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What Is the Difference Between Assault and Battery?

woman assaulting man
The presence of harm differentiates assault and battery.

Assault vs. Battery

Although related, assault and battery are possibly the most confusing offenses of all criminal charges. 

To add to the conundrum, one of them can lead to the other, and depending on the harm caused, there are different degrees of both assault and battery. 

So, read on to learn the legal definition of these crimes and their implications.

What is assault?

In common law, assault is defined as an act of criminal intimidation that leads the victim to fear or creates a reasonable apprehension of suffering harm or offensive physical contact.

violent young man
An act that causes a victim to feel apprehension that physical harm may follow is deemed assault.

Notice how there is no mention of actual physical harm in the definition of this crime. It is an act that creates the apprehension that physical harm may follow.

So, any kind of verbal threat, use of an object to threaten, or offensive or rude touching will lead to a charge of assault. Even if such physical contact does not lead to actual bodily harm, it could still result in an assault charge.

What is battery?

Think of this offense as carrying through the threat of causing physical harm. So, battery is not just an act of intimidation but the actual act of physically harming someone. 

bruised young woman
Battery is not just intimidation but an act of physical harm.

The legal definition of battery is a volitional or intentional act to cause physical harm to a person.

If an act is perpetrated with the intent to harm someone but does not lead to actual harm, for whatever reason, the charge would then be assault and not battery. So, there has to be physical evidence of harm caused for the police to file a charge of battery.

Example of Assault and Battery

Running after someone while threatening to beat him up would lead to a charge of assault as long as the perpetrator of the act does not end up actually beating the victim.

However, if the perpetrator manages to catch up with the victim and then proceeds to cause physical harm to this person, it would lead to a charge of both assault and battery.

angry man holding baseball bat
Threatening and carrying out harm against another is assault and battery.

Another example would be a perpetrator flinging a rock at someone intending to hit him. If the rock strikes the victim, it would lead to a charge of battery. If the rock does not strike the victim, it would be a case of assault.

Even if the victim does not know that a rock has been hurled at him and the rock misses him, the person who flings the rock can still be charged with assault. 

In this case, the act of throwing the rock cannot be deemed as intimidation or threat because the victim did not know about it. 

Yet, the fact that the rock was thrown with the intent to hurt and could have caused such hurt is enough to bring a charge of assault.

What Are the Different Types of Assault Charges?

While the terminology used will vary across states, assault charges are generally segregated into the following categories:

1. Third-degree assault

This charge is filed when a threat (without the use of weapons or objects of any kind) is issued or an act committed that creates the fear of harm but said the act did not lead to or culminate in actual physical harm. Typically, this charge is pressed in case of minor altercations.

man assaulting woman
Blocking someone’s mouth and nose in an assault constitutes 1st degree assault.

2. Second-degree assault

This form of assault is treated as a felony and almost always involves a threat with the use of a weapon. Threatening a police officer with bodily harm is also considered a felonious assaultive offense. More often than not, second-degree assault results in some form of physical injury to the victim.

3. First-degree assault

This is, again, a felony charge and typically results from physical contact that impedes breathing. For instance, trying to choke someone by applying pressure to the neck or blocking the mouth and nose.

4. Aggravated assault

The most serious form of assaultive crime is often coupled with battery, resulting in serious physical harm such as disfigurement, loss of a limb, or internal injuries. Frequently, the use of deadly weapons figures in this form of assault. This is also a felony charge.

In many states, aggravated assault is also segregated into two degrees based on the seriousness of the hurt caused. If the physical injuries are so serious that they could have led to the victim’s death, the charge would be first-degree aggravated assault.

5. Assault with a vehicle

As the term suggests, in this form of assault, a vehicle is used as a weapon. While assault is, in itself, a volition act, negligently endangering the life of others while driving is also considered intentional in nature.

man hit by car
Accidents that result in serious physical injury can be treated as assault.

Hence, an accident that results in serious physical injuries will be treated as an assault, although there may not have been an intention to cause hurt.

In states where a criminal charge is not specifically dedicated to it, vehicular assault is considered a first-degree aggravated assault, given the high risk of life-threatening injuries (if death occurs the charge would be Second Degree Manslaughter).

In addition to this, elderly assault and sexual assault are two other classifications of assaultive crime. Sexual assault may or may not involve rape but is almost always a felony crime.

As far as elderly assault goes, in states where this charge exists, it is treated as a felony crime because, in the eyes of the law, the perpetrator has committed a crime against a citizen who cannot defend himself/herself.

What Are the Different Classifications of Battery Charges?

Usually, a battery charge is filed with an assault charge, but there is no legal requirement to do so. Yet, the rationale is that if a perpetrator has hurt a victim, there must have been some way in which he/she announced/displayed the intention to cause such harm.

man in handcuffs
The extent of a battery charge depends on the level of harm inflicted on the victim.

Like assault, the seriousness of a battery charge depends on the extent of the physical harm suffered by the victim. As such, battery can be classified as:

1. Simple battery

This is often treated as a misdemeanor because while intentional hurt was inflicted, it did not result in serious physical harm. For example, shoving someone away or pushing someone to the ground such that it does not cause discernible physical harm would result in a charge of simple battery.

2. Aggravated battery

This is a felony charge as the physical injury is significant and may involve the loss of a limb, disfigurement, or possible loss of life, in which case the charge would be upped to murder or homicide.

man punching businessman
Aggravated battery can result in a felony charge.

In addition to classifying battery charges based on the seriousness of any injury caused to the victim, this offense category is also segregated into different types based on the victim in question.

For instance, spousal battery, battery against a child, battery against a police officer, and battery against an elderly person (coupled with elderly assault). All of these are felony crimes.

The Legal Ramifications of Assault and Battery

While these are criminal offenses, assault alone, unless it is in the third degree or aggravated assault, is treated as a misdemeanor crime. Such offenses typically attract a penalty of six months to one year of county jail time as opposed to a state penitentiary sentence.

A simple assault and battery charge may also be treated as such. However, aggravated assault can lead to a sentence of up to 20 years in some states, while aggravated battery can be punishable by several decades of prison time (up to 99 years), depending on state laws and the seriousness of the damage caused.

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