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What Is the Difference Between Assault and Battery?

When discussing criminal matters, we often hear “assault and battery” used together. Within the law itself, the terms are often side-by-side, charged and punished the same way. Are they truly one act with two names, or is there a difference? There is a legal difference, and it involves the victim. Assault is the threat or attempt of violence, and battery is direct physical violence.


Assault has an aggressor and a victim, but the victim typically remains unharmed. If someone were to ball their fist and raise it at someone, that is assault. Running toward a victim screaming threats is assault. Getting in someone’s face, pushing them, or even spitting towards them are all examples of assault. Assault also includes an attempt to harm. If you were to take a swing at someone and miss, you could be charged with assault.

At its most basic, assault is a Class 1 misdemeanor. This is the highest form of misdemeanor in Virginia. It is punishable by up to one year in jail with fines up to $2,500.


Battery involves making direct, physical contact with someone, “battering” them. Kicking someone, punching them, or bludgeoning them with an object is battery. It does not always involve serious damage. You could be charged with battery if you make any contact with the other party.

Battery is charged the same as assault, a Class 1 misdemeanor with up to one year in jail and fines up to $2,500. It begins to deviate from assault when it becomes aggravated. A battery that results in a bodily injury, and found to be intended to maim, disfigure, disable, or kill, is a felony. Unlawful wounding is a Class 6 felony, with one to five years in prison and fines as high as $2,500. Such a felony wounding that is done maliciously is punished by up to twenty years in prison.

Since battery involves damage, however, it can be charged and sentenced even more severely. If the victim is badly harmed, anything involving permanent impairment, the felony charge could elevate even further to “aggravated malicious wounding,” which carries a potential prison sentence between twenty years and life.

Hate Crimes

In Virginia, both assault and battery are subject to hate crime laws. This means that the violence happened because the victim was different from the attacker. Hate crimes happen because of someone’s ethnicity, country of origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, as so forth. Assault and battery based on these criteria is more severe. It is a class 6 felony, and it demands at least six months in jail.

It is important to remember that violence against someone of another race, sexual orientation, etc. is not automatically a hate crime. You could easily get into a physical altercation with someone who happens to be different from you, and those differences are irrelevant. If you’ve been charged with a hate crime, seek legal counsel right away. Hate crimes are accusations against your very nature. They ignore the fact that any altercation can get heated, regardless of the differences between people.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence includes all the same definitions of assault and battery outlined above. The major difference is who the victim is. Domestic violence happens between family members and members of the same household.

“Family members” has a broad definition legally. Of course, it includes spouses, children, parents, siblings, and so forth. It can also include some romantic partners – girlfriends, boyfriends, fiancés, etc. These people do not directly need to be in one another’s lives. Violence against an ex-boyfriend, for example, can be classified as “domestic,” even if you haven’t seen or talked to this person in some time. “Household members” is also wide-reaching. For instance, domestic violence can happen between roommates with no relationship outside the home.

Domestic violence, be it assault or battery, can be elevated to a Class 6 felony, penalized by at least six months in jail along with other felony penalties, on a third or subsequent conviction.

Other Consequences

All criminal charges look bad in a background check, but assault and battery charges can be particularly harmful to your reputation. This is especially true if they carry the extra status of being hate crimes or domestic charges.

If you’ve been accused of such crimes, remember that you are innocent until proven guilty. You have a constitutional right to a defense in court. Allow an experienced attorney to represent you, working to maintain your innocence. You could keep your freedom and reputation intact.

If you’ve been charged with a violent crime, I may be able to defend you. For a free consultation, fill out an online contact form, or call (540) 386-0204 today.