The average person learns most of what they know about the American criminal justice system by watching Hollywood blockbusters or reading best selling crime novels. Unfortunately, the accuracy of what they learn often leaves much to be desired. Take, for example, the ubiquitous use of the terms “assault and battery” in movies and books. The terms are almost always used together, leading most people to believe that “assault and battery” is a single offense. In reality, however, assault and battery are defined differently and are often separate and distinct criminal offenses.
The American Criminal Justice System
Before discussing the difference between assault and battery, it is important to understand that both terms may be defined differently from one state to the next. In the U.S., we operate under a federalist form of government. That means that we have a strong centralized government (the federal government) as well as numerous semi-autonomous smaller governments (the state governments). Accordingly, we have a federal criminal justice system that prosecutes violations of federal law and each state has a state criminal justice system that prosecutes violations of state law. Those laws are also enacted by the federal and state governments respectfully. Ultimately, that means that a single term, such as “assault,” could be defined differently by the federal government as well as by each individual state government.
Defining Assault and Battery
Despite the fact that each individual state defines its own terms, it is possible to broadly define the terms assault and battery. Generally speaking, the term “assault” refers to a threat of bodily harm whereas the term “battery” refers to an actual physical touching or bodily harm.
Assault and Battery in Tennessee
Under Tennessee law, the Tennessee Code Section 39-13-101 governs the criminal offense of assault, the pertinent parts of which read as follows:
(a) A person commits assault who:
(1) Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another;
(2) Intentionally or knowingly causes another to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury; or
(3) Intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another and a reasonable person would regard the contact as extremely offensive or provocative.
Tennessee does not have a separate battery offense. A careful reading of the assault statute will tell you that the offense of battery is actually included in the assault statute, despite the fact that the word itself does not appear in the statute. Assault, in Tennessee, can be either a threat or an actual physical touching. In addition, section 39-13-102 of the Tennessee Code governs the offense of aggravated assault, reading as follows:
(a) A person commits aggravated assault who:
(1) Intentionally or knowingly commits an assault as defined in § 39-13-101 and:
(A) Causes serious bodily injury to another; or
(B) Uses or displays a deadly weapon; or
(2) Recklessly commits an assault as defined in § 39-13-101(a)(1), and:
(A) Causes serious bodily injury to another; or
(B) Uses or displays a deadly weapon.
Sexual Battery in Tennessee
Although Tennessee does not have a separate simple battery statute, the state does have a separate and distinct sexual battery offense. Tennessee Code Section 39-13-505 governs the offense of sexual battery in Tennessee, reading as follows:
(a) Sexual battery is unlawful sexual contact with a victim by the defendant or the defendant by a victim accompanied by any of the following circumstances:
(1) Force or coercion is used to accomplish the act;
(2) The sexual contact is accomplished without the consent of the victim and the defendant knows or has reason to know at the time of the contact that the victim did not consent;
(3) The defendant knows or has reason to know that the victim is mentally defective, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless; or
(4) The sexual contact is accomplished by fraud.
Penalties for a Conviction for Assault or Battery in Tennessee
If convicted of assault or battery in Tennessee, your potential punishment will depend on several factors, including the severity of the injury caused and your relationship to the victim. Basic assault is charged as a Class A or B misdemeanor; however, aggravated assault can be charged as a Class C or D felony. Sexual assault is generally charged as a Class E felony. A conviction for misdemeanor assault carries with it up to a year in jail. If convicted of a felony, however, you could face up to 15 years in prison (Class C felony).
Contact a Tennessee Assault and Battery Lawyer
If you have been charged with an assault or battery offense in Tennessee, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced Tennessee criminal defense lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.