What Is Domestic Battery?

A man with a clenched fist in the foreground with a woman in the background with her hands in front of her face.

Terms like “assault” and “battery” are often thrown around, but few people know the legal definition of those terms. Battery is never good, and it’s even worse when it occurs against another household member. Unfortunately, many people find themselves in situations that lead to domestic violence or domestic battery.

If you are charged with domestic battery, there may be some defenses that you can assert. The specific domestic battery definition and key elements of domestic battery vary slightly from state to state, but the general premise is the same. Keep reading as we tell you what domestic battery is, possible defenses you may be able to use, and potential penalties if you are found guilty.


What Is Domestic Battery?

There are a couple of key elements that must be included for domestic battery charges to apply. The specific wording of those elements varies from state to state, as each state has its own laws that define domestic battery. However, domestic battery generally includes the intentional touching of another person where that touching is harmful or offensive and where the batterer and victim are in a household relationship. Some states include the term “intimate partner” in their statutes, while others include “family or household members.”

First, the touching must be intentional. This means that a true accident would not qualify as domestic battery. Also, the touching must be harmful or provoking. Simply placing your hand on someone’s shoulder during a peaceful discussion would not qualify as domestic battery. However, you should know that actual injury to the victim is usually not required. For instance, poking your spouse in the chest with your finger during an argument could qualify as domestic battery, even though no bodily injury resulted from the touching. If a deadly weapon is involved, the charges will likely be increased to a charge that carries more punishment than a simple domestic battery, like an aggravated battery.

Finally, the relationship required between the batterer and the alleged victim is fairly broad in most states. Many people believe that a domestic battery case might only exist when two spouses are involved, but that is not the case. Domestic battery charges can result from altercations between spouses, those in a dating relationship, roommates, former spouses, and most immediate family members, like parents, stepparents, siblings, and others.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples. Imagine that you and your ex-spouse get into an argument. Things get heated, and you turn to leave. Your ex-spouse grabs your shirt and rips it as you walk away. This could qualify as domestic battery because it involves willful, unwanted touching that results in harm or provocation of the victim. Even though no bodily injury occurred, the act of ripping your shirt can still qualify.

For the second example, think for a moment about spanking your child. Many parents use corporal punishment as a primary means of discipline, but this type of punishment might fall under the category of domestic battery in many states. While this is true, most states include exceptions in their laws for corporal punishment of a minor child. If things get out of hand, it is up to law enforcement to decide whether things have escalated above simple discipline and have risen to the category of domestic battery.


Domestic Battery vs. Domestic Violence: What’s The Difference?

Thousands of domestic violence cases are prosecuted across the United States each year, but do they all include a domestic battery charge? The answer is no, and there is a difference between domestic violence and domestic battery. Domestic violence tends to be a much broader term, and it can include domestic battery in some cases. Domestic violence is the overarching term used to describe violence between domestic partners or family members, although battery is not always involved.

Domestic violence can include domestic assault, wherein no physical contact is required. Criminal charges can result from domestic violence incidents where the victim is in fear of immediate harm. The alleged abuser might also use coercion or threats of violence to manipulate the victim. These types of activities might result in domestic assault or domestic violence charges even though no bodily contact or bodily harm occurred. Think back to the differences between assault and battery. Emotional abuse or mental injuries can result from domestic violence. As you can see, the biggest difference between domestic violence and domestic battery is whether or not physical contact was involved.


Penalties For Domestic Battery

A man in handcuffs with a police officer's hand on his shoulder

You might be wondering, “Is domestic violence a felony?” Usually, the answer is no. Domestic battery is classified as a misdemeanor in most states for first-time offenders. The most common penalties for battery domestic violence include fines, jail time, community service, and probation. Completion of counseling or other intervention programs might also be required as part of one’s sentence.

First-time offenders may be required to pay a fine that ranges from nothing to $2,500. Most domestic battery offenders will spend at least a few days in jail, although they might be sentenced to up to one year in the county jail. Completion of community service hours is another common part of sentencing for a charge of domestic battery. The hours required could range from 40 to 200 in some cases.

If you have a prior conviction for domestic battery, your second and subsequent convictions will carry stiffer penalties. Many states look back on your criminal record for a seven-year period. A second conviction during this period will usually carry the maximum fine and the maximum jail sentence. This means that you will probably be facing a fine of $2,500 and one year in jail. A third conviction will automatically be classified as a felony instead of a misdemeanor during those seven years. This type of charge could carry up to a six-year prison sentence, which could increase to 15 years if a deadly weapon was used or the victim suffered severe injuries.


Defenses Against Domestic Battery Charges

Not everyone who gets charged with domestic battery is guilty of the offense. There are some common defenses that you can use to get acquitted of the charges. Even though unwanted physical touching may have occurred, some of these defenses might apply to your situation. Here are some of the most common defenses you might see in a domestic battery case.

