Illinois Battery Law
Criminal Code 720 ILCS 5/12-3
Under Illinois law, a battery occurs when you either cause bodily harm to another or makes physical contact of an insulting nature.1 Neither physical harm nor body-contact of any kind is necessary to commit a battery. Spitting on someone, for example, can be enough because it's physical contact designed to insult or provoke. Unintentional contact, no matter how negligent, is not criminal battery.
Simple battery in Illinois is a Class A misdemeanor, meaning it is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $2500.2 If "great" bodily harm occurs, the charges can be upgraded from "simple" battery to "aggravated" battery. Aggravated battery in Illinois is a Class 3 felony punishable by 2-5 years in jail.3
This article covers the basics of Illinois battery law including potential traps, defense strategies and a timeline of what typically happens in court, all with an emphasis on Chicago and Cook County courtrooms:
Self-Defense & Other Ways to Beat Battery Charges
Timeline of a "Typical" Chicago Battery Case
Pleading Guilty to Battery Risks a Civil Lawsuit & Order of Protection
Can a Battery Conviction Affect Immigration Rights?
- Final Thoughts
I. Self-Defense & Other Ways to Beat Battery Charges
You are legally entitled to self-defense when you reasonably believe that force is necessary to defend yourself, or another person, against some other person's imminent use of force.4 You may also use a reasonable amount of force to protect against another person's interference with your property, whether that be land or personal property.5
Words alone, no matter how offensive, are not sufficient to raise a legal self-defense argument. In other words, you cannot use force to silence offensive language and then claim self-defense.
Self-defense is a total bar to criminal liability. Once you present some evidence that you acted in self-defense, the burden is on the prosecutor to disprove your self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.6 If the they cannot do so, you are "not guilty" of Illinois battery charges.
Using Your Accuser's Criminal Record Against Them
One way to show you acted in self-defense is to investigate the criminal background of the person accusing you of battery. Do they have any crimes of violence in their background A history of violent crime in your accuser's background can be used to show that they were the true aggressor and you acted only in self-defense even if you did not know about them at the time of the fight.7
And crimes of dishonesty and drug addiction can be used to undercut the accuser's credibility.
Past crimes can be powerful tools in service of the client facing battery charges because it shifts the posture from one of defense to offense. Despite many years of practice as a Chicago battery lawyer, even I am sometimes amazed at the quantity and quality of crime in the accuser's background.
Finding and Securing Video is a Powerful and Often Overlooked Tactic
Another way to beat battery charges is to secure video evidence before it is intentionally or accidentally destroyed. Subpoenas compel police departments, private persons and business to preserve and hand over videos.
Video cameras are everywhere, but are often routinely destroyed, sometimes within 48 hours, so it is important to act fast to preserve them. There are simply few tactics more powerful and satisfying than a video that cripples a liar's case against you.
There are many other ways to beat battery charges, these are simply two that often yield great results.
II. Timeline of a "Typical" Chicago Battery Case
Before the First Court Date
An effective battery defense begins before the first court date. Any lawyer can go into court and hope for the best, however, the true professional will lay the ground work immediately by talking to witnesses, securing video before it is destroyed and finding any crimes in your accuser's background.
This is what maximizes chances of either settling the case favorably or beating the case at trial. For more on how out-of-court strategies provide the best protection in-court, read my investigations guide.
The First Court Date
You should dress conservatively, be on time and let your lawyer do the talking while in court. Anything you say in court is recorded and you simply do not know the legal standards well enough to know what words can hurt you. A suit and tie is not necessary, a collared shirt and slacks will do; a tie is optional.
The courthouse your case is assigned to depends on where in Chicago you were arrested. Get arrested for battery at Wrigley Field and you go to the courthouse at 2452 W. Belmont. Arrested for battery at a White Sox game and you'll probably go to the courthouse at 727 E. 111th street or 155 W. 51st street.
Each of these courtrooms is headed by a different judge, so its crucial to know the temperament, habits and judicial philosophy of the judge controlling your courtroom. In the event of an unfair judge, there are tactics available to get you out of that courtroom and into a fair one. One option is to file a motion to substitute judges; be aware that there are strict time limits in which to exercise this right of judge substitution.8
Assuming the judge is acceptable and the accuser shows up to court, prosecutors will usually offer you "supervision" in exchange for you pleading guilty.9 Supervision means no conviction is entered on your case, but you have to plead guilty, which is almost as bad as a conviction.
In some cases, a better deal, one that gets the case dismissed without you pleading guilty, is possible with the right prep work. This doesn't happen often in battery cases, but it does happen. And because it is a low-cost tactic that could yield good results, there is no reason not to try it. For more on negotiating a favorable agreement on your case, read my guide on settlement options.
Assuming, no agreement is possible on the first court date, your lawyer files a written motion for discovery and, with your direction, sets a date for trial. Although many lawyers rely on oral motions for discovery, the rules explicitly state that a written motion is necessary in criminal cases to preserve your right to receive evidence in the State's possession.10
Trial dates vary widely depending on what courthouse you are in, caseloads and the urgency of the case. Typically, trials are set for at least 2-3 months after your first court date and sometimes longer.
