Assault and battery are related but distinct crimes. Under California penal Code 240, assault is the mere threat to inflict force or violence upon another person. A Battery, on the other hand, is a completed assault. You will face charges for battery under CPC 242 if you touch another person offensively. Physical violence is not necessary for you to be charged with battery. If you threatened to use harm on someone and pushed through with the threat, you will be charged with the combined crime of assault and battery.

Before a conviction for either of these offenses, the prosecution must prove all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Unlike popular belief, the crime of battery is a more serious crime when compared to assault. Facing charges for assault, battery, or a combination of both is challenging. This is because both offenses will attract incarceration and leave a record that could impact you for a lifetime. You can ensure to protect your right and increase the chances of winning your case by speaking to a criminal defense lawyer.

Learning the differences between PC 242 and 240 is key in your defense, and they include the following:

The Difference in Legal Definitions (Assault and Battery)

Although battery is a complete assault, there is a significant difference between the definitions of the two crimes. Assault is an intentional act that places another person in suspicion or fear of immediate harm. Therefore, most forms of assault take the form of threats. To be charged with penal code 240, you don't need to harm the other person. Causing a person to feel fearful does not attract criminal charges.

For example, if you have a reputation for being a violent individual, you cannot be charged with assault if someone views you as a threat and fears for their safety. This is because there will be insufficient evidence to prove that you intended to use violence or force on the alleged victim.

On the other hand, a battery is the complete use of force on another individual. Under Penal Code 242, a battery is offensively touching another person without consent. Since assault involves a threat, a battery is the accomplishment of that threat. Therefore, if you make the threat and accomplish it, the prosecution will file charges for assault and battery. Some of the common examples of acts that constitute battery include:

  • Pushing another person against a wall.
  • Attacking someone using a weapon.
  • Spitting on someone.
  • Throwing an object at another
  • Kicking or hitting

Elements required to Secure a Conviction

In addition to a difference in definition, the elements required to secure a conviction for assault and battery differ. The court requires the prosecution to establish certain elements beyond a reasonable doubt for all criminal offenses in California. Most of these elements are backed by physical or circumstantial evidence.

An assault conviction is based on the following factors:

  • You acted in a manner that could naturally cause another application of force on someone else. Application is harmful to touch that another person could consider offensive. Unlike a battery, touching is unnecessary to convict you of assault in California. Therefore, if you threatened someone but did not come into contact with any part of their body, you can still be charged under Penal Code 240. However, it must be clear that you understand the consequences of your actions.
  • Your actions were willful. An action is considered willful when it is done on your violation. If you intentionally caused another person to fear for their safety, you will be found guilty under this statute. A willful act does not mean you intend to break the law or gain an advantage.
  • Ability to apply force. Assault charges arise in close-quarter Therefore, your ability to use force on a person is crucial.
  • You knew that your actions could result in the application of force. Assault laws do not seek to punish m[individuals who mistakenly or accidentally make statements that could be viewed as threatening to others. Therefore, your knowledge that our actions could result in the application of force is critical in securing a conviction under California PC 240.

When you face an arrest and charges for battery, the prosecution must prove these elements:

  • You willfully and unlawfully touched another person. Unlike assault, where physical touch is unnecessary, the prosecution in your battery charge must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you touched the alleged victim. However, touching does not need to be harmful. Any contact with another person’s body can suffice as battery under California This is the main element that distinguishes assault and battery. If you face battery charges and there is no evidence that you touched the person, the prosecution can reduce the charges to simple assault.
  • Your touching was harmful or offensive. Since any slight touch could constitute a battery, there is a requirement that the contact must be offensive before you can be convicted for violating PC 242. Touching is considered harmful when you do it angrily, rudely, or violently. Touching the battery does not need to be made using your hands. Indirect contact, such as using a foreign object, could still attract an arrest and conviction under this statute.

Intention Behind the Crime

The intention behind acts that constitute assault is to threaten or cause another person to fear for their safety. For example, if you are in an argument and threaten to push them out of a moving car, the statement alone is enough to cause you to fear. In this case, you will face assault charges. Evidence that you touched or attempted to push them is not necessary.

A Battery, on the other hand, is based on an intention to cause harm. You face battery charges when you accomplish the act of punching the person out of the vehicle. Additionally, touching them offensively with an intent to accomplish the act will suffice under this statute.

Aggravating Circumstances

When you make mere or empty threats to use force on someone or touch them offensively, you will mostly face simple assault or simple battery charges. However, for both crimes, there are aggravating circumstances. Aggravating circumstances are conditions that increase the seriousness of your offense and could cause a harsher penalty.

When you face an assault charge, the prosecution could enhance your charges to aggravated assault under the following circumstances:

  • You assault a peace officer. Peace officers are protected individuals, including police officers, firefighters, and medical personnel in the line of duty. Assault of any of the following individuals will result in harsher penalties.
  • You use a deadly weapon to assault another person. Another factor that can aggravate your PC 240 charges is deadly weapons. However, no physical violence is needed to prove that you assaulted another person. Using a deadly weapon such as a firearm to cause fear to another person attracts aggravated assault charges.
  • You assaulted someone in a manner likely to produce significant bodily injury. Great bodily injury is any substantial injury. Such injuries could include gunshot wounds or fractures. If your act when you committed the crime could cause this type of injury, your charges will be aggravated.
  • You assaulted someone using a caustic chemical. Assault with a caustic chemical means throwing or pouring a flammable chemical onto another person’s body. Although evidence of injury from the act is unnecessary, you can face aggravated charges.

Unlike assault, where different aggravating circumstances will arise as your case continues, California has separate laws which address battery in social circumstances. With assault, you will face an aggravated charge when your actions are likely to cause injury. However, with battery, you face a harsher charge when your actions toward the victim have resulted in injury.

