If you read Pennsylvanian newspapers or watch crime shows on television, you have probably heard the terms “assault” and “battery.” Because they are often paired together, you may mistakenly think that they mean the same thing.

According to FindLaw, however, assault and battery mean two very different things in the eyes of the law. Battery refers to harmful or offensive bodily contact, often of a violent and/or sexual nature, with another person who has not given their consent. Assault, on the other hand, refers to a threat or an attempt to inflict injury on someone else. To be clear, you do not have to actually inflict injury or carry out a threat of harm against another person; the legal definition of assault is an act of attempting or threatening to inflict injury by someone with the apparent ability to carry it out.

When a person threatens someone else with injury or unwanted physical contact and then carries out that threat, that person may face charges of both assault and battery, which is why the two terms often appear together in news reports and legal documents. However, it is possible to commit one without the other. A battery could consist of a sneak attack from behind; because there was no prior warning of the attack, there would be no charge of assault to go with it. Similarly, you could threaten or attempt to inflict violence against someone else without ever successfully carrying out the threat, meaning that you could face charges for assault but not for battery. 

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.