In Florida, an assault is intentional threats, words or actions that cause a person to feel afraid of impending violence. (Fla. Stat. §784.011.) Battery is actual offensive physical contact, such as punching another person or hitting someone with an object. (Fla. Stat. §784.03.)
Aggravated assault is an assault with a deadly weapon or with the intent to commit a felony. (Fla. Stat. §784.021.) Assault does not require an intent to injure, only the intent to cause the victim fear of an immediate attack.
Felony Battery and Domestic Battery by Strangulation
If battery results in great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to the victim, the offender is guilty of a felony battery, whether or not he intended to cause such serious injury. (Fla. Stat. §784.01(1).)
If someone batters a family or household member by impeding the victim’s normal breathing or blood circulation and this creates a risk of great bodily harm, the offender is guilty of domestic battery by strangulation. Strangulation consists of putting pressure on someone’s throat or neck or blocking the nose or mouth. (Fla. Stat. §784.01(2).)
A family or household member is a spouse, former spouse, an intimate partner or a blood relation with whom the offender lives or has lived in the past, or someone with whom the offender has had a child. (Fla. Stat. §741.28.)
Aggravated battery includes the commission of a battery against a victim who is pregnant at the time of the offense, if the offender knew or should have known of the pregnancy. (Fla. St. §784.045.). Aggravated battery also includes the following two offenses: intentionally or knowingly causing great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to the victim while committing a batter,; and battery with a deadly weapon.
If someone possesses or uses a firearm during the commission of an aggravated assault or aggravated battery, the offender is subject to enhanced penalties.
What is Great Bodily Harm and Permanent Disability or Disfigurement?
Great bodily harm is any harm more severe than minor or slight harm, such as minor bruises, and could include wounds that bleed profusely or require suturing, broken bones, and injuries requiring surgery.
Permanent disability is an injury that leaves a person permanently unable to function in a normal manner. A permanent limp, chronic back pain that limits a person’s activities, and permanent impairment of someone’s ability to speak, write, or perform intellectual or physical tasks are permanent disabilities.
Permanent disfigurement refers to an alteration of the physical body such as a visible scar on someone’s face or other body part, loss of a limb, or a broken bone that alters one’s physical appearance, such as a broken nose or a finger that is no longer straight.
What is a Deadly Weapon?
An object or substance that is inherently deadly or dangerous, such as a firearm, knife, bleach or other dangerous poison, is a deadly weapon. An object that is not inherently dangerous but that an offender uses or threatens to use in a manner likely to cause death or great bodily harm also is considered a deadly weapon. If a boot is heavy and steel-toed, for example, and the person wearing the boots kicks or threatens to kick someone in anger, the action could be charged as a battery or an assault with a deadly weapon because the offender used the boots in a manner (kicking) that could cause seriously injury or even kill the victim. Learn more about Assault or Battery with a Firearm in Florida.
Consequences of Aggravated Assault, Felony Battery, and Aggravated Battery
Aggravated assault, felony battery, and domestic battery by strangulation are all third degree felonies, but crimes of aggravated assault, felony battery and aggravated battery can be charged as second- or even first-degree felonies if the victims fit within Florida’s “special victim” class. Second- and first-degree felonies are punished more severely than third-degree felonies. Below is an explanation of third-degree felony sentences, special victim status, and punishments for second- and first-degree felonies.
Penalties for a Third Degree Felony (Aggravated Assault) in Florida
A person convicted of a third degree felony faces the following penalties:
- up to five years in prison (Fla. Stat. §775.082)
- a fine up to $5000 (Fla. Stat. §775.083)
- probation up to five years, and
Aggravated assault against certain victims is a second degree felony; aggravated battery against these victims is a first degree felony. The following qualify as a “special victim” if the assault or battery occurs while the victim is engaged in the performance of his duties:
- law enforcement officer or firefighter
- emergency medical care provider
- breath test operator while engaged in testing persons under investigation for driving while intoxicated
- public transport employee
- parking enforcement officer
- licensed security officer
- employee at a detention or commitment facility for sexually violent offenders (if the defendant knew or had reason to know the victim’s employment status), and
- code inspector (if the offender knew or had reason to know the victim’s employment status).
The following victims also are “special victims” but they need not have been engaged in the performance of any duties:
- employee or investigator for the Children and Family Services Department (if the offender knew or had reason to know the victim’s employment status)
- a person over the age of sixty-five years of age (offender need not be aware of victim’s age)
- sports official while participating in a sporting event or immediately after the event
- school employee or elected official (if defendant knew or had reason to know of the victim’s employee status), and
- visitor or detainee in a jail or correctional facility (if offender is a detainee of the jail or correctional facility).
If the victim of an aggravated assault or aggravated battery is a law enforcement officer, corrections officer, state’s attorney or a judge, and the crime is committed because of the person’s employment status or while the victim is performing duties of employment, the court may not allow the offender to serve probation in lieu of prison or otherwise defer or suspend the sentence. (Fl. Stat. §775.0823.)
Penalties for a Second Degree Felony (Aggravated Battery and Aggravated Assault Against a Special Victim) in Florida
- up to fifteen years in prison, minimum of three years if assault is against a law enforcement officer
- a fine up to $10,000
- probation up to fifteen years, and
Penalties for a First Degree Felony (Aggravated Battery Against a Special Victim)
The penalties for a first degree felony are:
- up to thirty years in prison, minimum of five years in prison if victim is a law enforcement officer
- a fine up to $10,000
- probation up to thirty years, and
Habitual Offender Sentence Enhancement
If someone convicted of an assault or battery has a criminal record, particularly prior convictions for assault or battery or other violent crimes, any of the sentences listed above are subject to enhancement.
The court can impose probation instead of jail time for the entire sentence, or after the defendant has spent some time in jail. For instance, a judge in an aggravated battery case can sentence a defendant to five years in prison and ten years on probation.
A person convicted of assault or battery in Florida is required to pay restitution, which means reimbursing the victim for any expenses resulting from the crime, such as the cost of medical treatment or counseling. Restitution orders are the norm—the court may elect not to require restitution only in very unusual situations for compelling reasons. (Fla. Stat. §775.089.)
Pleas and Pre-Trial Options
If you are facing a charge of assault or battery in Florida, a lawyer can investigate the case and find out if you were wrongfully charged or there are other reasons why the case should be dismissed before trial. If the charges are not dismissed, an attorney may be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor on your behalf, or prepare a defense and represent you at trial if you believe you have been wrongly accused or if there are no reasonable plea options. Prosecutors often will negotiate and agree to let the defendant plead guilty to a different, less serious crime. Or, the prosecutor may agree to a lighter sentence in exchange for a plea of guilty to the charge.
The Value of Good Representation
A felony conviction will seriously impact your life. A convicted felon loses the right to vote, hold public office, serve as a juror (for seven years) and carry or own firearms. In certain circumstances, a felony conviction also can result in loss of a professional license. Felons who face criminal charges later may find that the new charges can be enhanced because of their prior conviction(s). If you are convicted later of another crime, a felony record also can subject you to a harsher sentence in the new case.
Only someone familiar with the local criminal court system and cases like yours will know how good your chances are for a favorable outcome in court or at the negotiating table. A knowledgeable attorney will take all of this into consideration, assist you in making decisions about your case, and protect your rights.