The difference between assault and battery

Chuck Smith Attorney at Law

Many people mistakenly use the words “assault” and “battery” interchangeably. The confusion is understandable because a person charged with assault will often also face battery charges and vice versa. 

However, though related, assault and battery are actually two different crimes. A person can commit one but not the other. 


The definition of battery, according to California law, is using force or violence against another person that is both unlawful and willful. To be willful, the person charged does not need to intend to harm the other individual. However, there must be intent to commit an act that a person should reasonably know could cause injury to someone else. 

An act of battery does not necessarily need to involve direct force. A person could apply the force indirectly and still potentially be responsible for an act of battery. For example, if one person were to throw an object at the other and the object were to hit the other person in the head, the first individual may still have committed battery because he or she applied force to the object and caused it to strike the other person. 


California law defines assault as an attempt to inflict a violent injury on another party in violation of the law. To put it another way, an assault is an attempt to commit a battery or intentionally threatening to do so. 

For the threat of immediate battery to be credible, a person has to have the ability to commit the act that he or she threatens. Therefore, the ability to commit a battery is part of the assault charge. 

Threatening words alone do not constitute assault; there must be some action to accompany them. A person need not carry out the threat to face conviction on assault charges. However, the prosecution must prove intent, i.e., that an individual intended to threaten or intimidate the alleged victim. 

Criminal defense