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What is the difference between assault and battery?

We often hear the terms “assault and battery” together— used in common speech, reported on the news, and discussed regarding criminal charges. The two crimes may seem similar at first, and that is partially because some states frequently charge one offense in conjunction with the other. Assault and battery, however, are two separate crimes that have different definitions.

There can be serious legal penalties for both crimes. If you are facing charges of assault, battery or both, it is important to fully understand the distinctions between the two.

What is assault?

Assault is typically defined as an attempt to physically harm someone, often with the use of threats or threatening behavior. Physical contact is required for battery charges, but not for assault charges.

The court considers two things when charging an offender with assault: Whether there was a criminal act, and whether there was general intention. The types of acts that can be considered assault vary widely, but generally an act can count as an assault if it would make a reasonable person fear for their safety. General intent means that the offender intended the actions of the assault, even if he or she did not mean to hurt anyone.

What is battery?

The definitions of battery can vary widely. Generally, battery is intentionally touching someone else in a harmful or offensive manner without their consent.

Similar to assault, battery requires intent and a criminal act. Battery does not require any intention to hurt the victim-- it only requires that the offender intended to have physical contact with the victim. Accidentally hitting someone, for example, would therefore not count as battery. The most important point when determining the criminal component of battery is whether the contact was offensive or harmful.

Some states and jurisdictions choose to combine assault and battery into one charge, since the offenses can be very similar. When it comes to assault and battery in the state of Massachusetts, both charges can have serious legal consequences. If convicted of assault or battery, you could face high fees or even jail time.

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