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What Is the Difference Between an Assault and a Battery in California?

On Behalf of | Oct 25, 2023 | Criminal Defense

It is common to hear the words “assault” and “battery” used together and/or interchangeably, but the law defines them as two distinct criminal charges. If you are charged with one or both of these crimes, understanding the difference between them can help you prepare for possible penalties that could have long-lasting repercussions. However, with proper knowledge and the help of an expert attorney, there are ways to have the charges reduced or dismissed.

When most people consider “assault and battery” together, they often confuse it with battery alone. However, battery only occurs when there is physical contact with another, even if it is not violent. Additionally, battery is considered to have happened when there is harmful, offensive, and non-consensual touching. On the other hand, assault is the attempt or threat of violence or force on another person. When they are charged cooperatively, assault usually occurs first and is followed by battery.


The law defines assault as an illegal attempt to inflict a violent injury on another person, along with the ability to do so. Additionally, the act must be done willfully and there must be a reasonable belief to conclude that a person of sound mind and body would feel threatened by the act.

The threat alone qualifies for the charge as it is, by definition, the crime. In litigation, it only needs to be proven that you had the ability and access to follow through on the threat and therefore instill belief in the victim that harm was likely to occur.

Simple assault is classified as a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to six months in jail and potential fines of up to $1000. If a deadly weapon was present at the time, then there is the potential for the crime to be elevated to a felony. A felony conviction carries up to four years in prison or fines of up to $10,000.

An additional circumstance that must be considered is the identity of the victim. If the charge is against a public worker who is engaging in their duties, then the defendant may find themselves facing more enhanced penalties. Examples of public workers include doctors, nurses, teachers, highway workers, animal control officers, and school employees.


Unlike assault, the law defines battery as the illegal and willful use of violence or force on another person. The act must not have been conducted in self-defense or while acting in the defense of another person.

By this definition, battery elevates the offense from the threat of harm to actual harm, although the contact does not have to be significant or violent. Because one is the threat and the other is the actual attack itself, it is understandable why they are often associated with one another and sometimes confused as one charge. Battery is a misdemeanor charge that carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and up to $2000 in fines. One difference between the crimes is whether there is a willful use of violence or force that causes serious bodily harm. When this occurs, it is known as an “aggravated battery” and then qualifies to be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Similarly, batteries that are committed against public workers who are performing their duties face stricter charges and penalties.

Effective Defenses for Assault and Battery

Both charges, while serious, can be defended, reduced, or dismissed. Criminal attorneys can raise a number of defenses that can benefit their clients.

When it comes to assault, common defenses include:

  • There was no attempt to use force.
  • It was in self-defense.
  • The act was done unwillingly.
  • The accusation is false.

In cases of battery, common defenses include:

  • There was no physical contact (or there was only an attempt).
  • The action was unwillingly committed.
  • The act was self-defense.
  • The police stopped you or charged you without probable cause.


Q: What Is Domestic Battery?

A: The basis of this charge is the same as simple battery, in which there was unwanted physical contact with another person. However, the difference between this and simple battery is that it involves an intimate member of the defendant’s family. This could also result in further penalties that include up to one year in a batterer’s treatment program.

Q: What Is Sexual Assault or Sexual Battery?

A: This is different from modifying the definitions of simple battery or simple assault. In these cases, sexual battery is unwanted physical contact for the purposes of arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse. Sexual assault includes non-consensual acts of intercourse, oral sex, touching, or penetration with a foreign object. The penalties for these crimes are much more significant and carry far greater penalties.

Q: What Is Assault With a Deadly Weapon?

A: Assault with a deadly weapon is the charge applied when a person commits an act of assault but uses a weapon in the commission of the act. In this case, there must be intent to use the weapon. This does not just include the use of knives and guns, but arguably anything that could be considered a weapon.

Q: What Is the Difference Between Assault and Battery in California?

A: Assault is the threat of intent to cause bodily harm to another individual, whereas battery occurs when the threat turns to physical contact. Charges can be filed separately or in combination. Suspects can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the crime. Both crimes carry the potential punishment of time in jail or fines.

Assault and Battery Attorney

Because of the potential long-term consequences that follow an indictment of assault and/or battery charges, it is in your best interest to seek the help of legal experts like those at the Exum Law Offices who know how to help defend your case. Whether seeking an acquittal or a reduction in charges, our expert criminal attorneys will review the facts of your case and help decide what you need for the best possible outcome. Contact our offices today for more information.