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What's The Difference Between Assault And Battery?

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You may often hear the terms "assault and battery" used together in connection with criminal charges as if they were one action — but they're actually two distinctly different crimes. If you've been charged with a crime like assault or battery (or both), it helps to have a good understanding of what those charges mean. That can make it easier to communicate effectively with your defense attorney. Here's what you need to know:

Assault is a threat of serious harm — not an actual attack.

Generally speaking, if you're charged with assaulting someone, that essentially means that you're accused of having made a credible threat of violence toward the victim. "Credible" means that the other person must have had a reason to believe that your threat was serious and that you had the capacity and means to act on it. The victim of an assault must also have had a reasonable fear for their physical safety as a result of your threat for your actions to actually be an assault.

What makes the other person's fear reasonable? Frankly, it varies according to the circumstances. For example, if you happen to be a 250-pound prizefighter and you get inches from someone's face and threaten to beat that person to a pulp right then and there, that could be considered a credible threat. On the other hand, if you're a 90-year-old woman on a walker and you make the same threat, it might be pretty tough for prosecutors to convince a jury that you could have carried out your threat.

A battery requires physical contact — but doesn't always mean an injury occurred.

You have to physically touch another person in a non-consensual fashion in order to be guilty of a battery. However, it's important to understand that your touch doesn't necessarily have to cause an injury to the victim — it merely needs to be offensive to most reasonable people to be an act of battery.

For example, you probably realize that punching someone in the face is offensive to anybody and an act of battery. You might not realize, however, that giving your neighbor a slight shove on the shoulder during an argument also counts as a battery — even if you never intended to injure your neighbor in the first place and just meant to emphasize your point.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer will want to know everything that happened during the incident that led to charges against you. Solid defenses are built on breaking down each element of the alleged crime and working to convince the judge or jury that your actions don't quite fit the definition of assault or battery based on the situation.