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What are the Differences Between Assault and Battery?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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From a legal standpoint, assault and battery often form one charge against a suspect. However, some suspects may merely be charged with assault. Anyone who is charged with battery, however, is essentially also guilty of assault.

The difference between the two lies in the definition of the terms. In legalese, assault is any reasonable threat to a person. The person who is committing the assault does not have to actually touch a person. But a reasonable and immediate threat to the person being assaulted must exist for a claim of assault. Battery, on the other hand, requires contact.

A few things are considered automatic assault without attaching battery. Pointing a gun at someone, or waving a weapon like a knife, or a potential weapon like a baseball bat are all considered assault. At that moment, anyone who is being threatened is being assaulted.

For both assault and battery to be present, one must wave a weapon, or one’s fists, or threaten physical harm, and then commit physical harm. The difference lies in whether the supposed criminal ever touched the victim. As soon as a threat becomes a blow, the crime is then assault with battery.

Since getting ready to throw a punch or picking up a baseball bat with threatening intent is a threat to a person, the two charges are rarely separated. Additionally, assault charges rarely stand alone because the courts tend to lean more toward trying suspects who have actually committed physical harm. This is largely because contact is easier to prove than a mere threat.

However, the term assault, on its own can be useful for protective purposes. A person who threatens violence but does not commit it, can often be subject to restraining orders. It is often very difficult to pursue a criminal case against someone who has made a verbal threat, yet it is fairly easy to get a temporary restraining order against someone who has committed assault. Should the person violate the restraining order and hurt those they threatened, the charge would be upgraded to assault and battery, since there would be a known record of assault.

Also, the threat of criminal prosecution for assault is frequently a great enough deterrent for would be batterers. This is helpful in middle and high school environments, where most children are unaware that a threat to physically harm another constitutes assault. Informing a child, who has assaulted another child, and the assaulter’s parents that assault is a criminal act, may be enough to get a child to cease harassing other people.

Another instance where the assault term is useful is in cases where a person claims justifiable homicide or justifiable assault and battery. If a person has felt only physically threatened by another, it may be argued that his or her actions to attack the assaulter and commit battery upon the assaulter were motivated by self-defense.

In a self-defense claim, intent to harm must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. However, it is possible to be cleared of charges where this can be clearly proven. This allows a potential victim to strike first if they feel a significant risk to themselves, rather than wait until an attacker has actually committed both assault and battery.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon947926 — On Apr 28, 2014

My boyfriend pointed a gun at this guy who was running toward us, ready to beat up my boyfriend and me. So he protected us by pulling out his gun which is legally registered to him, but he is now charged with assault with a deadly weapon. Nobody touched anyone. Will my boyfriend go to prison?

By anon352115 — On Oct 19, 2013

My girlfriend and I were walking at a theme park and a young kid backed into us. Before doing so, I put my hand straight out so he wouldn't hit into us with my hand straight in the center of his back. I didn't push or do anything. He just backed into my hand instead of us. I couldn't get sued for this, right? My girlfriend seems to think so. She made it very clear. There wouldn't be a single mark on the kid nor did he fall or anything, so nothing to make a case, I would be fine, right?

By anon345319 — On Aug 18, 2013

I was at my ex wife's residence late at night to drop off our son whom I had picked up from a party. I was going to drug test him upon returning home, but he said he was staying at his Moms house. I went in (she was sleeping) and followed him to the bathroom so he take the test and she woke up. She came in screaming and griping that we should have gone to my apartment and we woke her up and we argued a bit, which angered her so much she slapped the crap out of my face in my son's presence and very hard. My son saw everything,

Can I file a report with the police and press charges? I'm sick of this witch and have never been happier but she's miserable and bitter, but too proud to admit any errors on her part. Can I get a restraining order on her and possibly fight to get full custody of my 20-year old son and 18-year old daughter. She is one evil witch.

By anon336043 — On May 25, 2013

Is it an assault if a supervisor comes up behind a production operator and takes the operators hands out of his pockets and tells him you are not supposed to have your hands in your pockets?

By anon330298 — On Apr 15, 2013

If A hits B on a football pitch and B punches A back, knocking his two front teeth out, then A's drunk girlfriend comes onto the pitch and tries to disentangle them and B pushes the girl away and she falls. She gets up but falls later, hitting her head against a rock and incurs brain damage. Who is liable and does B have a defense?

By anon309795 — On Dec 18, 2012

Someone kicked my car in a parking lot as I was exiting the lot and then started yelling epithets. I exited the car and yelled back. Were his actions criminal or are men allowed to attack women drivers in the state of Washington without penalty?

By anon289411 — On Sep 04, 2012

In NC a person can be charged and indicted for something without even actually doing anything at all. No joke here.

I know a person who was indicted not once, but twice for crimes which did not even happen. He has been jailed and bailed out many times, and he did not even do anything. He has also not been allowed to see his child now for over two years.

Oh, by the way, it was the ex witch who made the false charges against him. It took over two years before all criminal charges were dropped. The ADA tried to get the person to take a plea, which he would not do. Why would anyone actually do something stupid like this when there was no evidence of a crime being committed in the first place?

By anon286085 — On Aug 19, 2012

If you saw a person assault another person more than once with witnesses, do you report it to police?

By anon282663 — On Jul 30, 2012

I made an unplanned announcement at church where I raised my hand first, stood up and took about 20 seconds to try to raise support to help a disabled lady in the church move. The pastor knew she was moving and didn't like that we were helping her because he didn't like her.

