Assault and Battery vs. Domestic Assault and Battery
Assault and battery is legally defined as an unjustified harm you commit upon the body of another person. This jumbled up definition is meant to encompass you hitting, punching, kicking, biting, or pushing someone. In other words, if you intentionally cause a physical injury to another person, then you have committed an assault and battery.
A common example of an assault and battery case is a bar fight. Two strangers get into an argument and it gets physical. They do not have a prior relationship, so this is just a typical assault and battery charge, versus a domestic assault and battery.
What is a domestic assault and battery?
A domestic assault and battery is legally defined in the exact same manner as an assault and battery with one key difference: It is between two people with a familial or romantic relationship. Most people assume that a domestic assault and battery only applies to current romantic relationships, such as married or dating couples, but it also includes former romantic relationships. For example, if Paul’s ex-wife hits Paul’s new wife, that is a domestic assault and battery.
Another example that most people don’t anticipate is an assault and battery charge between a parent and their adult child. If Martha hits her 20-year-old son, it isn’t child abuse because he is no longer a child; instead, it is a domestic assault and battery. The same is true if her son hits her.
Another way to form this domestic relationship is by living together. If Sean and Bill are roommates who have never been in a romantic relationship, it is considered a domestic assault and battery when one physically attacks the other.
Is the punishment the same?
NO! Your relationship with the person you assault makes a drastic difference in the sentencing. A general assault and battery charge carries a maximum of 90 days in jail. A domestic assault and battery carries up to 1 year in jail.
In addition, the plea offers will be significantly different. If you receive your first general assault and battery charge and have no criminal history, you can expect a plea offer of 6 months of probation in the form of a deferred sentence, with an anger management class and some fines and fees. If you are charged with domestic assault and battery and do not have any criminal history, your plea will most likely include 18 months of probation in the form of a deferred sentence, the batterers intervention program, no contact with the victim, possible community service, and fines and fees.
What is the Batterers Intervention Program (BIP)?
BIP is an extensive program that is required on all domestic assault and battery cases. It is very different from most of the other statutorily required classes that you see on criminal cases. BIP is a weekly class that takes about one year to complete. There are strict rules for attendance and participation; if you miss too many classes you have to start over. If someone violates their probation for a domestic assault and battery case, it is typically because they failed to complete BIP.
What is the biggest difference between an assault and battery and domestic assault and battery?
The biggest difference between these two charges is that a domestic assault and battery is a predicate offense, while a regular assault and battery is not. A predicate offense is a type of charge that has a more lenient punishment the first time you commit it, and a more severe punishment if you are convicted a second time.
For example, if you have a conviction for domestic assault and battery and receive another domestic assault and battery charge within 10 years, that second charge will become a felony and carries up to 4 years in prison. Conversely, if you have a conviction for assault and battery and get charged with another assault and battery, the maximum punishment will stay the same and the case will not become a felony.
Can assault and battery ever become a felony?
General assault and battery alone will never become a felony, regardless of how many prior convictions you have. However, there are many nuances and additions to the charge that can turn it into a felony.
First, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (any sharp object or firearm) is a felony and carries up to 10 years in prison.
Also, committing assault and battery upon a police officer is a felony. The caveat is that the assault must be committed while the officer is acting within the scope of their profession. If you get in a bar fight with a stranger who happens to be an off-duty police officer, it is not a felony assault and battery. However, if you attack a police officer who’s acting in the line of duty, you can be charged with a felony assault and battery and receive up to 5 years in jail.
Another way the assault and battery charge can be escalated to a felony, often without you expecting it, is when it is deemed “aggravated.” An aggravated assault and battery is when it results in great bodily injury to the victim or is committed against a person who is elderly or otherwise handicapped.
The definition of great bodily injury can be fairly broad, and includes “[a] bone fracture, protracted and obvious disfigurement, protracted loss or impairment of the function of a body part, organ or mental faculty, or substantial risk of death.” For example, if you punch someone and fracture their nose, you are guilty of felony aggravated assault and battery, even though you didn’t realize the extent of their injury and believed it was only a misdemeanor general assault and battery. The punishment for an aggravated assault and battery is up to 5 years in prison.
The Bottom Line
A domestic assault and battery charge comes with a far greater punishment and significantly more requirements while on probation than a general assault and battery. Additionally, a domestic assault and battery charge is a predicate offense, and could lead to felony charges down the road if you are charged with the same crime again. If you have been charged with assault and have questions about how to proceed, give us a call for a free consultation.