In Massachusetts, a person can commit the crime of assault or the crime of assault and battery.
Assaults and batteries that cause serious injury or that are committed against particular victims or for particular purposes can be punished as felonies.
For more information on these crimes, see Massachusetts Aggravated Assault Laws.
For more information on assaults and batteries committed with a weapon, see Assault With a Dangerous Weapon in Massachusetts.
The Difference Between Assault and Assault and Battery
Under Massachusetts’ laws, assault and assault and battery (sometimes called battery) are two different crimes.
Assault. A defendant commits assault by:
- attempting to use physical force against another, or
- demonstrating an intention to use immediate force against another.
A person does not need to inflict injury or even make physical contact with another to commit an assault.
For example, throwing a punch at someone, even if the punch misses, is the first type of assault. For this type of assault, the victim does not need to be afraid of, or even aware of, the defendant’s actions.
Running at someone with your fists up is the second type of assault. For this type of assault, the defendant must intend to put the victim in fear of bodily harm and the conduct must be reasonably perceived as threatening imminent physical harm.
Assault and battery. A defendant commits assault and battery by deliberately touching the victim:
- in a way that is likely to cause bodily harm, or
- without the victim’s consent.
For example, hitting someone would be assault and battery. The victim does not need to sustain injury, as long as there is physical contact.
(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 13A; Mass. Crim. Model Jury Instructions, Nos. 6.120, 6.140.)
Serious Bodily Injury, Substantial Bodily Injury, and Bodily Injury
Assaults and batteries that cause injury can be punished more severely.
Serious bodily injury creates a substantial risk of death, or causes permanent disfigurement, loss, or impairment of any part of the body.
For example, hitting someone so hard that they suffer permanent scarring would be considered inflicting serious bodily injury.
Substantial bodily injury creates a substantial risk of death or causes permanent disfigurement, or lasting loss or impairment of any part of the body.
For example, breaking someone’s leg would probably be considered causing substantial bodily injury.
Bodily injury is any burn, fracture, bruise, internal injury, any injury that results from repeated harm to the victim, or any physical condition that endangers a victim’s health or welfare.
For example, striking a person in the chest and causing a bruise could be considered bodily injury.
(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, §§ 13A, 13J.)
Assault on a Child
Any assault and battery on a child under the age of 14 that causes bodily injury or substantial bodily injury can be punished as a felony or a misdemeanor.
Wanton or reckless behavior
A person who has care and custody of a child (parent, guardian, or employee of the child’s home or institution) and wantonly or recklessly causes injury or permits another to cause injury against the child is guilty of a crime.
People act recklessly or wantonly when they are aware of (or should be aware of) and disregard the risk of harm their behavior (or inaction) poses to the victim. Reckless and wanton behavior is always a gross departure from how a reasonable person would act.
(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 13J; Mass. Crim. Model Jury Instructions, No. 6.250.)
For example, leaving a child in the care of a sitter who had hit the child in the past would be reckless or wanton behavior.
Assault and Assault and Battery Against Certain Victims or for Certain Purposes
The following crimes are punishable as misdemeanors or felonies:
- assault with intent to murder, maim, or disfigure
- assault with intent to commit a felony
- assault by force or violence with intent to steal (robbery)
- assault and battery committed in order to collect a loan
- assault and battery f the victim is pregnant and the defendant knows or has reason to know of the pregnancy
- assault and battery against a public (government) employee, emergency medical technician, an ambulance operator or attendant, or a health care provider
- assault and battery against an elderly person (over the age of 60), or
- assault and battery against people with disabilities (physical or mental impairments that prevent the people from being able to care for or protect themselves).
People who wantonly or recklessly cause (or allow another to cause injury) to an elderly person or disable adult in their care can also be convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor.
(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, §§ 13A, 13C, 13D, 13I, 13K, 15, 20.)
Domestic Violence or Assaults by a Person Under a Restraining Order
Second and subsequent assaults and batteries against family or household members are also punished more severely. Family and household members include people who are or were married, people who live together or lived together, people related by blood, people who have children together, and people are who are dating or have dated. The relevant period of time to consider is the past five years. Any assault or assault and battery committed by a defendant who knows that he or she is under a restraining order or no contact order is punishable as a misdemeanor or a felony.
(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, §§ 13A, 13M.)
For more information, see Massachusetts Domestic Violence Laws.
Assault and assault and battery are punishable by up to two and half years in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Causing bodily injury to a child is punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail or up to five years in prison. Causing substantial bodily injury to a child is punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail or up to fifteen years in prison.
Recklessly or wantonly causing bodily injury on a child is punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail. Recklessly or wantonly causing substantial bodily injury to a child is punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail or up to five years in prison.
Battery against a public employee, emergency medical technician, ambulance operator or attendant, or health care provider is punishable by 90 days to two-and-a-half years in jail and a fine of $500 to $5,000.
Causing serious bodily injury, assaulting a pregnant woman, or assault and battery by a defendant under a restraining order is punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail, or up to five years’ imprisonment, and a fine of up to $5,000.
A second or subsequent conviction for assault or battery on a family or household member is punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail, or up to five years’ imprisonment.
Battery to collect a loan is punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail, or three to five years’ imprisonment.
Assault with intent to murder, maim, or disfigure is punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, or up to ten years’ imprisonment.
Battery on an elderly or disabled person is punishable by anywhere from two-and-a-half years in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, depending on the degree of injury sustained by the victim and the relationship (if any) between the victim and the defendant.
(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, §§ 13A, 13C, 13D, 13I, 13J, 13K, 13M, 15.)
Getting Legal Advice and Representation
Being convicted of assault or assault and battery can have serious consequences, including time in jail or prison, a fine, and a criminal record. If you are charged with assault or assault and battery, you should contact a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney immediately. An experienced attorney will be able to tell you how your case is likely to fare in court and can make the best arguments on your behalf so that you can achieve the most desirable outcome in your case.