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Defending yourself: Assault and battery defenses examined

What's the difference between assault and battery and simply defending yourself?

Many people think that the only real difference is who threw the first punch -- but it often isn't that simple. In fact, throwing the first punch might just be someone's reaction to a perceived threat -- which makes it a defensive gesture instead of an aggressive one.

Self-defense or the defense of others are probably the two most common defenses to the charge of assault and battery. They're essentially the same defense -- the only difference is who is identified as the target of the attack. For example, a man defending himself in a bar fight against another man is exerting his right to self-defense. If he gets into the fight to protect his much smaller friend, then he's exerting his right to defend someone else against physical harm.

Self-defense is often a carefully scrutinized claim -- it isn't uncommon for there to be witnesses to the confrontation or even video evidence that can help prosecutors and juries decide what was really happening -- but no defendant should ever be sure that a jury will see things the same way that he or she does.

In order to prove that an act of violence was really an act of self-defense or the defense of another, the person charged has to establish several things:

  1. The person claiming to be victimized by the assault and battery actually threatened to harm either the defendant or the person the defendant was protecting.
  2. The defendant believed that threat to be reasonable, immediate and real.
  3. The defendant didn't provoke the threat and could not reasonably retreat or escape without violence.

Often, it's also far more important how the fight ended than who threw the first punch. For example, imagine that the defendant reacted to a verbal threat by hitting the so-called victim and knocking him down. Then the defendant quickly fled before the so-called victim could get back up. That's a very different action -- and speaks of a very different motive -- than a defendant who continued to beat and kick the man on the ground into unconsciousness, causing severe injury.

An assault and battery charge is a serious crime -- which makes it wise to consult a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible in order to discuss your possible defenses.

Source: FindLaw, "Assault and Battery Defenses," accessed Sep. 29, 2017

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