Is there a difference between assault and battery?

On Behalf of | Jun 21, 2020 | Criminal Defense

If you get into a physical altercation with someone and they threaten to press charges against you, they usually accuse you of assault. However, if they do proceed with filing charges, the prosecutors might bring a case against you for battery, instead. So, is there a difference between the two? If so, what is it? 

Cornell Law School confirms that assault and battery are two completely different things from a legal standpoint. It also explains that both of these exist in criminal law and tort law. 

The Difference Between the Two Legal Terms 

Assault refers to an act of violence that causes the intended or alleged victim to be fearful of physical harm in the future. It does not include actually carrying out that fact. For instance, someone might make verbal threats or make gestures that the other person interprets as a threat. 

In contrast, battery refers to the manifestation of physical harm, with or without previous threats. For instance, if you punch someone or physically hurt them in other ways, it might lead to battery charges. 

The Applications in Criminal law and Tort Law 

While assault and battery are generally two different things, not all jurisdictions treat them differently. Because of this, you might face a general charge for “assault” depending on where the incident took place. This is one of the many causes of confusion when it comes to use of the term, as well as why so many people use both terms interchangeably. 

In tort law, courts treat acts of battery or assault as intentional tort. Note that these cases are generally tried in civil courts. In some cases, the alleged victim might press charges in criminal court and seek damages in civil court. 

It might not seem fair that someone might attempt to try you twice for the same alleged crime in multiple courts. However, many people seek this route because criminal courts do not usually focus on compensation for injuries suffered.