battery cases, and if it can be proven that the defendant did not intend to cause physical harm, they may be able to avoid a conviction. That being said, there are some rare circumstances in which a person may touch someone intentionally without committing battery. An example would be if a nurse at an assisted living facility was trying to help someone who needed it even though they said no. If that person fell and was injured, the nurse would not have committed battery because they were simply doing their job.
- Self-defense: Self-defense can be argued if the person did not use deadly force to defend themselves against the other person’s attack (unless that attack could have reasonably resulted in death).
These commonly used defenses for a battery charge are also applicable to assault charges in many cases.
It is reasonable for someone to find assault and attempted battery very similar, however, they are different crimes. While assault is a threat to commit violence, attempted battery only occurs when someone tries to commit a violent act against someone else and fails.
Contact an Attorney
If you are facing a battery charge or an assault charge and need legal assistance, contact the Law Office of Armando J. Hernandez, P.A. today. With over 19 years of experience litigating criminal cases, Attorney Hernandez has the knowledge and skillset to effectively advocate on your behalf. We understand that having allegations of assault or battery against you can be scary and leave you feeling uncertain about your future.
We treat our clients with empathy and are dedicated to getting the charges against them reduced or even dropped. Contact us today at (305) 400-0074 or via our online contact form.