One of the most common defenses to a charge of domestic battery is self-defense. Most states allow you to use reasonable force to protect yourself, and this also applies in domestic situations. However, there are usually a few key elements that must be met. First, you must believe that you are in immediate danger of suffering an injury and that the force is immediately necessary to protect yourself from harm. Also, you cannot use more force than is reasonably necessary to protect yourself. If these elements are met, then a self-defense argument might work in your case.

Next, you could argue that the touching was not intentional or willful. Accidental touching is not grounds for a domestic battery charge. For instance, suppose there is an argument occurring between family members. Suppose someone shoves you into the alleged victim during the argument. Although there was unwanted contact between you and the alleged victim, you did not cause the contact willfully or intentionally. You would have a good argument in that case that you are not guilty of domestic battery against the victim.

Similarly, you could argue that the touching was consensual. This argument sometimes occurs when the domestic battery charge involves a sexual assault. If both partners consent to the sexual contact, one partner cannot later claim that the incident was a domestic battery.

Finally, domestic abuse battery must occur between family members, domestic partners, intimate partners, or members of your household. You could avoid a domestic battery conviction by arguing that the alleged victim did not meet the definition of a family member or domestic partner. Although this example might seem far-fetched, it helps to prove this point. Imagine that you walk down the street and punch a random stranger. If you are charged with domestic battery, you can likely get out of that charge because the stranger is not a household member and does not otherwise fit the definition of a domestic partner. Obviously, you will likely be charged with another type of battery, but domestic battery would not be the right charge.

If you are charged with domestic battery, you should seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Most law offices offer free consultations, and an attorney can help guide you through the process of criminal proceedings. A criminal defense lawyer can also advise you on the best strategy for putting together a defense, so you will want a law firm to represent you in these proceedings.


Domestic Battery & Restraining Orders

A judge signing paperwork with a gavel in the foreground.

Many victims of domestic battery choose to obtain a restraining order or protective order against the batterer. This situation is often an emergency, and the alleged victim will be brought before a judge to request a protective order. In emergency situations, a judge can typically issue a protective order without the defendant being present. Once the defendant is served with the order, he or she must fully comply with all rules set forth in the order. Outside of emergency situations, a victim can petition the court for a restraining order. The judge will hold a hearing on the matter with both the victim and the alleged abuser there. The judge will determine whether or not to issue the restraining order.

Some states allow the prosecution to request a protection order in domestic violence cases. In these states, protection orders are issued in almost all domestic battery cases. The prosecution almost always asks the judge for one, and most judges will issue the order unless the evidence clearly proves the innocence of the accused abuser.

Most restraining orders in domestic battery cases preclude the batterer from having any contact with the victim for a certain period of time. You should understand that the victim cannot grant any exclusions to this order. The victim cannot give you permission to violate the order. For example, the victim might tell the batterer that it is OK to call on the phone or come over for the night. However, only a court of law can change the terms of the order. Even if the victim “gives permission” to violate the order, the defendant could still be charged with a crime if the order is violated.


The Bottom Line

Domestic battery involves the intentional touching of a domestic partner, intimate partner, or household member where the touching is harmful or offensive. Remember that no bodily injury is necessary for a charge of domestic battery. As long as the legal elements of the charge are met, and there is physical contact involved, domestic battery could apply. Domestic violence, on the other hand, does not require touching of any kind. If you are charged with domestic battery, you should consult a criminal law attorney who can help you put forward the best defense.


Frequently Asked Questions


What does simple domestic battery mean?

Simple domestic battery means that the victim has received unwanted touching from the abuser that was harmful or offensive. The victim and abuser must also be in a domestic relationship. However, the definition of a domestic relationship is quite broad. It could include spouses, ex-spouses, family members, roommates, and other household members. No bodily injury is required for domestic battery charges, and simple domestic battery typically means no weapons were involved.


Who is an “intimate partner” when it comes to domestic battery?

When it comes to domestic battery, an “intimate partner” is anyone with whom the abuser has or has had an intimate relationship. Some examples include a spouse, ex-spouse, fiancé, boyfriend, girlfriend, ex-boyfriend, or ex-girlfriend. An intimate partner can also be the other parent of the abuser’s child, whether or not the two have ever had an ongoing relationship. The person could also be someone that the abuser lives with or has lived with and had an intimate relationship with. Sometimes, this can be difficult to prove. Some states require that an intimate relationship exist, while other states have extended their domestic laws to include roommates.


Does domestic battery automatically result in a restraining order?

Technically, domestic battery does not automatically result in a restraining order. However, restraining orders are requested by the prosecution in almost all domestic battery cases. So, in practice, nearly every domestic battery case results in a restraining order. These orders are temporary, and they usually last 60 days or less. Getting these orders lifted early can be difficult, and the orders are typically only lifted in cases involving minor violence.