Between Court Dates
Discovery in the form of police reports, video and other evidence is mailed to your lawyer's office. You should be invited into the office to review these reports and prepare for trial. Any other investigation, legal research and prep work to prepare for trial is done during this period as well.
Day of Trial
On the day of trial the parties either answer ready or request more time. Assuming all parties are ready, opening statements are made to the judge, the State puts on their witnesses to testify against you and then it is the defense's turn to put on their case.
If you are found guilty, the case is often given another date for sentencing. If you are found "not guilty" the case is over and your ordeal in the criminal system is finished. Depending on your record, you may now qualify to expunge the record of your arrest.
Although trials are fluid creatures where anything can happen, it is a mistake to think that cases are won on the day of trial alone. Rather, the preparation in the months leading up to trial is what lays the groundwork for a successful defense.
III. Pleading Guilty to Battery Risks a Civil Lawsuit & Order of Protection
Remember, there are two parts to the American legal system: criminal and civil. You need to be arrested to get into the criminal system, but what about the civil system?
Anyone with a filing fee and a grudge can drag you into the civil system and sue you for money damages. So, if you admit guilt in the criminal case, that can be used to get money damages in a civil case. This is especially true if your accuser left in an ambulance or they had visible injury. It's a tricky tightrope to walk.
And if they are particularly motivated, that same person can ask a third court to issue an order of protection against you, popularly known as a "restraining order". Again, pleading guilty in the criminal battery case makes it very easy for your accuser to use that admission of guilt to get this order of protection.
Example: Amos gets into a bar fight with Barry. Barry has a black eye and a fractured cheek bone; he leaves the bar in an ambulance, making sure to take pictures of his black eye on the way. Amos is arrested and charged with battery. At his first court date, Amos pleads guilty to battery in exchange for "supervision".
Barry then files a civil lawsuit asking a judge to award him money damages for medical bills, pain and suffering and emotional trauma. Barry uses Amos' plea of guilty to battery in the criminal case to prove Amos' liability in the civil case. With this admission of guilt, the question is not whether Amos committed battery, but rather, how much the judge should award Barry for the injuries.
Civil lawsuits and restraining orders don't often accompany criminal battery cases, but anyone charged with battery should be aware of the risk. In my experience as a Chicago battery lawyer, and not based on any empirical data, they happen in only about 10% of battery cases.
So how does one protect themselves from a civil lawsuit?
The bottom line is that pleading guilty to battery should always be a last resort. Not only because battery cases are often beatable with the right prep work and attitude, but also, admitting guilt can create nasty problems for you in the civil legal system.
IV. Can a Battery Conviction Affect Immigration Rights?
Battery Convictions Alone Do Not Trigger Deportation
The short answer is "no". Simple battery convictions alone do not trigger deportation for noncitizens. Although some crimes of violence can trigger deportation, simple battery is not, by itself, one of them.
But although simple battery alone will not get you deported, it's still easy to confuse with a "crime of violence" which is deportable. So the prime objective in an Illinois battery case from an immigration perspective is to beat the case totally, either by getting a dismissal or winning at trial. Failing that, a finding of guilt on the offensive touching part of Illinois' battery law rather than the bodily harm part is a good fall back option because it is less likely to confuse an immigration judge.
A Battery Conviction Could Hamper Plans to Become a Citizen
Perhaps you are a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR), also known as a green-card holder, and want to become a citizen. Will an arrest or conviction for battery prevent you from doing so?
Like deportation, simple battery is not a crime that automatically prevents you from becoming a citizen. But, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) still looks at your whole background in reviewing your citizenship application. You will be asked every step of the way about any arrests or cases you have had. Question #23 on Form N-400 Application for Naturalization specifically asks:
"Have you EVER been arrested, cited or detained by any law enforcement officer...for any reason?"
And question #29 on that form goes on to ask details about that arrest:
A simple battery standing alone will not ruin your application. But with so much riding on citizenship, you want to be able to say in a future interview with USCIS "yes, I was charged with battery, but I maintained my innocence and the charges were dropped."
V. Final Thoughts
There is no getting around the fact that Illinois battery charges are tricky to navigate. With the right experience and preparation, however, they need not affect your record or your career and earning potential.
If after reading this you would like more information, you are invited to call me at 312.396.4112 or contact me online. You can find information on pricing policy and service guarantees on this site. For information on me, including my background and practice philosophy, check out my attorney profile.
1. 720 ILCS 5/12-3, see also, Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction 11.05, 11.06
2. 730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-55
3. 720 ILCS 5/12-3.05
4. 720 ILCS 5/7-1
5. 720 ILCS 5/7-3
6. Illinois v. Rorer, 44 Ill.App.3d 553 (5th Dist. 1976)
7. Illinois v. Lynch, 104 Ill.2d 194 (1984)
8. 725 ILCS 5/114-5
9. 730 ILCS 5/5-6-3.1
10. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 412