Anybody who has ever watched a crime drama has probably heard the phrase, “You are being arrested for assault and battery.” Often, this makes it sound like battery and assault are the exact same charge. However, this is not the case.
Battery and assault are closely related, and it is possible for the courts to charge you with both at the same time. However, they are distinct crimes. According to FindLaw, assault is best defined as an attempt at battery.
The definition of assault
Speaking generally, assault is an attempt to cause injury to somebody else. Usually, this includes threatening behavior. Contact is not necessary for an assault charge. However, there must be some sort of criminal act involved.
What the nature of the criminal act is depends on the case, but it must put a so-called “reasonable person” in fear for their safety. Usually, spoken words are not going to be enough to constitute an assault. The assailant must back up his or her words with an act or actions that make the reasonable person afraid of harm.
The definition of battery
On the other hand, battery involves intentional offensive or harmful touching of somebody else without consent. Interestingly enough, a battery charge does not require any actual intent to harm the victim. The courts also must consider the contact “criminally reckless.” Thus, accidentally bumping into somebody on a crowded subway platform, no matter how offensive the other person might find it, does not constitute battery.
There must also be an act involved: the assailant must make contact of some sort with the victim. Traditionally this is along the line of kicking and punching, but may involve other acts like spitting.