Nearly every Illinois resident is probably familiar with the terms assault and battery, and it is common to think they both mean the same thing. People generally think a physical or violent attack on someone is both an assault and battery, but that is not true. In reality, the two offenses are quite distinct.
Under Illinois law, a person commits an assault when they knowingly and unlawfully engage in a course of conduct which places another person in reasonable fear of bodily harm. The key takeaway here is that no physical contact needs to occur for a person to have committed an assault.
For example, lunging at a person, or walking toward them menacingly while holding a baseball bat could arguably be deemed an assault. To prove assault, it would need to be shown that the victim reasonably feared bodily harm.
The word “reasonable” here is important. If a person walks toward someone calmly, with no weapons, and says they would like to speak to them, a reasonable person will generally not fear bodily harm from those actions. Without a reasonable fear of harm, no assault has occurred.
In contrast to assault, a battery occurs when a person knowingly and unlawfully causes bodily harm to someone else or makes physical contact with someone that is insulting or provoking in nature. Once a person’s actions result in intentional physical conduct designed to insult or harm, the offense becomes a battery.
Assault and battery often occur together, such as when someone verbally threatens to physically harm someone, and then physically harms them. However, this is not always the case. A sudden physical attack without any forewarning may be deemed only a battery, while a verbal threat with no physical follow up could be considered an assault.
There are many nuances to criminal laws for violent crimes such as assault and battery. People who find themselves charged with either one should have a thorough understanding of the of the law and what must be proven to establish a guilty verdict.