Simple Assault and Battery in Florida

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In Florida, an assault is intentional threats, words, or actions that cause a person to feel afraid of impending violence. (Fla. Stat. §784.011.) Threatening to beat up someone, when said in a menacing or angry manner, is assault if the victim can reasonably believe, based on the statement and menacing behavior, that he is about to be struck or injured.

Battery is actual offensive physical contact, such as punching another person or hitting someone with an object. (Fla. Stat. §784.03.) Striking another person with a fist during an argument and pushing someone are straightforward examples of battery. A more unusual example is grabbing and ripping someone’s clothing in anger. This is considered a touching because clothing is an extension of one's person.

For simple assault and battery, the act of threatening another or striking another must be intentional, rather than an accident or a joke among friends. But although the motion must be intentional, no specific intent to injure the other person is required, even for simple battery.

Simple Assault and Battery – Misdemeanor or Felony?

Simple assault in Florida is a second degree misdemeanor. Simple battery is a first degree misdemeanor. Assault against certain victims, such as police officers, the elderly, and school employees is a first degree misdemeanor; and battery against these victims is a third degree felony. The “special victims” identified by the statutes are those who were engaged in the performance of their duties as a:

  • law enforcement officer or firefighter
  • emergency medical care provider
  • public transport employee
  • breath test operator, while engaged in testing persons under investigation for driving while intoxicated
  • 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 inspectors, if the offender knew or had reason to know the victim’s employment status.

Additional special victims include:

  • employees or investigators 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 (the offender need not be aware of victim’s age)
  • sports officials, while participating in a sporting event or immediately after the event
  • school employees or elected officials (if the defendant knew or had reason to know of the victim’s employee status)
  • visitors or detainees in a jail or correctional facility (if the offender is a detainee of the jail or correctional facility), and
  • code inspectors, if the offender knew or had reason to know the victim’s employment status.

Aggravated assault, aggravated battery, and assault or battery with a firearm are more serious felony offenses that are addressed in other sections of the statute.

Penalties for Second Degree Misdemeanor (Simple Assault)

A person convicted of second degree misdemeanor faces the following penalties:

  • up to sixty days in jail (Fla. Stat. §775.082)
  • a fine up to $500 (Fla. Stat. §775.083)
  • probation up to sixty days, and
  • restitution.

Penalties for First Degree Misdemeanor (Simple Battery and Simple Assault Against a Special Victim)

The penalties for first degree misdemeanor are:

  • up to one year in jail
  • a fine up to $1,000
  • probation up to one year, and
  • restitution.

Penalties for Third Degree Felony (Battery Against a Special Victim)

The penalties for a third degree felony are:

  • up to five years in prison
  • a fine up to $5,000
  • probation up to five years, and
  • restitution.

Sentence Enhancement

If a defendant convicted of assault or battery has a criminal record, particularly prior assault or battery convictions, any of the sentences listed above may be lengthened.

Probation

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 a simple battery case can sentence a defendant to thirty days in jail and eleven months on probation.

A person on probation must meet regularly with a probation officer and comply with conditions set by the court, such as no further arrests or convictions, attending counseling, performing community service, or electronic home detention, commonly referred to as “house arrest.” Under electronic home detention, the person on probation wears an electronic monitoring device or “ankle bracelet” and usually is restricted to home and work. If a person violates a condition of probation, he can be arrested and required to serve the remainder or a remaining part of his sentence in jail.

Restitution

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 and for compelling reasons. (Fla. Stat. §775.089.)

Pleas and Pre-Trial Options

If you are facing a charge of assault or battery in Florida, you'll benefit from having an attorney investigate the case and determine 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, such as probation, in exchange for a plea of guilty to the charge.

The Value of Good Representation

A conviction for a misdemeanor or felony becomes part of your permanent criminal record, which can have a serious impact on your life. If you are convicted later of another crime, the court can consider your prior conviction and impose a harsher sentence in the new case. A criminal record—even a misdemeanor conviction, and particularly a conviction for a violent crime—can hurt you when you are looking for a job or applying to rent a house or apartment.

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).

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.

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