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Understanding Battery in Illinois

Joseph Angelillo, Esq. April 23, 2021

Today we’re going to be going over the topic of Battery. On its face, Battery can seem like a rather straight forward crime based on its elements alone; but it also has the capability of being incredibly nuanced based on the specific facts of the case (which in turn makes it extremely enjoyable for me to sit down and write about).

Battery is defined by 720 ILCS 5/12-3, which provides that a person commits battery if:

  • He or she knowingly,

  • Without legal justification by any means,

  • Causes bodily harm to an individual; or makes physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature with an individual.

Battery is considered to be a Class A Misdemeanor, meaning that a guilty verdict for a charge of Battery comes with it a penalty of up to 364 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.00 or any combination of the two.

Just as before we will go over each of the elements provided above.

(1) He or She Knowingly

Just as with Assault, we are tasked with determining the Mens Rea or mental state of the Defendant. In this case, the applicable mental state of the Defendant is knowingly. That is, that the individual had known, or should have known, that a wrongful result would occur from their actions.

A good example of this would look something like this:

Lets say, that you’re laying in bed with your partner. They are sound asleep, while you are on your phone scrolling through this article. All of a sudden you hear a slight groan and you lower your phone to look over at your partner. At which point they turn over, and their hand slaps you directly in the face giving you a bloody nose.

Now you, being completely deranged and looking for any excuse to end the relationship, decide to press charges for Battery as they made physical contact with your person, with no legal justification that had indeed caused you bodily harm. But is this really Battery?

The cause of action would fail as the Prosecution would be unable to prove that the Battery was committed Knowingly. Your partner was considered to be incapacitated when the Battery had taken place as they were sleeping soundly next to you the whole time. Because of this, it would be impossible for them to have the necessary mental state, or Men’s Rea, to commit the Battery against your person.

Lets take this example a step further.

Lets say you’re sitting in the middle of a bar, on a random Tuesday night. The bar is relatively full with people hovering over each others shoulders to order drinks at the bar, which unfortunately is where you’re sitting. The patron next to you turns to their companion and says ‘Julius Caesar was a tyrant, and the only crime the Senators committed in killing him was that they didn’t do it on the steps of the Senate where the rest of Rome could join in.’

Now you, in defense of the honor of Caesar, immediately turn to the patron and punch him right in the nose. However, while you were raising your fist in order to strike him, your elbow hits another patron directly in the face, both individuals suffered a broken nose.

Obviously, as it came to the first individual which you struck with your fist, a Battery has occurred. But what about the second individual which you struck with your elbow? You had no idea they were behind you, and if anything, they shouldn’t of been standing there.

However, in Illinois we have something called the Transferred Intent Doctrine, meaning that one can be liable for the natural and probable consequences of an unlawful act even though they may not have been intended. Simply put, you striking the second individual was a natural and probable consequence of you striking the first individual in the face with your fist, the intent you had to strike the first individual then transfers over to the second and allows for you to be charged for Battery against both individuals. Because while you knew you were going to punch the first individual in the face, you also should have know that your actions would likely rise to someone being struck.

(2) Without Legal Justification by Any Means

Just as with Assault, we forgive situations in which individuals commit Battery but their authority to do so derives from a legitimate legal source empowering them with the ability to do so. A paramedic, who is rips open a women’s shirt in order use a defibrillator on her while she is unconscious is, by some form, committing a Battery against her. However, we weigh the societal good of the paramedic performing their duty to save lives, and forgive those situations where, from the perspective of the elements, individuals have committed a battery.

(3) Causes Bodily Harm to An Individual; or Makes Physical Contact of An Insulting or Provoking Nature with An Individual.

Bodily harm can be shown by either one of two ways. The first, and most obvious, is by way of actually sustaining bodily injury. That being the showing of an actual wound or bruise sustained due to the actions of the Defendant in question. The other way bodily harm can be proven, is by inference from the trier of facts common knowledge. Take for instance if you’re a man and you’ve been kicked in the groin (yes, this is a real case) you have no bruises or wounds to show for. No bruises means no bodily harm right?

Not exactly, the element isn’t dependent on whether or not the injuries sustained are visible, the Jury can reasonably infer that a kick in the groin can deliver onto the victim in question sufficient injury to satisfy this element of the charge.

Physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature with an individual, predominantly from the case law, pertains to contact that would be deemed as offensive. The element shifts the focus away from the after effects of the contact and looks specifically at the very nature of the contact as a whole. Most cases involving this portion of the element seems to delve into the realm of inappropriate physical touching between opposite sexes, there are however those that are a bit more nuanced.

Take for instance a disgruntled father engaged in an argument with his teacher, in the middle of the argument while the two are face to face, the parent begins pressing their index finger into the teacher’s chest while also yelling and cursing at them. The contact itself doesn’t leave the victim with any sort of injury whatsoever; but the nature of the contact is offensive to the victim, to such the degree, that they leave the argument crying and distraught.

Consider further a sheriff policing a local jail who, in the middle of making his rounds, has urine thrown on him by one of the inmates. Here we have no physical contact whatsoever, and yet the Courts have found sufficient justification to uphold a Battery charge because it falls within the purview of physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature.

And finally, it’s important to keep in mind that the contact made does not have to be with any part of the victim’s body to warrant a battery charge. Knocking a plate out of someone’s hands, while not making actual physical contact with their person, can still find you having to answer to a charge of Battery. Anything that could be considered to be an extension of the person, has warranted a charge of Battery, even where no actual physical contact with the victim’s person has occurred.

As always, if you’ve been charged with Battery in the State of Illinois, contact my office immediately for your free consultation.