What Is the Difference Between Assault and Battery?
While the terms assault and battery are often used together, they refer to two distinct crimes in California. Under California Penal Code Section 240, assault refers to an unlawful attempt to cause violent injuries to other people. In other words, you can be charged with assault if you intended to commit a battery but made no physical contact to do so.
Battery, which is codified at California Penal Code Section 242, refers to force or violence used against other people. Unlike assault, which does not involve physical contact, the crime of battery is the actual use of force or violence. The Penal Code also contains special code sections regarding physical force or violence committed against peace officers, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, school teachers, and others.
In other words, the biggest difference between assault and battery in California is that battery is the actual use of unlawful force, while assault is just an attempt to use force.
Simple vs. Aggravated Assault and Battery in California
California Penal Code also recognizes two degrees of assault and battery depending on the nature and severity of the offense:
- Simple and aggravated assault. Simple assault refers to the threat or attempts to cause physical injury to another person when the offender has the ability to carry out such a threat. However, if the offender has the intention to inflict serious bodily injury by assaulting a victim with a deadly weapon, they can be charged with aggravated assault. A deadly weapon can be a firearm, knife, baseball bat, or even a screwdriver, among other instruments and weapons. A person can also face aggravated assault charges if they commit assault with caustic chemicals or attempt to use a deadly weapon on a school employee.
- Simple and aggravated battery. Simple battery means forcefully touching someone in an unwanted manner. However, an offender can face aggravated battery charges if they cause a serious bodily injury. What constitutes a serious injury is one of the most debated issues in assault and battery cases in California. However, California law defines a serious injury as a substantial or significant physical injury.
Penalties for Assault and Battery in California
Penalties for assault and battery depend on the circumstances and nature of the offense, including whether the offense is simple or aggravated:
- Simple assault includes a penalty of up to six months in county jail and up to $1,000 in fines, in addition to restitution to the victim.
- Aggravated assault is punishable by up to one year in jail, a maximum fine of $10,000, probation, and restitution to the victim. If the aggravated assault is a felony, the offender may face a longer jail sentence.
- Misdemeanor battery is punishable by up to six months in county jail and up to $2,000 in fines, in addition to probation and restitution to the victim.
- Felony battery is punishable by a maximum sentence of three years in a county jail or state prison, and between $2,000 and $10,000 in fines, in addition to probation and restitution to the victim.
Felony convictions may fall under California’s Three Strikes Law. Under the law, an offender can be sentenced to 25-to-life in prison if they have two prior felony convictions for violent or serious crimes on their record.