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What is the difference between assault and battery?

It is common to hear assault and battery used in the same sentence: both words make a person cringe. Shock factor aside, these two charges have completely different meanings and penalties. The crimes are similar to an extent, but equally distinct. It is time to unpackage the phrase "assault and battery."

California assault law

The California assault law, Penal Code 240, defines "simple assault" as an attempt to commit an injury to someone else. Therefore, assault is more of a threat that does not involve physical touch. California criminal law charges assault as a misdemeanor.

For someone to be convicted in a criminal jury trial for assault in California, the following elements must be true:

  1. You did something that would probably result in hurting someone else
  2. You did so willfully
  3. You were aware that your threats or actions would make the average person concerned for their safety
  4. You had the ability to apply force to the other person

California battery law

Battery in California is defined as intentional and unlawful contact with another person. This does not include if you act in self-defense. The slightest touch is enough for a conviction if it is done so in a threatening manner. Simple battery is a misdemeanor offense.

A battery conviction requires three final elements. It must be proven that you physically touched all listed below:

  1. The person
  2. His or her clothing
  3. Anything attached or connected to the person

Penalties of a misdemeanor in California law

Simple assault and simple battery are both misdemeanors in California. Most cases of assault and battery include a fine of $1,000-$2,000 and up to six months in county jail. Even if no one was hurt in the situation, you can still be charged and convicted for assault. Many people with no criminal history find themselves in this situation. A few examples of a strong defense are:

  1. You acted in self-defense
  2. You defended someone else
  3. You had consent
  4. You were wrongly accused

So what's the main difference?

Assault is an attempt with no physical contact. Battery requires physical contact. A dual charge of assault and battery is possible. Regardless, your sentence follows the penalties of battery. Fines for a battery conviction go up to $2,000. A battery conviction is considered a violent crime. Employers will find this on background checks. Both crimes are considered misdemeanors and the penalties are similar. Conviction of either of these crimes both result in jail time, fines, probation, community service and forced participation in a Batterer's Program.

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