The phrase “You are being arrested for assault and battery” appears frequently on popular law-based television shows. In fact, many people believe that assault and battery are the exact same charge. In some states this is true, but not in California.

In California, assault and battery are two separate crimes and the government classifies them as such. According to FindLaw, the best way to differentiate them is to think about assault as an attempt at committing battery.

What is assault?

With assault, the perpetrator must be trying to cause a violent injury to another person. In this case, the prosecutor needs to prove that the defendant wanted to commit battery and was in a position to do so. The prosecutor does not need to prove that contact ever happened for an assault charge to stick. Actual physical contact is not required for assault charges.

What is battery?

Battery is the act of a perpetrator using force or violence against another person. In order for the prosecution to make a claim of battery, the prosecution must prove that contact the individuals in question made physical contact of some kind. In some instances of battery, the contact does not need to be “traditionally” violent: for instance, spitting on somebody may constitute battery.

In the case of domestic violence, California also has separate specific battery laws that are slightly different from general battery under Section 242 of the California Penal Code. Depending on the nature of the offense, the criminal background (or lack thereof) the defendant has and any aggravating circumstances battery may be either a misdemeanor or a felony charge. Simple assault, on the other hand, is a misdemeanor.