What Is the Difference Between Assault and Battery?

You may often hear about assault and battery together, but they are separate offenses. Nevertheless, the difference between assault and battery is subtle, which can easily lead to a misunderstanding.

An assault is an attempt or threat made to someone before an attack or violent act that leads the victim to believe they are about to be harmed. Battery is willful and harmful contact used to carry out the threat or assault.

One reason you often hear these terms together is that the same behavior that constitutes assault may follow battery.


Assault can include actions that you may not have realized. Making someone feel convinced that an attack is imminent is assault. Attempting to attack someone also qualifies. Imagine the following scenario to understand the term better:

Imagine having a neighbor known to be violent and cause fights. If you cross paths with the neighbor and fear he may attack you, that is not assault. However, it is illegal if he says he will teach you a lesson and swings at you.

Assaults may be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity and local laws. If a person strikes another with their fist or hand (or attempts to), the assault may be considered a misdemeanor.

Although misdemeanor assaults don’t sound serious, they may come with fines and jail time of up to one year. An attempt against the police or a judge is more severe. This action can result in getting charged with a felony, punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment.

Simple vs. Aggravated Assault

There are terms for the two most common types of assaults — simple or aggravated.

Aggravated assaults involve weapons or come to commit a serious crime, such as murder or rape. The belligerent neighbor scenario may be a simple assault. But if the neighbor intended to use a knife or another type of weapon, they would be liable for aggravated assault.

Types and Degrees of Assault

States have varying degrees of assault which may be used to classify a given case and set potential punishments. For example, using Minnesota’s criminal codes 609.221 to 609.224, here is a list of degrees from most serious to least:

  • First-degree assault (felony): The most serious, resulting in near-death, permanent disability, or disfigurement or using deadly force against a law enforcement or peace officer, judge, prosecuting attorney, or correctional officer.
  • Second-degree assault (felony): When an item, such as a baseball bat or object was used as a potentially deadly weapon.
  • Third-degree assault (felony): Causing bodily harm to a lesser degree than first and second-degree assault, assaulting a minor, or displaying a past pattern of child abuse.
  • Fourth-degree assault (gross misdemeanor): Gross misdemeanors are more serious than regular misdemeanors. Discriminatory assault based on someone’s religion, race, or sexual orientation is a fourth-degree assault. An altercation with public servants or first-response personnel, such as a police officer, paramedic, or nurse, may also be considered a fourth-degree assault.
  • Fifth-degree assault (misdemeanor): The least serious of all assaults, an attempt to attack someone, even if failed, may be considered a fifth-degree assault.

Examples of Assault

Assaults include threats as well as attempts. If someone lunges at you or aims an object that can be used as a weapon at you, it can be considered an assault. If someone fakes a kick or attempts to strike you and misses, both are considered an assault because they caused you to feel threatened. 

Assaults can also be classified as sexual assaults if they involve unwanted contact or behavior

Penalties for Assault

The penalties for an assault vary on the severity of the crime. Misdemeanors may come with a sentence of up to one year in prison. Felony assaults have longer sentences. For example, a predatory sexual assault felony in New York is met with 10 to 25 years of imprisonment. You may be sued in civil court and ordered to pay punitive damages, or the victim may win an order of protection against you, requiring you to stay away from them.


When it comes to penal code, battery is similar to assault. It can be classified as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the injury, if a weapon was involved, and whether the victim is a public servant, such as a police officer or a judge.

Simple vs. Aggravated Battery

Simple battery causes intentional harm or unwanted contact without serious injury. Aggravated battery results in injuries and includes the use of an object as a deadly weapon or firearm.

Types of Battery

Using Texas statutes, battery can be classified, from most severe to least serious, as:

  • First-degree felony;
  • Second-degree felony;
  • Third-degree felony;
  • Class A misdemeanor;
  • Class B misdemeanor;
  • Class C misdemeanor.

Examples of Battery

Say that someone threatens a person by lunging at them with a baseball bat. If they did so to intimidate or scare the person but did not actually hit the person, it’s considered an assault. If the person follows through and strikes them with the baseball bat, the person could be charged with assault and battery. In another example, if someone makes unwanted advances and touches a person’s breasts, buttocks, or genital area, the individual is liable for sexual battery.

Penalties for Battery

The most serious penalty comes with a first-degree battery felony, which could result in life in prison. Using Texas statutes as an example, Class C misdemeanors, the least severe, come with a fine of up to $500, although Class A misdemeanors could include up to a year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine. 

You may sue or be sued for battery. It’s best to seek legal advice. The victim may ask for compensatory damages for their injuries because of the battery and be awarded damages plus pain and suffering

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