Assault and battery are examples of violent offenses that can lead to criminal charges. Because they often occur together, many people think that they consist of a single charge. In some jurisdictions this is true, but not in California.
The California Penal Code defines both battery and assault and explains the differences between the two offenses.
Battery is the use of violence or force against another person in a way that is unlawful. Using force in self-defense would not be an example of battery because the law allows individuals to protect themselves from potential threats. Battery also has to be willful, meaning that there was an intent to exert force against another person to cause harm.
An assault is an attempt or a threat to cause a violent injury against another person. Culpability for an assault depends partly on an individual’s ability to carry it out. A person who expresses a threat of violence to someone else but lacks the ability to carry it out cannot face assault charges.
A person who threatens violence against another person and then carries out that attack can face charges of both assault and battery. However, it is also possible for the charges to exist independently of one another.
For example, a person who threatens violence against someone else but does not act on the threat can still face assault charges if the person making the threat had the ability to carry it out. Similarly, an unsuccessful attempt to inflict a violent injury can warrant assault charges even if no injury, and therefore no battery, actually took place.