What is Assault?

Assault and battery is a common phrase heard on TV crime dramas. But battery is typically accompanied by an assault. The main difference between assault and battery is intent and whether or not the victim was harmed.


In some jurisdictions, assault is defined as an act intended to cause fear of bodily harm or offensive contact. This does not require that any physical contact be made. In other jurisdictions, however, assault is defined as an attempt to injure another person.

Regardless of physical contact, an assault requires an intentional act. Verbal threats on their own are generally not enough for assault. However, throwing a punch (making contact doesn't matter) could be considered an assault.

As for intent, it doesn't necessarily mean intent to cause the other person harm. The person only needs to have had the intent to perform the threatening act. Intent to simply scare the other person can, in some cases, be considered an assault.


While assault simply refers to an attempt to harm another, battery is typically defined as actual intentional physical contact that is offensive or harmful. Under general definitions, the victim must also not have consented to the act for it to be considered battery.

A battery doesn't necessarily need to cause actual harm to the victim. The acts simply need to be intentional, non-consensual and offensive. Spitting on another individual, for example, could be considered battery in some cases. The offensive or harmful contact also doesn’t need to be direct. Intentionally throwing an object at someone, for instance, could be considered battery as well.

Battery also requires intent to physically touch the victim. The intent in a battery doesn't necessarily need to be to cause harm to the victim. For example, if a person intentionally grabs another person's wrist to keep them from leaving in the middle of an argument, that could be considered battery. Even if the grabbing wasn't meant to cause harm. In some cases, negligent or reckless acts are also labeled as battery.

Aggravated Assault

Some jurisdictions, such as New York, separate assault into multiple levels. The most serious level is first-degree assault, often referred to as aggravated assault. Aggravated assault in most jurisdictions requires the use of a dangerous weapon or the intent to commit a serious crime. The assault generally also involves extreme disregard for human life and severe bodily harm to the victim.

In other jurisdictions the identity of the victim can elevate an assault to an aggravated assault. An assault against a police officer or firefighter, for example, could be considered aggravated. Additionally, assaults based on the victim's status in a protected class, such as race, religion or sexual orientation, can fall into the category of hate crimes, which can constitute an aggravated assault.

Second- and Third-Degree Assault

Less serious than an aggravated assault, a second-degree assault can also involve the use of a dangerous weapon. However, the intent behind the assault is often what makes the difference between aggravated and second-degree assault. Likewise, the level of bodily harm in a second-degree assault may be lower than in an aggravated assault.

A third-degree assault is considered the least serious level of the offense. A third-degree assault may involve injury that is not physical, such as mental or emotional trauma that can result in PTSD or stress disorder. A third-degree assault may also involve failed attempts at injuring another individual.

Simple Assault

In states that do not separate assault into three levels, such as California and Texas, the offense may simply be divided into two categories: aggravated assault and simple assault. If the act lacks factors that classify it as an aggravated assault, then it is considered simple, and it is typically reduced to a misdemeanor offense.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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