Differences Between Assault and Battery

  • Post last modified:July 9, 2024

Despite the misconception that assault and battery are synonymous, these two crimes are very different according to our assault and battery lawyers. Each has its own repercussions for those charged and convicted. Learn more about the differences.

Many believe that assault and battery is more of a combined crime versus two distinct crimes with harsh penalties for those who commit either. Not only that, but either one of these crimes can land someone in a criminal and civil court. Once you understand the differences between assault and battery in California, it’s easier to understand why there are so many variations and potential outcomes.


Assault, loosely defined, is the threat of harming another and with a way to cause that harm. One can be accused of and/or charged with assault even if they don’t actually carry out the threat or inflict damage. For example, pulling a gun on someone can be charged with assault, even if the gun was never fired. Pulling a knife on someone is another example of assault. Not only is there a potential for criminal charges, but anyone who’s been accused of assault in California can find themselves in a civil courtroom as well.

If an act is offensive and overt in nature, odds are if it gets no further than an argument, an assault has not been committed. If, however, the act is offensive and is coupled with a weapon or a means to inflict pain or cause damage, even if it it’s simply raised fists, that can result in an assault charge.

The intent is important in assault cases because it’s part of the element of assault. If someone holds a gun to another, there is a reasonable certainty that the victim fears for their life and that the one holding the gun intends to cause harm.


If assault is the threat of inflicting pain, then battery is the act of physically making contact with someone with the goal of actually inflicting pain or causing bodily harm. For instance, in a domestic abuse case, a spouse can pull his wife’s hair and be charged with battery. He can pull a gun, threaten her and for that, he can be charged with assault.

That said, the contact does not have to be painful or inflict harm; it is the contact that constitutes the battery. Like assault, battery can be pursued both criminally and civilly.

The elements of battery include first, an act and second, an intent to cause harm or pain and third, making physical contact in some way with the one being threatened.

California Civil Assault and Battery Elements

As discussed, in California, there are both civil and/or criminal elements associated with assault and battery. With a civil case, there are damages that are awarded, assuming a plaintiff is successful in making their claim. Generally, the award is in line with the current and anticipated medical costs or pain and suffering. If there was no trip to an emergency room or doctor, odds are, the awards will be lower than for injuries that require ongoing medical attention.

For more information, speak to our criminal defense lawyers today.