According to Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics, 102,559 people were arrested on assault-related charges in 2021. We say “assault-related” because the Uniform Crime Report does not distinguish between assault and battery. And you might be surprised to learn that there is a significant difference between the two.
Florida statutes broadly define assault as “an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person or 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.” This misdemeanor offence is upgraded to felony aggravated assault if the threat involves the use of deadly weapon “without the intent to kill” or with the intent to commit a felony.
Battery, on the other hand, involves actual and intentional touching or striking of another person against their will or intentionally causing them bodily harm. As with assault, battery can be either a misdemeanor or felony offense depending upon the severity of the action.
With penalties for battery ranging from fines for lesser misdemeanors to up to 15 years imprisonment—or higher with aggravating circumstances—for the most serious felony batteries, you should not try to defend yourself against the charges. Experienced criminal defense lawyers, such as those at Tallahassee-based Cowhey + Ward Attorneys at Law, can strategize a defense designed to secure the best outcome possible. Competent criminal defense lawyers intimately know Florida’s misdemeanor and felony laws and are proficient at navigating Florida’s complicated court system. Read on to learn more about the primary types of battery offenses and the potential legal consequences of a conviction.
Commonly called “simple” battery, Florida Statute 784.03 defines it as “when a person:
This first-degree misdemeanor charge is elevated to a third-degree felony if the suspect has a prior battery conviction or if the battery is committed during a riot. Victim status is another aggravating factor that can elevate the misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. Misdemeanor battery carries penalties of up to one-year probation to up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
Simple battery charges cover incidents involving no injuries or limited bodily harm. In fact, intentionally touching another person against their will provides enough cause for an arrest. And the touch can be indirect, such as by throwing or projecting an object, and the touch can involve contact with the victim’s closely held property, such as a handbag, cell phone, or anything else they are holding or wearing. However, without “intent,” the suspect cannot be convicted.
The victim’s injuries mark the difference between misdemeanor and felony battery under Florida law. Police and prosecutors will charge the battery as a third-degree felony if the suspect’s intentional touch or strike “causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement.” A felony battery conviction carries penalties of up to five years of probation, five years in prison, and fines of up to $5,000. Courts may also order the defendant to pay the victim restitution, provide community service, and undergo substance abuse or psychological assessment and treatment.
Police and prosecutors have the option to charge defendants with the more serious second-degree aggravated battery instead of felony battery based solely on the “great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement” provision of felony battery. Defendants who use a deadly weapon in carrying out the battery are subject to this charge, as are those who carry out battery on a victim they “knew or should have known” was pregnant.
A conviction on aggravated battery charges comes with penalties that can include up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and/or $10,000 in fines. Florida law mandates severe minimum sentences if the aggravated battery involves the use or discharge of a firearm, as described below:
While covered under different statutes, battery and aggravated battery are considered domestic violence battery when the victim is a family or household member or in a dating relationship with the defendant. The same penalties for battery apply to those convicted of domestic assault, but conviction carries minimum jail terms that start at 10 days depending upon the circumstances of the battery. A domestic violence battery conviction also has a minimum one-year probation term, including attendance and completion of a batterers’ intervention program.
A battery charge involving the strangulation of a victim who is a family or household member or in a dating relationship with the defendant is a third-degree felony. Strangulation is defined as knowingly and intentionally impeding the victim’s normal breathing or blood flow by applying pressure on the throat or neck or blocking their nose or mouth. As a third-degree felony, a conviction carries maximum penalties of up to five years of probation, five years in prison, and/or up to $5,000 in fines.
Florida statutes include provisions that elevate offence categories based on the status of the victim. Protected victims include:
In general, when a battery involves these protected victim classes, the basic charges are elevated to the next level of severity. For example, a third-degree misdemeanor is raised to a first-degree felony, or a first-degree felony is raised to a second-degree felony.
As detailed, battery is a serious crime in Florida that results in severe punishment upon conviction. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can assess the charges to help develop the best defense possible. While every case is different, potential defense strategies might rely on any of the following:
To learn more about how Cowhey + Ward can help strategize an effective defense for your battery charges, contact our Tallahassee-based office today at (850) 222-1000.
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