R. Todd Bennett, P.C.
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The difference between assault and battery

You've likely seen it a thousand times in the movies and on TV shows: The police arrest someone and announce that they're being charged with assault and battery. That person is then cuffed, thrown in a squad car and presumably driven off to the station.

Certainly, you can get charged with assault and battery. However, people often make the mistake of assuming that "assault and battery" is one offense, as if those are really just the same thing.

The reality is that assault and battery are two different charges. You can get charged with both, but you could very well get charged with one and not the other -- assault without the battery, for instance.

To clear up this common misconception, it's important to look at the difference between the two.

Battery

Generally speaking, battery happens when one person intentionally contacts another person and causes that person harm. Another qualifier is that this also has to happen without the first person's consent.

Intent is one of the biggest things here. An accidental contact that causes injury may still result in charges due to negligence, but it's not assault unless you mean to do it. You can only get charged when you're trying to cause physical harm and then you succeed in doing so.

Assault

Assault may look very similar -- an injury may have occurred -- but it's technically possible to assault someone without contacting them. A criminal act has to happen, and that person has to think he or she could suffer harm. Intent also has to exist. Contact does not always have to be made, however.

One key point is that a mere threat will not usually count as an assault unless there is another component. Something else needs to happen to make the alleged victim feel afraid, as if you're really going to harm him or her. The victim must believe your intent is there.

For example, taking out a weapon may change a threat into an assault. Yelling to someone that you're going to hurt him or her may be an empty threat. If you yell at the person, pull out a hunting knife, and take two steps forward, that may satisfy the requirements for an assault.

The Difference

These may seem like little differences, but it's crucial to understand them if you're facing charges. They can define your legal options and show you how to proceed.

Perhaps police charged you with assault, for instance, but you know that physical content was never made. There was an altercation in which you each said some things, but you never touched anyone. While an assault charge may stick depending on the specifics of the situation, a battery charge is likely not going to hold up in court.

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