Skip to Content
Free Criminal Consultation! 805-467-6060

Assault vs. Battery: What’s the Difference?

The phrase “assault and battery” is commonly used by many people as one crime when describing the act of using force against another person. In California, however, assault and battery are two separate crimes, each with its own set of “elements” that need to be proven by a prosecutor to win the case. As separate crimes, they also have their own set of penalties. These crimes can also be elevated to an “aggravated” status that can involve harsher penalties than for a standard crime. In this blog, we will detail the differences between these two offenses and the penalties both crimes carry.

What Is Assault Under California Law?

Assault is described under Penal Code 240 PC as “an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on another person.” The key concepts in an assault are the “attempt” along with the “ability.” The law does not state that you actually caused a violent injury, only that you tried to do so and had the means to accomplish it. Thus, you can be arrested and charged with simple assault without ever having made any type of physical contact with the other person.

Examples of simple assault could include raising your fists as if to punch someone (without having punched them) or throwing a rock at someone but missing and hitting the pavement beside them. Simple assault as described here is charged as a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

Assault Against a Protected Class of Professionals

When an assault is directed at a class of professionals who are engaged in a public duty, the penalties can become more severe for the person charged. Under California law, the following are just some of the professionals who are protected:

  • Police officers
  • Firefighters
  • Paramedics
  • Process servers
  • Animal control officers
  • Parking meter officers

The penalties for assault against these individuals include up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000.

What About Aggravated Assault?

Assault becomes “aggravated” when the act committed shows an intent to cause major harm to the victim and/or a disregard for his or her life. Assault with a deadly weapon is a common phrase that demonstrates this; using a gun in an attempt to rob someone would fall under this category. Using any type of dangerous weapon with force against another could qualify as aggravated assault. California includes laws against assault with a firearm, assault with a deadly weapon, assault that is likely to produce great bodily injury, and assault by using caustic chemicals, all of which can be forms of aggravated assault.

This crime can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. As a misdemeanor, it carries up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. As a felony, it carries up to four years in prison along with a $10,000 fine.

What Is Battery in California?

While assault means an attempt to use force against another, battery is the crime of accomplishing the act of force. This is a crime of willful contact. It could include punching, shoving, spitting, throwing objects, or any other means of contact designed to harm the other person. While the common concept of battery is the actual beating up of another person, you can be arrested for this crime without having caused the alleged victim any serious injury at all. If you made contact or touched the other person in a manner considered offensive, you could be said to have committed battery.

Simple battery is charged as a misdemeanor and carries up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000 upon conviction.

California enforces separate laws for battery-related crimes, including:

  • Battery that causes serious bodily injury
  • Battery against a protected class of professionals, such as police, firefighters, emergency medical workers, probation officers, process servers, and more
  • Domestic battery involving violence against family or household members

These offenses may be charged as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the circumstances. Misdemeanors generally carry up to a year in county jail along with fines ranging from $1,000 to $2,000. Felonies can carry prison terms of 16 months or two, three, or four years.

Get Legal Assistance from Appel & Morse

Both assault and battery can have serious criminal consequences. They can also impact your personal life -- a conviction will land you with a permanent criminal record that can be accessed by anyone. That record can make obtaining a job or renting an apartment problematic. You owe it to yourself to get skilled legal help to seek the best possible outcome. At Appel & Morse, we have 40 years of combined criminal law experience that can be used on your behalf.

Contact us online or at (805) 467-6060 for a free, initial consultation about your assault or battery case today.