March 11, 2014
Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys often find that many people do not understand the finer points of criminal defense law. One question we get quite often is: What is the difference between assault and battery? An act is deemed assault under California law when it involves threatening someone with violence. The act of making a fist can be considered assault even if you never strike the alleged victim. Battery, however, is when there is actual physical contact. The moment you touch someone, your potential charges escalate from assault to battery. Assault and battery charges are distinctively different, but they both have severe consequences if they result in a conviction.
Under California Penal Code 240, misdemeanor simple assault is defined as committing an act that could result in physical force against another person. If you swing a punch or throw a bottle and miss, you can be charged with assault. If you strike the person, you can be charged with battery. If you threaten someone with a weapon, you can potentially face felony assault with a deadly weapon. Simple assault can result in up to six months in jail whereas a felony assault with a deadly weapon conviction can result in years of incarceration in state prison.
Under California Penal Code 242, battery is defined as any touching that is found harmful or offensive. It typically involves a punch or shove, but battery charges can result from spitting, knocking someone over, or even kissing someone when he or she has made it clear that physical contact is unwanted. The alleged victim does not have to suffer injury or harm for you to face battery charges. As long as there is evidence that you made unwanted contact, you may be charged with battery.
Perhaps the most common defense of assault and battery is self-defense. You have the right in California to defend yourself if you feel threatened. In such cases, the prosecution may say that you were involved in a physical fight. You will have to explain the circumstances of the incident and prove your side of the story. Other potential defenses include accidental touching and mistaken identity.
It is important to fight assault and battery charges not just because of the threat of incarceration, but also because a conviction will result in the creation of a criminal record. Having a record can affect your life professionally, financially, and socially for the rest of your life. Please make sure you understand all of your possible defenses before making any legal decisions.