Assault Versus Battery: A Crucial Difference
We often hear the compound term “assault and battery” thrown around in courtroom television dramas or the nightly news. But in everyday, non-legal use, these two words are quite often interchangeable. So what exactly is the difference between them, and why is this distinction important?
Put simply, assault in U.S. law is the threat of violence, as well as the demonstrated ability to act on it. Few people realize that someone charged with assault may not have actually inflicted harm, but the fact that he or she was brandishing a gun and threatening to use it was enough to stick them with this crime. Assault covers a wide range of behavior, and a weapon does not necessarily have to be involved. As long as the victim can prove that he or she had reason to fear bodily harm from the threat, assault may have taken place.
Battery, on the other hand, is what most people believe assault to be – that is, unwanted physical contact or bodily harm. Interestingly, battery can also be verbal if the intensity of the threats is judged to have been psychologically damaging. The reason that assault and battery are so often used in conjunction is that, as the person who feels threatened by assault fears, the crime often escalates from threat to real harm.
Some states have actually replaced with word “battery” with “assault,” essentially creating a sliding scale of seriousness that includes both threats and actual violence. However, most have held on to the traditional separation of these concepts.
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