What Does “Assault and Battery” Really Mean?

Man with a fist
Turn on any television show involving criminal lawyers, courts or crime, and you will undoubtedly hear about some defendant who has been charged with “assault and battery”. To most people, this charge means that someone has been charged with a crime for beating someone else up or injuring them in some way. Sometimes that is true. But using these two words together is usually just an oversimplification of what assault means and what battery means under the laws here in Illinois. That is because each of these words has a separate and distinct meaning. A person can be charged with assault and never commit a battery. On the other hand, a person can be charged with a battery, but may never commit an assault.

Assault Doesn’t Require a Touching

The main difference between an assault and a battery is that when an assault occurs, it doesn’t mean that the victim was touched by the defendant. But for this crime to happen, the accused person must have done something to the victim to make them truly fear that they were about to get battered (which involves a touching as described later in this blog). Under the law in Chicago and all of Illinois, what we mean by that is that the victim must have a “reasonable apprehension” that a battery is about to occur (even if the victim never actually gets touched).

What is “Reasonable Apprehension”?

Every case is different and ultimately, it is always up to the judge to decide whether the victim was truly in reasonable apprehension of receiving a battery. One judge may see it one way and another may see it completely differently. The specific circumstances, size/weight/age of the parties, what exactly was said and every little thing that happened all go into the decision by the judge. So, for instance, what if the victim is a small elderly lady who inadvertently cuts in line in front of a professional weightlifter at the vitamin nutrition store and then the man shakes his fist in her face and yells “I’m going to kick your butt right now!”. Most judges would agree that this was an assault in that they truly believe that the woman must have been really scared that she was about to be battered (whether or not she was then actually touched).

But consider the scenario where the victim is a professional weightlifter who cuts in line at the donut shop in front of a ten-year-old girl. When he bends down to tie his shoe, she shakes her fist in his face and screams “No one cuts in front of me! I’m going to kick your butt right now!”. In the unlikely event that a case like this would ever actually result in an arrest or make it to court, most judges would agree that this was not an assault, because no grown man would have felt a reasonable apprehension that he was truly going to be harmed by the co-captain of the 4th grade cheerleading squad.

Battery Requires a Touching

Whereas an assault refers to an action that places the victim in real fear that he or she is about to get touched (even though the touching may not happen), there cannot be a battery unless the victim is touched in some way. Under the laws of Illinois, there are two basic types of battery. The first is the kind that most people think about when they think about this crime. That’s when a person is hurt in some way by the actions of another. It doesn’t have to be a very serious injury (although when this happens, it’s called an aggravated battery). It doesn’t even need to draw blood or cause a bruise. It just needs to cause pain, no matter how momentary. If it hurts, it’s probably a battery.

The other type of battery involves a touching that may not hurt but is considered to be provoking or offensive by the victim. As long as the judge agrees that the person was truly insulted or provoked by the touching, then it’s still probably a battery.

Whether the battery is a harmful battery or an insulting/provoking battery, in Chicago and across the state, it’s the same Class A misdemeanor crime in either event. It could be a direct contact by the aggressor with the victim, striking the person with hands, feet or any part of their body. But it could also be hitting someone with an object or even throwing an object at them. This touching needs to be intentional though, so it’s not intended that a person be arrested for accidentally stepping on another’s toe in line, even if the injury is very severe.

Contact an Experienced Assault and Battery Attorney

Since 1990, the legal team at Sexner & Associates LLC has defended those charged with both assaults and batteries. In many cases, there may an appropriate legal defense such as self-defense, defense of others or defense of property, that if presented properly in court may result in a finding of not guilty. Call us today for a free consultation at (800) 996-4824 or contact us online.

This blog is available for informational purposes only and is not considered legal advice on any subject matter. The blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed professional attorney, and readers are urged to consult their own legal counsel on specific legal questions.

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : December 30, 2021