Assault vs Battery: What's the Difference?‚ÄčIf you’ve been charged with assault and battery, it’s likely you were involved in a violent, physical altercation with another person. If you were charged with simple assault, which is often a misdemeanor, it means you were only responsible for minor injuries such as slapping or pushing someone or a “limited threat of violence.” However, it’s possible that just your words may leave you with an assault charge. If you’ve been charged with assault, battery, or both, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re being accused of, what penalties you may face, and what defenses an attorney may be able to use in your favor.

Defining Assault and Battery

Assault and battery charges occur when someone causes intentional harm to another. You may be charged with assault, battery, or both—but they are, in fact, different charges, and it’s important to know the differences.


In general, assault is a threat—verbally or by physical intimidation—that physical harm will take place. For a person to be charged with assault:

  • The victim must have feared a physical threat
  • The victim must have perceived the threat to be immediate

Again, it’s important to note that no physical contact has to be made for assault to occur. A simple verbal threat or even aggressive body language may be enough to charge someone with assault. However, if physical contact was made, that’s when it becomes a battery charge.


Virginia defines battery as touching or making any contact, either willfully or out of anger. A battery charge can include:

  • Physical contact between the offender on the victim (the offender punches the victim with his fist)
  • A victim’s contact with an object controlled by the offender (the offender throws a bottle or hits the victim with a bat)

Penalties Follow Assault and Battery Charges

Whether you’re charged with simple assault or with both assault and battery, the penalties can include:

  • A class one misdemeanor on your criminal record
  • A $2,500 fine
  • A maximum of one year in jail

Penalties increase if the assault is against a family member, is a hate crime, or targets a member of law enforcement. Assault charges can have a significant impact beyond the penalties that are part of a potential sentence. In addition to the possibility of jail and fines, domestic assault cases can carry restrictions that limit how you are allowed to interact with your family. Additionally, if the victim acquired medical expenses as a result of the event and your charges stick, you may be responsible for covering those costs. It is essential that you have a lawyer to protect your rights.

How an Attorney Can Defend You

You do not have to face assault and battery charges alone or simply accept the penalties. An attorney can work with you to build a solid defense, and your charges could be reduced or dismissed. Defending assault and battery charges may be as simple as saying the defendant had a valid legal excuse for his actions. Possible defenses include:

  • Self-defense. It’s possible you didn’t instigate the disagreement initially—either verbally or physically—and it’s also possible that you took first physical action to prevent perceived immediate danger to yourself.
  • Defense of others. Again, it’s possible you only took physical action to prevent the other person from harming others.
  • Defense of property. If you had reason to believe another person was an immediate threat to your property, you may have taken action to prevent it.
  • Consent. It’s possible the alleged victim actually agreed to the possibility of harm.

An Attorney May Be Able to Help You Beat the Charges

When you are facing assault and battery or domestic assault charges, you need a lawyer to help ensure a positive outcome. Penalties could affect your finances, your job, and your family life. Turn to our team of experienced criminal defense attorneys at Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi. To schedule your free initial consultation or find out more about our firm, call our toll-free number today.