According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women and one in seven men will suffer physical violence from an intimate partner during their lifetimes. In 2014, 106,882 domestic violence crimes were reported to Florida police agencies, leading to 64,460 arrests. However, domestic violence crimes often go unreported, so we can’t know the full extent of the problem.
This is a general overview of assault, battery, and domestic violence laws in the state of Florida, but for specific legal advice or representation regarding any particular case or charge of assault, battery, or domestic violence, you will need to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. In Florida, assault and battery are both considered quite serious crimes, and this state punishes both crimes harshly. However, when either assault or battery (or both) are part of a domestic violence accusation, the penalties for a conviction can be even more severe.
WHAT CONSTITUTES ASSAULT IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA?
West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney Frederick Hutchinson explains that, “Assault is a threat to do imminent harm and a battery is an unwarranted and uninvited touching. The biggest difference between domestic violence, assault, and battery is family relationship either by blood or marriage.” Florida law defines assault as the intentional threat, by word or act, to commit violence against another person joined with the apparent ability to do so, along with an action that creates a reasonable fear in the ostensible victim that violence is imminent.
No actual violence has to take place. Instead, to convict a defendant of assault, a Florida prosecutor must prove that the defendant intended to commit an act that was substantially certain to put the victim in fear of imminent violence. “Simple” assault in Florida is a second-degree misdemeanor. A conviction is punishable by up to sixty days in jail or six months on probation and a $500 fine.
WHAT CONSTITUTES AGGRAVATED ASSAULT IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA?
Florida law defines aggravated assault as an assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill or with the intent to commit a felony. Aggravated assault is a third-degree felony. Again, no actual violence has to take place, and the distinction between assault and aggravated assault is the use of a deadly weapon. Shaking your fist at someone and threatening to punch that person is assault, but pointing a gun at someone and threatening to shoot that person is aggravated assault.
A conviction for aggravated assault in Florida is punishable upon conviction by up to five years in prison or five years on probation and a $5000 fine. If a firearm is used to commit aggravated assault and the defendant is convicted, Florida law requires a minimum sentence of up to three years in a state prison. If the firearm is discharged, the prison sentence could potentially be twenty years.
WHAT CONSTITUTES BATTERY IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA?
The distinction between assault and battery is that if the person who is threatening to strike another person (and thus is committing assault) actually strikes that person, it is battery. Florida law defines battery as the actual and intentional touching or striking another person against his or her will with the intent to cause bodily harm to that person. A person who commits battery is guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor. Upon conviction, the offender can be sentenced to up to a year in jail or a year on probation.
Indirect contact, such throwing any object of any size at someone, can constitute battery. Florida law also states, “there need not be an actual touching of the victim’s person in order for a battery to occur, but only a touching of something intimately connected with the victim’s body.” The “something” might include keys, clothing, purses, wallets, cell phones, or other items held by or attached to another person.
WHAT CONSTITUTES FELONY BATTERY IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA?
In Florida, anyone “who has one prior conviction for battery, aggravated battery, or felony battery and who commits any second or subsequent battery commits a felony of the third degree.” Upon conviction, a felony battery is punishable by up to five years in prison or five years on probation and by a fine of up to $5,000. Additional penalties may include restitution, community service, and court-ordered treatment or counseling.
WHAT CONSTITUTES AGGRAVATED BATTERY IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA?
Florida law defines aggravated battery as a battery committed with a deadly weapon. If someone points a gun at another person, the crime is aggravated assault, but if someone fires the gun and a bullet hits the other person, the crime is aggravated battery. Under Florida law, aggravated battery is a second-degree felony punishable upon conviction by up to fifteen years in prison or fifteen years of probation and a fine of up to $10,000.
WHAT CONSTITUTES DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA?
Under Florida law, domestic violence is any battery, assault, aggravated or felony battery, aggravated assault, sexual assault, stalking, kidnapping, or any crime resulting in the physical injury or death of a family member or household member by another family member or household member. For the crime to constitute “domestic” violence, the family or household members must reside together now or must have resided together in the past in the same residence. The single exception is for parents who have a child in common. The law defines “family or household member” to include:
- husbands, wives, ex-husbands, and ex-wives
- persons related by blood or marriage or living together as a family
- persons who have resided together as a family in the past
- parents who have a child in common with or without marriage
In South Florida, anyone accused of any assault, battery, or crime of domestic violence will need the advice and services of an experienced West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney. When an assault or a battery is domestic violence, the penalties are harsher. The jail or prison sentence is longer, the fine is higher, and/or the restrictions after the offender is released from custody are more severe.
Domestic violence cases are almost always difficult cases because highly-charged emotions are almost always involved. If you are completely innocent – let’s say that the accusation against you was entirely fabricated – your attorney will fight vigorously for an acquittal (a not guilty verdict) on your behalf. In other cases, your attorney may suggest, for example, that you voluntarily enroll in a violence prevention or anger management class as your best legal strategy.