While assault and battery commonly go hand in hand, they are actually two separate crimes in California. Both, however, have serious penalties if you are convicted. Additionally, assault and battery are often included in other criminal charges that all stem from one single incident.
Having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side throughout the process can be the best way to prevent a charge of assault or battery from turning into a costly conviction.
California Penal Code 240 says that an assault is committed when someone makes an unlawful attempt to commit a violent injury to someone else and has the present ability to make it happen.
A conviction for assault is a misdemeanor in California and comes with a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment of up to six months.
Battery, on the other hand, is something more than an assault. California Penal Code 242 says that battery is the willful and unlawful use of force or violence against someone else. A conviction for battery in California is also a misdemeanor that can carry up to six months in jail, but the fine for battery is $2,000.
The difference between the crimes of assault and battery in California is largely based on whether an attempted battery was successful. Assault is the attempt to use force, battery is the actual use of it. Essentially, assault is an attempted battery, while a battery is a successful assault.
For example, imagine someone who is just about to get punched. Before any punches are thrown, there is neither an assault nor a battery. However, when the attacker brings back their fist and begins to send it at the other person’s head, an assault has occurred: The attempt to commit a violent injury is there, and the means to do it are at hand.
However, because there has not yet been any contact, there is still no battery. The battery only occurs in the instant that the punch is landed. If the punch completely misses, no battery has happened, though the assault has already been completed.
Not all instances of assault and battery involve people throwing punches. Courts in California have deemed the “use of force” that amounts to battery to apply to even the smallest of touches. Pushing someone on the sidewalk, slapping their wrist or even blowing smoke into their face can all constitute enough force for battery.
Additionally, courts in California have a broad interpretation of when force can impact a person. Battery may be committed when you touch someone through their clothing, when you knock something out of their hand or even if they were sitting on a bicycle and you were to kick the bike. Even if you never actually make contact with their body, you are still considered to have contacted their “person,” which is enough for battery.
This broad interpretation of someone’s “person” and of the “use of force” also applies to an assault. Trying to knock something out of someone else’s hand or trying to kick their bike while they are sitting on it can both be an assault.
A conviction for assault or battery carries significant penalties and can put a blemish on your criminal history. A criminal charge is not a conviction, however, and there are arguments that you can present to defend yourself against these accusations and prevent them from turning into a conviction.
One of the most important defenses you can raise is that you did not mean to commit battery. Both assault and battery involve intentional acts, so you cannot commit either one accidentally or negligently. While lowering your shoulder and pushing into someone on the sidewalk can be an assault and battery, accidentally bumping into someone while turning a corner on a city street cannot.
Proving that the contact was the result of a mistake and that you did not intend for it to happen, then, can be an effective defense against a criminal charge of assault or battery.
There are exceptions to California’s assault and battery laws. One exception involves disciplining your child, which cannot amount to assault or battery. Therefore, if you were reprimanding your child in public and suddenly find yourself fighting a charge of assault and battery, you can defend yourself by showing that you were disciplining your child. However, any discipline has to be reasonable under the circumstances. It is not a defense to injure a child by claiming it was for discipline.
Committing assault or battery can be justified when it is done in self-defense or to defend someone else. For this to be an effective defense against a criminal charge of assault and battery, though, you must show that you reasonably believed that you or someone else was in imminent danger, that committing the assault or battery was necessary to prevent that danger and that you used no greater force than was reasonably necessary.