For many people, assault and battery are interchangeable, but in the eyes of the law, they are two distinct crimes. An assault occurs when a person feels imminently threatened by another person. For instance, if a bar patron suddenly takes a beer bottle, smashes it on the table and starts threatening other patrons or the bar staff with the broken bottle, he has committed assault whether or not he has actually made physical contact with someone.
However, a weapon is not necessary for an assault to occur. A good example would be someone with a toy gun that looks realistic threatening other people. The person may not have been in any immediate danger, they still felt that the threat was imminent, therefore an assault has occurred. The only necessary condition for assault is for the victim to fear that force is imminent and that they will be a target. Another example of an assault that occurs without a weapon would be if a much larger man threatened to “beat the daylights” out of a smaller woman. Because that woman could reasonably fear that this man could do serious damage, an assault has occurred even if he had no weapon.
Battery, on the other hand, happens when physical contact occurs. There are three elements that a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt for someone to be convicted of battery: 1) Unlawful force was used; 2) This force was applied to another person; 3) Bodily injury or otherwise offensive contact resulted. Without these three elements, a person will not be convicted of battery. For instance, if a person is being robbed and they punch the attacker, that person will not be convicted of battery. Because they are within their legal right to defend themselves using reasonable force, the contact was not unlawful, therefore not battery occurred (the potential robber, on the other hand, may be facing charges of his own).
In Rhode Island, being charged with assault and/or battery is extremely serious and needs to be addressed right away. In this state, the laws and penalties for violating them are defined in R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-5. Depending on certain elements of the assault or battery, a person may face the threat of significant time in prison. If a weapon was used in the assault or battery, if the battery resulted in permanent disfigurement, or if the battery involves a woman’s vagina, this can be considered a felony with a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in jail. For a simple assault or simple battery, the maximum penalty is one year in jail with a fine of up to $1,000.
Any threat to a person’s liberty needs to be handled by an experienced, competent attorney. Not only could a conviction for assault and battery land you in jail for a significant amount of time, a conviction may bar you from certain types of employment and follow you for the rest of your life. If you’ve been charged with assault and battery, seek competent and experience legal representation as soon as possible.