On a matter of first impression, the court finds that the state need not show physical injury in order to prove assault and battery in the first degree; legal injury is sufficient.
We affirm defendant’s conviction for assault and battery in the first degree.
In pertinent part, S.C. Code Ann. § 16-3-600(C)(1)(a)(i) provides, “A person commits the offense of assault and battery in the first degree if the person unlawfully: (a) injures another person, and the act: (i) involves nonconsensual touching of the private parts of a person, either under or above clothing, with lewd and lascivious intent. . . .”
The Legislature uses inconsistent language through S.C. Code Title 16, Chapter 3 to define specific elements required to constitute an offense against an individual’s person, especially when the element requires an “injury.”
Despite these inconsistencies, the plain language of § 16-3-600(C)(1)(a)(i) is clear in defining what constitutes assault and battery in the first degree. We find the statute requires one injury stemming from a single act and that the Legislature intended the single act that caused the injury to “involve nonconsensual touching of the private parts of a person . . . with lewd and lascivious intent.” § 16-3-600(C)(1)(a)(i).
Defendant argues that because the Legislature followed the term “injures” with the conjunction “and,” it intended to create a conjunctive list that establishes two distinct elements for the state to satisfy to prove assault and battery in the first degree: (1) a physical injury and (2) a separate, nonconsensual touching of the victim’s private parts with lewd intent. Contrarily, after a plain reading of the subsection, it is evident the Legislature included “and” to further modify and define the nature of the act that caused the injury it intended to constitute assault and battery in the first degree.
Our interpretation of the subsection—requiring only a single injury occurring from a single nonconsensual touching of an individual’s private parts—agrees with the other portions of the statute and is supported by the traditional understanding of assault and battery as delineated by our courts for over a century. Moreover, when read in conjunction with the remaining subsections, this interpretation is aligned with the Legislature’s intent in enacting the statute as a whole. Each subsection either defines the harm caused by an offender’s act upon the victim’s person or the nature of the act itself – e.g., a nonconsensual touching of another’s private parts with lewd intentions.
Here the minor victim (Minor) testified that defendant – her cousin’s father – asked Minor to show him to the bathroom. Once there, defendant backed Minor into a corner while holding her in place with his left hand on her neck. Minor claimed that, while she was forced against the wall, defendant groped her breasts with his free hand. After Minor screamed for defendant to get off of her, defendant let go of Minor’s throat, attempted to remove her shorts, and offered her money to have sex with him.
As evidenced by Minor’s exclamation for defendant to get off of her, his actions were nonconsensual, and clearly the object of the groping was Minor’s breasts, which satisfies the definition of “private parts” as set forth by the statute. Further, the evidence shows defendant’s intent in calling Minor to the bathroom and forcing her into the corner was lewd and lascivious because he offered her money to have sex, revealing an overt sexual desire. Although Minor testified that defendant did not hurt her, only that his hand around her neck was “uncomfortable,” a physical, bodily injury is not required for an individual to be guilty of assault and battery in the first degree under § 16-3-600(C)(1)(a)(i).
Because (1) our interpretation of the subsection appears to be consistent with the remainder of the statute, (2) our jurisprudence has never required an actual, physical injury to a victim’s person to constitute an assault and battery, and (3) the nature of defendant’s actions falls squarely within the definition of first-degree assault and battery, we find the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion for a directed verdict.
State v. Robinson (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-048-22, 8 pp.) (Bruce Williams, C.J.) Appealed from York County Circuit Court (William McKinnon, J.) Susan Barber Hackett for appellant; Alan McCrory Wilson, William Blitch and Kevin Scott Brackett for respondent. S.C. App.