While assault and battery are two of the most common crimes in America, there is still a lot of confusion about what makes these two crimes unique from one another. In fact, while they are often charged together and many people use them interchangeably in conversation, the two crimes are, in fact, very distinct. When it comes to the difference between assault and battery in California, it largely comes down to whether or not force was used.
What is the Difference Between Assault and Battery in California?
The reason so many people don’t recognize how assault and battery differ comes down to the way they use the words. While common usage suggests that these two words can be used interchangeably, each word has a distinct meaning.
Assault is defined as the threat or attempt, paired with the ability, to injure someone illegally. For example, if a person approaches a drunk at a bar and threatens to punch him, that is assault. If he threw a punch, but missed, this would be aggravated assault because he attempted to do harm to someone illegally. If he brandishes a knife to make his threat more intimidating, that would be assault with a deadly weapon, which is another form of aggravated assault. Threatening to stab someone may also be a far more serious crime of making a criminal threat.
Battery involves the actual use of force or violence. In other words, if the man at the bar ended up throwing a punch and hitting the victim, this would be battery. If he threatened the victim before throwing his punch, he could be charged with assault and battery. It is also worth noting that battery can sometimes be charged when someone does something that could potentially harm someone else, even if it wasn’t a directly violent act. For example, a woman was charged with battery for spitting in a police officer’s food.
Potential Penalties for Assault vs. Battery
Another major distinction when it comes to assault vs battery is the sentence you can receive for either crime. Simple assault is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. That being said, there are a number of ways it can be a much more serious charge, for example, if the victim is a police officer, firefighter, paramedic or other protected class, the crime can be punishable by up to one year. Aggravated assault can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony and can be punishable by up to four years in prison as a felony.
Battery can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the severity of the victim’s injuries. As a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty is six months in jail. If it is charged as aggravated battery, the maximum sentence can be as much as four years in prison. If the battery results in serious injury or a deadly weapon was used it is a strike in the state of California and in cases of serious injuries can add three years to a prison term and reduce early release prison credits. Because the decision of how to file these charges is largely up to the District Attorney, your lawyer may be able to minimize the charges in some case.
Fighting the Charges
Because police in these cases often act based on the testimony of witnesses, you could be charged with battery even when you did not actually make physical contact with anyone or be accused of assault when the other party is the one who made the threats. That is why it is so important to work with a skilled violent crimes lawyer who can help show your side of the story is the accurate explanation of events or at very least that there is not enough evidence to prove you broke the law.
It is also possible to argue that you were acting in self defense. In order to use this defense though, you must prove that you only acted when in a situation where a reasonable person would have fear that he was at risk of imminent danger of immediate bodily harm. Another defense can involve intent. After all, if you were trying to hit a punching bag and accidentally struck someone else, this would not be battery since you did not intentionally strike the other person. Always speak with a criminal defense attorney before attempting to defend yourself or you might say something that could later be used against you in court.
If you have any questions about these two charges or if you have been accused of either crime, Peter M. Liss can help. Call (760) 643-4050 today to schedule a free consultation.