Difference Between Assault and Battery in Legal Context - AA Law

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Understanding the Legal Difference Between Battery and Assault

July 8, 2024 Alan Ahdoot
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Battery and assault are often mistakenly combined into one offense. 

For example, the California Department of Justice (DOJ) groups battery and assault together when reporting crime statistics. According to the DOJ, there were 72,366 reports of battery and assault in 2022. 

But despite being reported together, battery and assault are distinct offenses with different legal definitions and implications.

Find out the key differences between these two crimes and how each is prosecuted under the law.

The Difference Between Assault and Battery

Assault and battery have different legal definitions under California law.


Under Section 240 of the California Penal Code, assault refers to an unlawful attempt, accompanied by a present ability, to cause a violent injury against another person. 

For example, if Person A, during an argument, becomes furious and picks up a beer bottle, raising it as if to hit Person B, Person B may back away in fear. This scenario constitutes assault because Person A attempted violence, creating a reasonable fear in Person B, even though no physical contact occurred.


Section 242 of the California Penal Code defines battery as the willful and unlawful use of force or violence against another person.

For instance, if Person C, in a moment of anger, pushes Person D, causing Person D to fall and hit her head on a desk, resulting in a cut on her forehead, this is battery. In this case, actual physical contact and harm occurred.

Therefore, assault involves the threat or attempt of violence, while battery involves the actual infliction of violence

The Elements of Assault vs. Battery

Since they are two distinct crimes, assault and battery have different elements.


  • The elements of assault are:
  • The offender acts.
  • The offender intends to cause the victim to apprehend imminent harmful or offensive contact.
  • The offender’s act causes the victim to reasonably apprehend such contact.

In assault cases, mere words are not enough to constitute assault. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions caused a reasonable fear of imminent harm.


The elements of battery are:

  • The offender acts.
  • The offender intends to cause contact with the victim.
  • The contact with the victim is harmful or offensive.
  • The contact causes the victim to suffer harm or offense.

In battery cases, actual physical contact is required, and it must be harmful or offensive.

Understanding these distinctions is crucial for correctly identifying and prosecuting these offenses under the law.

Proving Assault and Battery

When it comes to legal cases involving assault and battery, presenting solid evidence is crucial. 

Although these terms are often combined, they have distinct legal definitions and require different types of proof. Here’s how you can substantiate claims of assault and battery:

Medical Records

Medical records are pivotal in proving battery by documenting injuries resulting from physical contact. 

They provide evidence of harm and detail the nature and severity of the injuries, supporting the victim’s account of being touched or struck. Medical documentation can also establish that the defendant applied unlawful force to the plaintiff.

However, since some assault cases do not involve physical contact, medical tests might not show visible signs of injury. In these situations, plaintiffs must present other types of evidence.

Person holding a bullet and pistol would be considered assault and battery crime
Assault and battery are often combined into one crime, but they have different legal definitions and elements and entail distinct penalties.

Photographs and Videos

In the absence of medical records, photos and videos can be essential in proving assault. These visuals capture the offender’s threatening behavior and provide tangible evidence of the defendant’s actions and the victim’s response. 

They can also demonstrate the intent and capability to apply force. For instance, even if the victim did not sustain physical injuries, video recordings can show that the defendant pulled out a knife while threatening the plaintiff.

Similarly, photographs and recordings can prove battery by showing the physical act of unlawful force, such as hitting or pushing, and its effects. They provide clear evidence of contact and resulting injuries, corroborating witness testimonies and medical records to show that harmful or offensive physical contact occurred.


Testimonies play a significant role in proving assault and battery. These can come from various sources:

  • Plaintiff: The plaintiff’s testimony provides a personal account of the incident. In the case of battery, their statements can describe the defendant’s physical act of force.
  • Eyewitnesses: Eyewitnesses can offer first-hand accounts of the defendant’s threatening actions. They can describe the behavior of the parties and the context of the situation. In assault cases, witnesses can establish that the defendant’s actions were likely to result in the application of force, even without physical contact. In battery cases, they can testify that the offender injured the victim.
  • Medical Experts: Expert testimony from medical professionals can prove battery by explaining the nature and extent of the victim’s injuries. They can analyze medical records and describe how the injuries correlate with physical force, adding credibility to the claim that the harm suffered resulted from unlawful and intentional physical contact.

Overlap of Assault and Battery Charge

Although assault and battery are distinct offenses, their charges can overlap when an incident involves both the threat and the actual application of force. 

For instance, if someone threatens to punch another person (assault) and then follows through with the punch (battery), the charges could be both. In such cases, the plaintiff can pursue both assault and battery charges against the offender.

Damages for Assault and Battery

In California, a plaintiff in an assault and battery case can receive various types of damages:

  • Economic Damages: These cover medical expenses, lost wages, and the cost of therapy.
  • Non-economic Damages: These include compensation for pain and suffering, as well as emotional distress.
  • Punitive Damages: If the defendant acted willfully or maliciously, the court may award punitive damages to punish and deter similar behavior in the future.

The amount of damages awarded varies on a case-by-case basis, depending on the severity of the harm, the nature of the injuries, and the overall impact on the plaintiff’s life.

Seek Help from Assault and Battery Lawyers in California

If you need assistance with an assault or battery case, personal injury attorneys can help you gather evidence and file charges to claim damages. 

At Adamson Ahdoot, our experienced civil assault and battery lawyers in California can handle your unique case. We offer consultations in both English and Spanish to assist victims of violence.

With more than 100 years of legal experience, our firm possesses the necessary resources to support your claim. Contact us at (800) 310-1606 or visit our website for a free consultation.

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Our team can better advise you on your legal options once we receive any available evidence about the incident.

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