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Battery vs Domestic Battery

Domestic violence causes rifts between millions of spouses and family members every year. It is a serious charge, so if you are accusing someone of domestic violence or are facing an accusation yourself, it is vital that you understand how one of the most common charges of domestic violence — domestic battery — is defined under family law and how it differs from the much broader battery charge.

What Is Battery?

Battery is a crime that occurs when you intentionally cause harmful or offensive physical contact to another party. This can be any form of harmful, insulting, or provoking touch. For example, shoving someone harshly or tripping someone when they pass you by. In some states, battery is bundled together with assault as “assault and battery” or simply the singular crime of “assault.”

Even if the incident did not result in the victim receiving physical injuries, battery is still considered a crime — the physical contact itself is unlawful, as the victim did not consent to it (whether explicitly or implied, such as when players participate in physical contact sports).

Most battery cases are relatively minor, and are classified as misdemeanors. However, more serious cases, called aggravated battery, will typically be tried as felonies. This involves steeper fees and longer time spent in prison. Aggravated battery is when the perpetrator:

  • Knowingly caused the other person permanent disability, disfigurement, or grievous bodily harm.

  • Concealed their identity while carrying out the act (e.g. wearing a hood, robe, or mask).

  • Used a deadly weapon.

  • Was aware that the other person performs official duties (e.g. an emergency medical technician, a community policing volunteer, or a teacher).

What Is Domestic Battery?

Domestic battery is a very specific type of battery that falls under domestic violence and family law. It occurs when the perpetrator and the victim have a certain relationship — the victim must be a family member or household member. Examples of this relationship include:

  • Spouses or ex-spouses

  • Blood-related family members (e.g. parents and their children)

  • People related by blood through a child (even if they share no other relationship)

  • Stepparents and their children

  • Co-parents

  • Current or former roommates

  • Elderly or disabled adults and their caregivers

Depending on where you live, the first offense is typically a misdemeanor. However, if the incident involves a minor, sexual assault, or fits the criteria for aggravated domestic battery, it can be charged as a felony and the penalties will be much higher, including prison sentences ranging from a few years to over a decade.

An incident is classified as aggravated domestic battery if it fulfills these criteria:

  • The perpetrator knowingly caused the other person permanent disability or disfigurement or grievous bodily harm,

  • Used a deadly weapon, or

  • Choked or strangled the victim.

Domestic Battery vs. Battery Summed Up

The biggest difference between domestic battery and battery is the relationship between those involved.

If you physically harm someone who is a complete stranger to you — with no blood relation or history of living together — the crime you would be charged with is battery. If you physically harm someone you have a relationship with (whether by marriage or blood), someone you have lived with (whether currently or in the past), or someone you have a responsibility to care for (e.g. an elderly or disabled person), then the crime you would be charged with is domestic battery.

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