Assault is one of the most difficult parts of the law to understand. What is it, and how does it relate to battery?
There are multiple kinds of “assault,” so let’s start with the most basic.
Simple assault is a misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to six months in county jail and/or a fine of $1,000. In order to convict you of assault, prosecutors will have to prove four things:
- You did an act that, by its nature, would result in the “application of force” against someone else;
- You did it willfully;
- When you did it, you were aware that it would result in the application of force against that person; and
- When you acted, you had the ability to apply the force.
Let’s delve a little deeper into the legalese. “Application of force” means any harmful or offensive touching, no matter how minor. It doesn’t matter if you actually caused an injury, and it also doesn’t matter if you actually succeeded in applying force.
In other words, a person who spits in someone else’s face could be guilty of assault. A person who tries to spit in someone else’s face but fails could also be guilty of assault.
How does this compare to battery?
Assault vs. battery in California
If we can think of assault as the act of “trying to inflict force on someone else,” battery is when you actually succeed.
Battery is a separate crime from assault. Simple battery is also a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
Like simple assault, you can be guilty of battery even if you didn’t injure the other person. All that matters is that you touched them in an offensive way. This could be from something as simple as a shove on a bus or throwing a small rock.
Now that we know the basics, we can dive further into more serious forms of assault and battery.
California ‘Assault with a deadly weapon’ law
A more serious form of assault happens with a weapon or a force likely to produce “great bodily injury.” That is assault with a deadly weapon, which is a “wobbler” in California law, meaning that it can be tried as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on your history and the facts of the case.
As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by a year in county jail. Felony charges can carry up to four years in state prison, and potentially more if a firearm was used in the assault.
Let’s dive deeper into the legalese again. A “deadly weapon” is an object, instrument or weapon that when used is capable of producing “great bodily injury.” This can include injuries like:
- Broken bones,
- Loss of consciousness,
- Wounds requiring extensive stitches.
This means that in certain situations, a broken bottle, a brick, a pencil, a car or a dog trained to respond to commands could qualify as deadly weapons. California law can also treat hands and feet as deadly weapons if they are used with enough force and skill to produce great bodily injury.
Similar to simple assault above, assault with a deadly weapon handles cases where a person “tries to inflict force on someone else.” It doesn’t matter if they succeed.
To compare, in cases where a person is able to seriously injure or maim another person, they might be charged with “battery causing serious bodily injury.”
California ‘Battery causing serious bodily injury’ law
There is a more serious form of battery for physical attacks resulting in injuries called battery causing serious bodily injury.
It is also a “wobbler.” As a misdemeanor, battery causing serious bodily injury is punishable by a year in county jail and up to $1,000 in fines. As a felony, penalties can range as high as four years in county jail and $10,000 in fines.
This crime has the same elements of simple battery:
- Touching someone else,
- In a harmful or offensive manner.
With the added condition that the act has to result in “serious bodily injury,” which is defined above. It isn’t necessary for the victim to receive medical treatment for a person to be found guilty of battery causing serious bodily injury.
Assault and battery against protected groups
California law also carves out special protections for some groups of people, with increased penalties for assault or battery against them.
- Assault on a public official — Protects government employees, judges, prosecutors, defenders and their immediate families who are assaulted in retaliation for their official duties. A wobbler, punishable by up to a year in county jail and a $1,000 fine as a misdemeanor or up to three years in jail as a felony.
- Battery on a peace officer — Covers acts of battery against everyone from police officers and EMTs to animal control officers. Also a wobbler, with a potential maximum penalty of three years in county jail.
- Domestic battery — Protects spouses, cohabitants, fiancees and romantic partners. This is a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of a year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. As well, a conviction requires registration in a batterers program.
- Elder abuse — Makes it illegal to willfully or negligently impose physical pain on someone older than 65. A wobbler, punishable by four years in state prison and a $6,000 fine as a felony.
- Sexual battery — Covers cases of battery for sexual gratification. This is also a wobbler, carrying a maximum sentence of 4 years in state prison as a felony.
Legal defenses for assault and battery charges
As we’ve seen, the legal definitions for assault and battery are both very broad. A seemingly innocuous gesture can be interpreted as assault.
However, there are numerous ways for a skilled criminal defense attorney to defend against assault charges. For example, perhaps you acted purely out of self-defense and were only prepared to use enough force to defend yourself? In that case, it might not be assault.
If you or someone you know is facing charges for assault or battery, it is important to speak with an attorney as quickly as possible to begin building your defense.