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Assault Charges - Who Is Liable and When

Updated on March 16, 2010

Qualifying Assault Charges

Assault charges are typically allegations of intentional physical contact meant to be harmful against another person. The terms "assault" and "battery" are often used interchangeably, though to be precise, an assault is the indication that a physical attack is imminent, and battery is the actual physical contact.

There are three main criteria for a situation to qualify as an assault, and the event must fulfill all three:

  1. The intentional threat of injury to the other person
  2. The victim is genuinely afraid and believes the assaulter will attack him or her if able, and
  3. The attacker has the apparent physical ability, at the time, to inflict injury on the victim

This consensual pillow fight would not count as assault. []
This consensual pillow fight would not count as assault. []

Criteria to for Assault and Battery Cases

In court cases over assault charges, perception and intention make a big difference in determining whether or not a scenario qualifies as assault.

The victim in assault cases need never be touched, for example, and even if the attacker never intended to actually hurt the victim, if the person being attacked believed that he or she meant harm, the case would still qualify as assault. Likewise, even if the attacker didn't have the actual ability to harm, despite perceptions (like using a fake gun), the situation still qualifies as a charge of assault.

However, words by themselves can never qualify as either an assault or battery, no matter what is said.

Battery charges, which include the accusation of unwanted physical contact by another person, can make an assault case more serious. Even poking someone or spitting on them qualifies as battery, and these charges usually go hand-in-hand with assault cases.

Defense Against Assault Charges

The only way that assault charges can be defended against by an assault lawyer (unless the charges are inherently false), is by invoking the defense of privilege, which means that the other person implicitly or explicitly allowed the contact to take place.

  • Sports are a big example of this, even actions that are against the game's rules and unsportsmanlike generally follow under the umbrella of consent, and thus you can't accuse a fellow player of assault or battery. People who voluntarily engage in a fight, including unplanned brawls, also cannot sue each other for either assault or battery.
  • Also, police officers are allowed to use reasonable force to arrest someone under lawful legal procedures, and neither assault nor battery charges will be upheld in court.
  • Self-defense is allowed as a defense to an assault charge, if the defense used is reasonable and proportionate to the potential or actual attack. Those being attacked may be expected to make a reasonable effort to remove themselves from the situation first.
  • Some jurisdictions also allow reasonable defense of others as an allowable exception to assault charges, though the degree to which force is allowed varies widely. In the same manner, many jurisdictions allow people to defend their property, to varying extents protected under the jurisdiction's laws.
  • Finally, teachers, parents, and mental health workers are allowed to to use force or restraint in varying extents depending on the person's position and the jurisdiction, against their wards.


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