Assault vs. Battery - Is There a Difference?

A common misconception in the realm of criminal law pertains to assault and battery. Some believe that these are one in the same or that they are always charged alongside one another. In California, these are two separate crimes, but they are often grouped together and this can create some confusion. They may also have different meanings in other states. Here, we will work to dispel some of the common misunderstandings about assault and battery, based on California law.

Let's start with assault. According to California Penal Code § 240, "An assault is an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another." What is important to note about this offense is that it is an "attempt" and "present ability" to harm another person. Whether the act was carried out or the person was injured is irrelevant to assault charges. Only the attempt and ability must be present.

A defendant may face a fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment in county jail for up to 6 months for simple assault. Assault with a deadly weapon is a more serious version of this offense and may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, punishable by up a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment in county jail for up to 1 year or 2-4 years in state prison. Because assault is considered a violent crime, if it is charged as a felony a defendant may receive a "strike" on his or her criminal record if convicted.

Battery, though also considered a violent crime, is a different type of offense. California Penal Code § 242 as "any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another." While assault is the attempt at violence, battery is the act itself. Because these offenses may have the same act in common, both attempted and carried out, a defendant may face criminal charges for assault and battery. This is likely the source of confusion regarding these separate crimes.

Battery is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and/or imprisonment in county jail for up to 6 months. Aggravated battery, which involves the wilful use of force or violence on another person that causes serious bodily injury, may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Under California Penal Code § 243(d), aggravated battery may be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 (misdemeanor) or $10,000 (felony) and/or up to 1 year in county jail (misdemeanor) or 2-4 years in state prison (felony). A defendant charged with felony aggravated battery may also receive a "strike" on his or her record if convicted.

Whether you are facing assault or battery charges, or both, it is essential that you protect your rights. If you are arrested, heed the arresting officer's warning that anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. Exercise your right to legal counsel and involve a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible – before things get out of hand.

Representing arrestees, suspects and defendants in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California, we at Lessem & Newstat offer the level of defense counsel that is necessary in the face of violent crime charges like assault and battery. We have more than five decades of combined legal experience and know what it takes to challenge criminal charges and hold nothing back as we protect our clients' constitutional rights to the fullest extent. Contact a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer today.