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Battery is a criminal offense involving unlawful physical contact, distinct from assault in that the contact is not necessarily violent.

In the United States, criminal battery, or simply battery, is the use of force against another, resulting in harmful or offensive contact.[1] 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 touching of the person of another by the aggressor himself, or by a substance put in motion by him."[2] In most cases, battery is now governed by statute, and its severity is determined by the law of the specific jurisdiction.


Specific rules regarding battery depend on the relevant jurisdiction, however some elements remain constant despite jurisdiction. Battery generally requires:

  1. An offensive touching or contact is made upon the victim, instigated by the actor
  2. The actor intends or knows that his action will cause the offensive touching
    1. In some jurisdictions, for instance under the Model Penal Code, there is a battery when the actor acts recklessly

Battery is typically classified as either simple or aggravated. Although battery typically occurs in the context of physical altercations, battery also applies in other instances, such as medical cases where the doctor performs a non-consented medical procedure.

Specific countries


There is an offence which could be (loosely) described as battery in Russia. Article 116 [1] [2] of the Russian Criminal Code provides that battery or similar violent actions which cause pain are an offence.

United Kingdom

England and Wales

In the law of England and Wales, battery is not graded, although there are separate offences of an assault occasioning actual bodily harm and infliction of grievous bodily harm. Battery consists merely in unlawfully touching another (thus no particular injury is necessary). Battery is distinguished from assault, where the victim is caused to apprehend the immediate commission of a battery. English law also does not recognize any offence of sexual battery, rather having the offence of sexual assault, which is the non-consensual sexual touching of another (s. 3 Sexual Offences Act 2003). 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 [1976] 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 [1998] 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 [1957] 2 QB 396).

Whether it is a statutory offence

In DPP v. Taylor, DPP v. Little [1992] 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[3][4][5] and in Haystead v. DPP 164 JP 396, DC,[3] the Divisional court expressed the obiter opinion that battery remains a common law offence.

Mode of trial and sentence

In England and Wales, it is a summary offence.[6] However, where section 40 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 applies, it can be an additional charge on an indictment. It is usually tried summarily.Template:Quantify

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.[6]

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:

  • R v. Nottingham Crown Court ex parte Director of Public Prosections [1996] 1 Cr.App.R. (S.) 283
  • R v. Dunn [2003] 2 Cr.App.R. (S.) 90


There is no distinct offence of battery in Scotland. The offence of assault includes acts that could be described as battery.

United States

At common law, simple battery is a misdemeanor. The prosecutor must prove all three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. an unlawful application of force
  2. to the person of another
  3. 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:

  • Simple battery may include any form of non-consensual harmful or insulting contact, regardless of the injury caused. Criminal battery requires an intent to inflict an injury on another, as distinguished from a tortious battery.
  • Sexual battery may be defined as non-consensual touching of the intimate parts of another. At least in Florida, "Sexual battery means oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by, or union with, the sexual organ of another or the anal or vaginal penetration of another by any other object" [4].
  • Family-violence battery may be limited in its scope between persons within a certain degree of relationship: statutes for this offense have been enacted in response to increasing awareness of the problem of domestic violence.
  • Aggravated battery generally is seen as a serious offense of felony grade, involving the loss of the victim's limb or some other type of permanent disfigurement. As successor to the common-law crime of mayhem, this is sometimes subsumed in the definition of aggravated assault.

In some jurisdictions, battery recently has been constructed to include directing bodily secretions at another person without his or her permission. In some jurisdictions this automatically is considered aggravated battery.

In some jurisdictions, the charge of criminal battery also requires evidence of a mental state (mens rea).

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.

See also


  1. Black's Law Dictionary Garner, p. 162
  2. Clark, William Lawrence; Association, American Bar (1909), Elementary Law, pp. 117–18,, retrieved 2009-08-01
  3. Archbold Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice, 1993 supplements and 1994 and 1996 editions
  4. Smith and Hogan, Criminal Law, 9th Ed, p.402
  5. J.C. Smith [1991] Crim LR 900
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Criminal Justice Act 1988, section 39

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