Both Missouri and Kansas have separate statutory schemes for dealing with the crimes of assault and battery. Each of these two types of crimes is a separate offense, with a specific legal definition. For example, under the Kansas Statutes (21-3408), assault is defined as any deliberate act or overt threat that reasonably makes a person fear for his or her safety.
For this type of assault charge, it is important to note that it involves only the “imminent fear” of bodily harm, not necessarily any harm itself. Battery is a separate crime with its own statute. It involves an action in which the offensive contact is actually carried out. In actual practice, it is common for these two separate offenses to be used interchangeably, however regrettable that may be.
Either assault or battery can be charged as a “simple” offense, that is, without any enhancement based on the alleged fact pattern. Unfortunately, however, it is common for prosecutors to file a charge as an “aggravated” assault or an “aggravated” battery. The word “aggravated” in used in the context of criminal law to distinguish fact patterns where the defendant’s conduct had some additional factor showing a heightened sense of criminal culpability, or went beyond the scope of the simple offense.
What constitutes an aggravated offense? An aggravated assault is generally one in which the perpetrator used a “deadly weapon”, used a disguise, or one in which the perpetrator intended to otherwise commit a felony. Aggravated batteries, like simple batteries, focus on the harm actually caused to the victim. In an aggravated battery scenario, the prosecutor is alleging that the defendant intentionally inflicted bodily harm to the victim. There are additional enhancements here if the victim was a law enforcement officer.
Finally, it is important to point out that, in the modern era, “domestic battery” has become its own subset of the assault and battery world. When allegations of altercations, tussles, and fights come about in a household, someone may be charged with domestic battery. The penalties are enhanced depending on the number of prior incidents of domestic battery that a person has had. The tragedy of this type of offense is that, typically, it involves situations where people in a household never intended for anyone to be charged with a crime. Disputes happen, they escalate for one reason or another, and then someone calls the police. And, more often than not, someone is arrested. Many Kansas and Missouri municipalities have laws that direct police officers to make arrests in these situations for “public safety” reasons, even if the household members don’t want an arrest made.
Like any other criminal charge, the charging authority (i.e., the governmental entity accusing a defendant of a crime) is required to prove each element of its case beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition to this, legal precedents over the years have developed some absolute defenses to charges of assault and battery. These are listed below:
- Self Defense
- Defense of Others
- Defense of Property
Consent. The idea behind this defense is that the alleged victim in the assault or battery charge “consented” to being subject to the physical contact or imminent danger of physical contact. Essentially, the idea here is that people should be allowed to handle their own relations with each other, without interference from the government. This defense is commonly found in sexually-related assault or battery cases.
Self Defense. A person is permitted to use reasonable force when necessary to stop an attack on himself or herself, or when he or she reasonably believes that they are in imminent danger of harm. The key word here is “reasonably.” A person may cannot claim to be in fear of imminent bodily harm when an objective, neutral analysis of the situation shows he overreacted. These types of situations are very fact-specific, and each case will be different. The precise nuances to this general principle vary between Kansas and Missouri, and among many other states. Often, a key question will be: what level of force is permitted to repel an assault? Under what circumstances does self-defense stretch into an offensive attack?
Defense of Others. The situation here is similar to that of self-defense, but the focus is on the threat to some third party. This may arise in vigilante scenarios, “good citizen” scenarios, “bystander” scenarios, or other situations when someone uses force to prevent harm not to himself, but to someone else. And the requirements are generally the same, in that a person using force to protect someone else must have a reasonable belief that that person was about to be subject to imminent harm. But the laws in Kansas and Missouri will vary on the degree of force permitted.
Defense of Property. With this defense, the focus is on the concept that a person may use reasonable force necessary to protect his property from intrusion or destruction. The laws in various states differ greatly in how this defense can be used and applied, and the case law is evolving constantly, especially when firearms may have been used in the alleged defense. What type or level of force may be permitted to retrieve stolen property is also a big issue in these fact patterns.
Duress (Coercion). This defense, although relatively rare, does come up in some situations, especially those involving hazing, gang initiations or street-gang scenarios, or other group-type behaviors where someone may have been “pressured” into committing an assault or battery. The idea here is that the person accused of an assault or battery can offer evidence to show that he or she was compelled to commit the assault or battery by third parties.
Insanity or Diminished Capacity. These are very rare. They involve situations where a defendant may claim his action was not “voluntary” within the meaning of the law, in that he or she was not able to appreciate the nature and consequences of his or her act. This situation is not likely to be encountered outside of serious felony sexual assault scenarios.
Stating the general legal principles here is only the first step. Everything depends on the facts of the particular case. If you or someone you know has been accused of some type of assault or battery, you need an attorney with actual trial experience in this area of the law.