In Georgia, assault and battery crimes consist of simple assault, aggravated assault, simple battery, battery, and aggravated battery. This article concerns simple assault and battery laws. For information on aggravated assault and aggravated battery, see Georgia Aggravated Assault and Battery Laws.
Simple assault is a misdemeanor in Georgia. A person commits simple assault by attempting to cause physical injury to another person or placing another in reasonable fear of immediate, impending violence. For instance, attempting to strike someone with a hand or object and missing can be assault. Threatening to beat up or knock out a person is also assault if it appears that the assailant has the ability to carry out the threat and the victim fears such harm.
The Georgia General Assembly also has criminalized, as a misdemeanor, any attempt to injure an unborn child. Exceptions include conduct related to an authorized abortion and medical treatment for the pregnant woman or unborn child. (Actually and intentionally harming an unborn child is classified as a battery offense that is also a misdemeanor and has equivalent exceptions.)
Simple battery—also a misdemeanor—is actual, offensive physical contact, such as punching another person or hitting someone with an object. Hitting another person with a fist during an argument or shoving someone are straightforward examples of simple battery. The physical act must be intentional, rather than an accident or a joke among friends, but no specific intent to injure is required. A more unusual example of a simple battery is grabbing and ripping someone's clothing in anger. This act is considered a touching because the clothing is an extension of the person.
Simple battery involves physical harm or contact. The offense increases to a battery when the act involves intentionally causing "substantial physical harm" or "visible bodily harm." Visible harm is defined as physical harm visible to others, such as blackened eyes, a swollen lip, or significant bruises.
The Georgia statutes provide that, if a victim uses "opprobrious or abusive language" against the offender, the language may be considered justification for the offender's threatening behavior or use of force and, therefore, a defense to the crime of simple assault or simple battery. Examples of such language are egregious insults or racial slurs, but the language must rise to a level of abusiveness that justifies the amount or type of force used. If the language is mildly abusive or insulting and the offender reacts with significant violence, the language will not justify the crime committed.
Simple assault, simple battery, and battery are generally misdemeanor crimes under Georgia law.
A convicted defendant can face one or more of the following misdemeanor penalties:
In certain cases, these crimes can be charged as misdemeanors of a high and aggravated nature, which carry one or more of the following penalties:
For instance, these higher penalties apply to an assault or a battery against the following victims: a family member or intimate partner, a pregnant woman, a person age 65 or older, a police officer, a sports official, or a public school employee engaged in their duties. Assault or battery in a public transit vehicle or station or on public school property, including school buses and school bus stops, are also misdemeanors of a high and aggravated nature.
Someone who is convicted of a second battery against the same victim can face enhanced penalties, including mandatory jail time. A third or subsequent conviction against the same victim bumps up the offense level from a misdemeanor to a felony, punishable by one to five years in prison.
For anyone who is convicted of a second or subsequent battery offense or a second or subsequent simple assault or simple battery against a family member, the law requires notice of the conviction, along with the offender's mug shot, to be published in the community newspaper where the offender resides.
The court can impose probation instead of jail time for all or part of the sentence. 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 remaining law abiding, attending counseling, or performing community service. If a person violates a condition of probation, the judge can modify the conditions or revoke probation and send the defendant to jail.
If you are facing assault or battery charges in Georgia, an attorney can 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. 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.
A criminal record—even a misdemeanor conviction—can hurt you when you are looking for a job or applying to rent a house or apartment. It can also mean harsher charges or penalties for future offenses.
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 criminal defense attorney will take all of this into consideration, assist you in making decisions about your case, and protect your rights.
(O.C.G.A. §§ 16-5-20, -23, -23.1, -25, -26, -28, -29; 17-10-3, -4 (2021).)