After church, in the foyer, he grabbed me by the arm and turned my body toward him against my will. He got up in my face and talked through his clenched teeth and said, "Don't - you - ever do that again, do you hear me?" Would this be considered assault and/or battery?

By juvenile — On May 15, 2012

I'm 16 and an 18 year old came up to me threatening me with other people and his dog. I stood up and started arguing with him, then he pushed me and got in my face so I pushed him back several times as he got closer. Then he swung at my head and I punched him in the face. He then grabbed my neck and I threw him off me to the ground.

After this, he charged again so I hit him again and he fell and tried to kick me in the face. After he got up, he charged once more and I kicked him in the chest which stopped him and then I ran away. The other day I received a court order in which I was charged for felonious assault. How can I defend this?

By anon268553 — On May 14, 2012

I punched a woman in the face. She went to the hospital and filled out a crime victims report. The only witness is her and she is saying she wants to press charges. I haven't been arrested yet nor have I heard anything from the police. How do I find out if I am being charged?

By anon267058 — On May 08, 2012

What is it called when you have two charges and they combine them with one term so say it is assault? They will then go and say assault and battery but they will get charged for battery?

By anon266451 — On May 05, 2012

I live in Yonkers NY. My question is can the police charge me with assault in the first degree if the victim is the only witness and if they do not have the weapon used?

By amypollick — On Feb 27, 2012

@anon250716: Either at age 18, or sooner, if the judge determines the severity of the crime merits charging a juvenile as an adult. In general, in the U.S., the district attorney will press for the judge to consider charging the suspect as an adult.

By anon250716 — On Feb 27, 2012

At what ages do assault and assault and battery become chargeable offenses? When is the cross over from the juvenile court system?

By anon245028 — On Feb 03, 2012

Assault is using to attack someone with a deadly weapon. Battery is punching someone or unwanted touching.

By amypollick — On Aug 29, 2011

@anon182079: In a word, yes. It's threatening/menacing behavior, in any case, and your boss has no business putting his hands on you, period. He needs to be reported to his supervisor, with the understanding that you are prepared to bring criminal charges against him.

By anon210235 — On Aug 29, 2011

I live in Massachusetts and a cop told me that by just pointing my index finger during a verbal confrontation can also be considered a form of a threat.

By anon182079 — On Jun 01, 2011

in an argument with my employer, he grabbed my arms to hold me in place while he shouted at me. would this be considered an assault?

By krothrock — On Feb 24, 2011

my husband's ex-wife got in my face (at their only grandchild's first birthday party) and stuck her long fingernail into my arm and said "and you stay off Facebook!" Would that constitute assault and battery? I am 5 feet 98 pounds, and she is about 5'5".

By anon107840 — On Aug 31, 2010

You stated at the top of your page that anyone charged with battery is also guilty of assault. No one is guilty of battery unless convicted in court. Merely being charged with any crime is not necessarily guilty unless proven in a court of law.

By anon92540 — On Jun 28, 2010

My door was kicked in. They had a pipe and knife and he was hit repeatedly so he grabbed knives and threw them to make them run and someone with the others who invaded my home and assaulted him was hit. is that considered assault?

By anon83233 — On May 10, 2010

In my driveway, a man was absconding after stealing my property. I ran behind his car to write his license number. He turned and looked straight at me and backed the car toward me. I jumped back to avoid being struck. As he again drove directly toward me, I took a small pistol from my pocket and and fired it once into the air. I felt that I was in extreme danger and was acting in self defense. Did this act constitute an assault?

By anon76825 — On Apr 12, 2010

My brother was assaulted with pepper spray/mace. This was an unprovoked attack. Can the person be charged with battery and assault?

By anon73668 — On Mar 28, 2010

anon428 yes, if you're the victim, someone pointing a firearm, bat, pipe, etc. weapons that can cause severe bodily harm or death is a deadly weapon. they would be charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and could face other charges as well.

By anon65495 — On Feb 14, 2010

My teenaged son was playing around at school and scratched another child with a triangle of styrofoam plate. He is now being charged with assault and battery. Does this constitute A+B?

By anon37475 — On Jul 20, 2009

keep in mind that all of this depends on the state you live in. Ex: while these definitions apply to many state codes, some states do not use the term battery. In OH for example assault means physical contact was used. In LA assault merely means a threat of physical contact. OH would consider a threat of harm menacing.

By anon20547 — On Nov 02, 2008

somebody head butted me and i pushed him over and hit him softly, probably didn't leave a mark. does that mean i assaulted him as well or is that self defense?

By hurtbyex — On Feb 21, 2008

I was grabbed, shoved and then hit/slapped in my head by my ex husband who got arrested because the police arrived and could see the mark on my face. Investigators did not show up to take pictures for about an hour, they are not very clear, and he is fighting the charges saying he only pushed me out of his way. I have the officer to testify about the red mark, but they are saying I set him up because I called 911 and reported it as an assault on a female. I think I know what assault is... unwanted touching, shoving, grabbing, etc... definitely a slap/hit to the head. Am I right in my definition of assault? Any unwanted touching?

By anon428 — On Apr 24, 2007

what are the possible defense against assault and battery and what justify s assult and does the first act of violence or producing a weapon such as a gun and pointing it at someone justify assault

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia...
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