The defenses available in assault and battery cases can vary widely depending on the facts and circumstances, mainly because such cases can range from the straight-forward to the extremely complex. However, operating under the assumption that the basic elements of an assault / battery exist in a case (i.e. it is not a case of mistaken identity or some other fundamental error), the following are some possible defenses to assault and battery charges along with a few helpful examples.
Self-defense is probably the most common defense used in assault and battery cases. In order to establish self-defense, an accused must generally show:
* a threat of unlawful force or harm against them;
* a real, honest perceived fear of harm to themselves (there must be a reasonable basis for this perceived fear);
* no harm or provocation on their part; and
* there was no reasonable chance of retreating or escaping the situation.
Example A: Adam is confronted by Bill, a large, imposing stranger, who immediately begins shouting threats at him and lunging at him with fists raised in a highly threatening manner. Adam is terrified, strikes Bill, and gets away through the nearest exit at his first available opportunity. Adam may be able to successfully argue that he acted only in self-defense under such circumstances.
Example B: Adam runs into Bill and gets into an argument. Bill insults and belittles Adam, at which point Adam insults Bill and threatens to beat him up. Bill then strikes Adam, and Adam retaliates in kind. It would be more difficult for Adam to establish self-defense under these circumstances than those in Example A, because Adam took part in escalating and provoking the fight by threatening Bill.
The doctrine of self-defense has a number of limitations in addition to those outlined above. Simply because someone acts in self-defense does not mean that all bets are off as far as the amount of force that can be used to defend one's self. The force used in self-defense must be reasonable when compared to the threat posed by the victim. Also, even if all the elements outlined above are met, an individual defending themself may still be found guilty of assault/battery if the victim was physically no match for them in the first place (this could be due to size, age, etc.)