What is the Difference Between Assault and Battery?
The crimes of assault and battery often are charged together, and they even appear together under a single law in Virginia (§ 18.2-57). However, these are actually two different types of offenses, and they do not have to be charged at the same time. While people who are facing assault charges often are facing battery charges, too—thus the common use of the term “assault and battery”—these are in fact distinct crimes. Moreover, Virginia recognizes a distinction between “assault and battery” more generally and the crime of “assault and battery against a family or household member” (§ 18.2-57.2), the latter of which is the statute invoked in many domestic violence cases.
We want to provide you with more details about the distinctions between assault and battery, and to provide you with some hypothetical examples of both of these offenses.
Assault Does Not Have to Involve Touching a Person
Generally speaking, assault to does not have to involve physically touching a person. Instead, assault can involve any act in which a person puts another person in reasonable fear of bodily harm or fear that you will commit battery. For example, if Joe is in a restaurant and gets into a verbal altercation with another restaurant patron, there are many different things that Joe might do that could constitute an assault. Just a few examples include:
- Verbally threatening the other patron with violence;
- Throwing a glass or plate at the other patron and missing;
- Taking a swing at the other restaurant patron and missing; or
- Taking a knife out and displaying while moving toward the other patron.
To be clear, the crime of assault—often described as a simple assault in Virginia—does not involve actually doing physical harm to another person. Instead, it involves behavior that puts the other person in fear that you will do bodily harm to them or fear that you intend to commit battery.
Battery is a Crime that Involves Physical Touching
Unlike assault, battery is a crime that actually involves physical touching. Battery often involves touching that does serious physical harm, but it may also involve touching that is merely offensive. In the example given above in which Joe is at a restaurant and gets angry at another restaurant patron, any of the following might be examples of battery:
- Throwing a class or plate at the other patron and striking that person with the object;
- Taking a swing at the other restaurant patron and striking him or her with his fist; or
- Slicing the shirt or jacket of the other restaurant patron with a knife, even if the knife only cuts through the fabric and avoids doing bodily harm to the other patron.
At the same time, battery can also occur when touching is offensive and does not do great bodily harm. For example, if a female server walks by Joe—in the example above—and Joe attempts to flirt with the server by touching her body, that kind of touching may constitute a battery depending upon the specific circumstances.
Contact an Assault and Battery Defense Attorney in Fairfax
Since assault often leads to battery, these crimes frequently are charged together. If you need assistance building a defense for assault and battery charges, a Fairfax criminal defense lawyer can help. Contact Whitestone Young, PC to get started on your case today.