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What Is the Difference Between Assault and Battery in California?

What Is the Difference Between Assault and Battery in California?

Facing charges for assault? Wondering if you may be charged with battery? While some states consider assault and battery the same crime, California law strictly distinguishes the two as separate and different crimes. Read today’s blog to learn about the key differences and their associated penalties.

Assault vs. Battery According to California’s Penal Code

Assault and battery are often lumped together in discussion of violent offenses, perhaps because some states consider them the same crime. In California, however, assault and battery are two distinct crimes. More specifically, California law identifies the following distinctions:

  • Assault under Penal Code 240 – an action that may inflict physical harm or unwanted touching on someone else (including assault with caustic chemicals)
  • Battery under Penal Code 242 – the actual infliction of force or violence on someone else.

In short, assault is an offense that may not necessarily involve any actual physical contact, whereas battery does. (One way to think of assault is “attempted battery.”).

Penalties for Assault and Battery

Assault and battery are penalized as misdemeanors, where assault is punishable by misdemeanor (summary) probation, up to 6 months in county jail, and/or up to $1,000 in fines, and battery is punishable by the same terms and an increased fine of $2,000.

If the battery offense caused serious bodily injury, though, you may face charges for aggravated battery, which is a wobbler offense that can be charged as either a misdemeanor (up to 1 year in jail) or a felony (2, 3, or 4 years in prison). For the purposes of the statute, serious bodily injury here means any serious impairment of physical condition, such as a concussion or broken bones.

Special circumstances and factors present in an offense may warrant different sentencing ranges, though. For example, assault or battery against a special victim (law enforcement officer, emergency personnel, EMT, lifeguard, etc.) may issue the following penalties if you knew or reasonably should have known the alleged victim was of a protected class:

  • Assault against a protected victim – up to 1 year in jail and up to $2,000 in fines
  • Battery against a protected victim – up to 1 year in jail
  • Battery against a protected victim causing serious bodily injury – felony sentence of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in jail

Domestic battery, or battery against one of the following classes of people, may also warrant tougher penalties:

  • spouse or former spouse;
  • cohabitant or former cohabitant;
  • fiancé(e) or former fiancé(e);
  • someone with whom you have or used to have a dating relationship;
  • the father or mother of your child.

Domestic battery is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $2,000 in fines and a potential county jail sentence of up to 1 year. Convicted individuals may also be required to enroll in a batterer’s treatment program for at least 1 year.

Sexual Assault and Sexual Battery

While assault and battery are different, sexual assault and sexual battery are the same thing and may be used interchangeably. Penal Code 243.4 PC generally defines sexual battery as the touching of an “intimate part” of another person against their will for the purposes of sexual gratification, arousal, or abuse.

Sexual battery/assault is a wobbler offense that can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the situation. For instance, if the alleged victim was unlawfully restrained or was an institutionalized person, you will be charged with felony sexual battery.

Misdemeanor sexual battery is punishable by up to 6 months in jail or 1 year, and felony sexual battery carries a state prison sentence of 2, 3, or 4 years. All convicted individuals must also register as sex offenders under California’s Sex Offender Registry.

Defending Against Your Charges

There are several defenses you might take on to combat your battery or assault charges. For one, you might argue self-defense or defense of someone else if all the following hold true:

  • you reasonably believed that you or someone else was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury or being touched unlawfully;
  • you reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger; and
  • you used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.

You might also argue that you did not act willfully to harm someone. In other words, you could show that the battery and harm occurred accidentally, in which case the legal grounds for a charge of battery will not hold.

Assault and battery are common violent offenses that may end up on the lenient misdemeanor side or the harsher felony side. Do not conflate the two, however, as California law strictly delineates between assault crimes and battery crimes. If you have been charged with assault or battery or have questions about their associated laws, consult the Law Office of Nabiel C. Ahmed for informed guidance today.

Schedule a free initial consultation with our firm to get started on your defense.