When most people think of assault and battery charges, they picture someone punching another person. That’s definitely assault and battery, unless the punch was justified by something like self-defense, but did you know that assault and battery covers a much wider range of conduct?
Depending on the allegations, assault and battery charges could result in a misdemeanor conviction that carries up to 30 days in jail, or a 20-year felony conviction if someone was seriously injured.
How is assault and battery defined and what are the different degrees of assault and battery under SC law?
What is Assault and Battery?
To understand what assault and battery means under SC law, it helps to know the history of assault and battery charges.
Although we call it “assault and battery” now, it used to be two separate charges – “assault” and “battery.”
Assault means to threaten someone with harm with the present ability to carry out the threat. For example, if I draw back my fist as if to punch you in the face – and there is nothing stopping me from punching you in the face – I have committed an assault, even if I don’t follow through and no one is hurt.
Battery is an unwanted touching – it could mean grabbing hold of someone, pinching someone as I walk by their desk at work if they do not want to be touched, or, as in the above example, it could mean my fist connecting with someone’s face as I punch them.
Under SC law today, the separate offenses of “assault” and “battery” have been combined into the single offense of “assault and battery,” which, in most cases, covers either 1) threatening harm, 2) causing harm (or an unwanted touching), or both.
Examples of Assault and Battery
Many offenses that are assault, battery, or both may also be charged as a separate offense (for example, pointing and presenting a firearm or attempted murder), but, for purposes of illustration, let’s look at the actions that could be considered assault and battery.
Assault could include:
- Threatening to hurt someone (with the intent to follow through and the present ability to do it),
- Pointing a gun at someone,
- Throwing something at someone (even if it doesn’t hit them),
- Raising your fist or swinging at someone, or
- Spitting at someone.
Battery could include:
- Punching a person or striking them with an object or weapon,
- Shooting a person with a gun,
- Slapping, pushing, pinching, or kicking someone,
- Touching a person sexually without their permission, or
- Touching a person in any way that is unwanted.
Under SC law today, however, assault and battery have been combined into a single criminal offense. What are the specific acts that SC assault and battery laws prohibit?
What are the Different Types of Assault and Battery in SC?
Assault and battery laws in SC are divided into three degrees – first, second, and third degree – and the most serious charge of ABHAN, or assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.
Note that there are other related charges that may result in even more severe penalties, such as murder, attempted murder, or sexual assault charges.
Third-Degree Assault and Battery
Assault and battery third degree is the simplest form of assault and battery charges in SC with the least severe penalty. It essentially combines the former common law assault and common law battery offenses into one charge – for a conviction, the state must prove either:
- You injured another person, or
- You threatened to injure another person.
Third-degree assault and battery covers minor injuries like bruises, cuts, scrapes, or burns that do not require extensive medical care, while more serious injuries would result in a person being charged with a second- or third- degree assault and battery.
It is a misdemeanor offense, ordinarily heard in the magistrate or municipal court, that carries a maximum penalty of up to 30 days in jail.
Second-Degree Assault and Battery
Assault and battery second degree is when you either 1) injure someone or 2) threaten to injure someone and:
- Moderate bodily injury resulted or could have resulted, or
- It involved touching a person’s private parts, whether or not the person was injured.
“Moderate bodily injury” means the person lost consciousness, there was temporary disfigurement or loss of a bodily member or organ, the injury required the use of anesthesia during treatment, or it resulted in a fracture or dislocation.
Second-degree assault and battery is a misdemeanor offense, heard in the General Sessions Court, that carries up to three years in prison.
First-Degree Assault and Battery
Assault and battery first degree is a bit more complicated – it could mean injuring someone or threatening someone, depending on the conduct.
If the alleged victim is injured (battery only), assault and battery first degree covers:
- Touching someone’s private parts without consent and with lewd intent (note that you can be convicted of second-degree assault and battery even if there is no lewd intent), or
- Injuring someone during the commission of a robbery, burglary, kidnapping, or theft.
If you threaten or attempt to injure someone (assault only), assault and battery first degree covers situations where:
- The assault would have caused great bodily injury or death, or
- The threat or attempt to injure was made during the commission of a robbery, burglary, kidnapping, or theft.
“Great bodily injury” means that there was a substantial risk of death or the attack caused “serious, permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ.”
First-degree assault and battery is a felony offense, heard in the General Sessions Court, that carries up to ten years in prison.
ABHAN – Assault and Battery of a High and Aggravated Nature
While assault and battery first degree covers threats or attempts to injure someone that would have resulted in great bodily injury, ABHAN covers situations where the alleged victim is actually injured (battery only) and either:
- Great bodily injury resulted, or
- The attack was likely to cause death or great bodily injury, even if it did not.
Assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature is a felony, heard in General Sessions Court, that carries up to 20 years in prison.
A Few More Examples
Let’s look at a few more examples of assault and battery offenses, with the statutory language in mind this time:
- I point a gun at someone: first-degree assault and battery, because I threatened them and, if I had followed through, the attack is likely to have caused great bodily injury or death.
- I shoot someone, but the bullet hits their foot and does not kill them: ABHAN, because the attack was likely to cause death or great bodily injury, even though it did not.
- I punch someone, knock them out, and break their nose: second-degree assault and battery, because I caused moderate bodily injury.
- I punch someone, causing permanent damage to their eye and loss of vision: first-degree assault and battery, because I caused great bodily injury.
- I slap someone, causing a bruise on their cheek: third-degree assault and battery.
- I slap a convenience store clerk as I am robbing him, causing a bruise on his cheek: first-degree assault and battery, because it happened during the commission of a robbery.
As you can see, SC’s assault and battery laws are complex and cover a wide range of conduct. The details of how the alleged assault or battery happened and what type of injuries resulted can make a difference, even if there is a conviction, because each assault and battery offense is a lesser-included offense of the level above it, and ABHAN is a lesser-included offense of attempted murder.
This means that, if a jury finds that the facts are not as serious as the prosecutor has claimed – the injuries were not as severe, there was no robbery or burglary, the intent was not lewd and lascivious – then the potential prison sentence for the charged offense could be reduced significantly.
Charged with Assault and Battery in SC?
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