Assault vs Battery: What Is the Difference

In common parlance, the terms “assault” and “battery” are often used interchangeably or together as a combined concept, as though the two are necessarily linked from a legal perspective – this is incorrect, however.  Assault and battery are two separate and distinct legal claims.  Though they are frequently seen together, they are not fundamentally connected as a matter of law.

To better understand how assault and battery differ under Florida law, let’s independently explore each claim.

The Foundation of an Assault Claim

Per section 784.011(1) of the Florida Statutes, an assault is defined as “an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.”

Let’s break this down further.

Intentional Threat

Florida assault requires that the purported threat arise from an intentional act.  You cannot be held liable for criminal assault if the threat was entirely unintentional.

For example, suppose that you are riding a bicycle on a busy road next to a pedestrian walkway.  Your front wheel suddenly slams a pothole, however, and you veer out of control towards the pedestrian walkway.  Though the threat of imminent violence may be real, you likely cannot be held liable for criminal assault by virtue of the fact that your “threat” was not intentional, but an unintentional result of losing control of your bicycle.

Ability to Effectuate Violence

Assault requires that the defendant have an apparent ability to effectuate violence.  If the defendant is does not have the ability to effectuate said violence, then he or she cannot be held liable for criminal assault.

For example, suppose that you are at a hospital and you walk by a patient in a full body cast.  As you are walking past the patient, he shouts violent threats at you.  Despite these intentional threats, it is unlikely that a court would find the patient guilty of assault, as they do not have the ability to effectuate said threats.

Reasonable Fear of Imminent Violence

Florida assault also requires that the defendant effectuate an act – not simply words – that leads to a reasonable fear of imminent violence.

For example, if a person threatens to punch you, but then walks away from the threatened fight, gets into his car, and drives home, you cannot be said to have a reasonable fear of imminent violence.  On the other hand, had the person threatened to punch you, then approached you with fists raised, you might have a reasonable fear of imminent violence.

The Foundation of a Battery Claim

In simple terms, battery could be said to be the completion of assault – the satisfaction of the threat of violence – though battery does not require a preceding threat.

What is battery?  The Florida Statutes are instructive here.

Per section 784.03(1)(a) of the Florida Statutes, battery is defined as the actual and intentional touching or striking of another person against their will, or causing intentional bodily harm to another person.

Again, let’s break down the letter of the law into digestible tidbits.

Intentional Touching

Physical contact between the defendant and their victim must be intentional.  Accidental or otherwise unintentional contact does not make a defendant liable for battery.

Against a Person’s Will

Any contact between the defendant and the victim must be against the victim’s will.  If the victim consents to touching, then the defendant cannot be held liable for battery.

For example, suppose that two people agree to play a game of basketball.  Inherent to the game is a certain limited level of physical contact.  If one of the players puts their arm on the other player’s back, that level of contact is implicit to the agreement to play the game.  As such, that contact cannot be used as the basis for a battery claim.

Importantly, contact need not be physically harmful – it need only be against the victim’s will.  Battery may therefore occur without violence.  In fact, depending on the circumstances, insulting or offensive contact can qualify as battery (i.e., spitting on someone).

If you are being criminally prosecuted for assault and/or battery, or if you are concerned that you have committed assault and/or battery, call (941) 900-3100 as soon as possible to speak with experienced Sarasota criminal defense attorneys at Fowler Law Group today.