Additionally, a battery becomes more serious when it is part of domestic violence. The definition of a domestic battery is similar to that of a simple battery. The major difference between the two is that the victim in a domestic battery case must be an intimate partner. The law identifies an intimate partner as a person with whom you have had a relationship, including a current or former spouse, cohabitant, or the other parent of your child. The seriousness of the victim’s injury may play a significant role in your conviction and punishment.

Unlike in assault, where your past assault convictions may not be referred to in sentencing, some forms of battery, such as domestic violence, could be impacted by your prior acts of violating PC 242.

The Penalties

Since battery is more serious than assault, the punishment you could face for these offenses differ. Since no physical injury is needed to file an assault case, the prosecution will only file charges when the alleged victim chooses to proceed. Some try to avoid the hustle of court dates and dealing with the crime by pursuing a civil lawsuit for damages instead of filing criminal charges. In a civil lawsuit, you will be only responsible for paying the victim for their losses and emotional suffering from the act.

If there is a criminal action from your conduct, you will face a misdemeanor charge for simple assault. Simple assault means that you engaged in slight touching without further offensive behavior. A conviction for simple assault is a misdemeanor that attracts the following penalties:

  • A six months jail sentence
  • Fines that do not exceed $1,000

If the victim of your crime is a peace officer, your penalties could increase. However, you will still serve jail time less strictly than in prison. Sometimes, the court could sentence you to probation as an alternative to jail time. Informal probation for misdemeanor assault lasts one to three years, which could save you from jail time. Some of the conditions that the court attaches to this type of probation include the following:

  • Avoid criminal activity
  • Avoid contact with the alleged victim
  • Payment of all fines and court costs

If there are aggravating factors to your case, re penalties you face will vary depending on the specific aggravating factor that sticks for the case.

Since battery involves actual touching, which could sometimes be harmful, the nature of your charges will vary depending on the level of touch and the injuries you caused to the alleged victim. Where the touching does not cause injury, you can face a one-year jail sentence and fines that do not exceed $2,000.

However, if you caused injury to the alleged victim, you will face a more serious form of battery known as battery-causing injury. A battery that results in injury is a wobbler. A wobbler is an offense that can attract felony or misdemeanor charges depending on the facts of your case and your criminal history. Some of the facts of the case that could affect your sentencing include the seriousness of the victim’s injuries.

If there is evidence of substantial injury, you could face a felony conviction. As a felony, assault resulting in injury attracts a maximum of four years in prison and fines that do not exceed $10,000. In addition to prison time, you can face an enhancement for great bodily injury under Penal Code 12022.7. If this enhancement applies to your case, you risk facing an additional three to six-year prison sentence.

As a misdemeanor, a battery-causing injury will cause you to spend up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines.

Difference in Defenses

If you are charged with battery, you are guilty of both assault and battery. This is because a battery is an accomplished assault. You must be aggressive in your defense when you are charged with either of these offenses. Since the elements of the crime are different, your defense to assault and battery charges will differ.

In defending a battery charge, you can argue that you did not touch or imitate any contact with the alleged victim. If the prosecutor's evidence to prove the element of touch is unclear, you cannot be convicted under this statute. Additionally, you can argue that although you touched the person, the touch was not offensive, or it was accidental. For example, if you are running from a dangerous situation and bump into someone causing them to hit their head, you cannot be found guilty of battery. However, since contact is not a factor for assault, you cannot avoid a PC 240 conviction using this argument.

Another defense that applies to a battery but not assaults is consent. You can argue that the alleged victim consented when you are charged with touching someone offensively. However, since most cases of assault arise from verbal threats, a consent argument may not be necessary.

With the guidance of a skilled attorney, you can argue that you could not use force on a person when defending against assault charges. A prosecutor has the burden to prove that you have the present ability to use violence or force on someone. However, you face battery charges when you have already applied the force. Therefore, you cannot argue a lack of ability to accomplish the threat.

Do Assault and Battery Have Similarities?

Although assault and battery differ in their definition, purpose, and consequences. There are some similarities to the crimes which make it possible for the offenses to be charged together, including:

  • Your actions must be willful. For both assault and battery, there is an element of the willful act. This means that the prosecution can only secure a conviction after proving that your actions were intended. The requirement for a willful act ensures that individuals whose accidental acts are considered offensive or harmful do not suffer.
  • Both offenses can attract misdemeanor charges. Simple assault and simple battery are misdemeanor charges. When you face a conviction, you will spend time in jail instead of prison for felonies.
  • Eligibility for probation. Although battery is more serious than assault, you may be eligible for probation after a conviction under PC 240 and 242. Often probation is an alternative to jail time. If you are sentenced to probation, you will spend part or your entire jail sentence on community service. While defendants facing charges under these statutes are eligible for probation, the court could deny you this sentence based on your criminal history and other specific factors in your case.

Find a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Many people tend to use assault and battery interchangeably. Although battery is an onset of assault, these terms refer to criminal actions that attract other consequences in California. While assault involves an attempt to use force or violence on another person, you only need to touch another person offensively to be charged with battery. Assault and battery differ in their definition, elements, and penalties. Understanding the differences between assault and battery allows you to build a defense geared to your specific charges.

The stakes are high if you face an arrest and charges for assault, battery, or both. The consequences of a conviction for these offenses attract serious legal penalties, including jail time, fines, and a permanent criminal record. Therefore, your priority after an arrest is fighting the charges aggressively to avoid a conviction. Hiring and retaining a skilled criminal lawyer is throughout your case. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we offer top-notch legal guidance to all our clients battling assault or battery charges in San Jose, CA. Contact us at 408-622-0204 to discuss the details of your case.