Colloquially, assault and battery basically mean the same thing: the harmful touching of another. But in fact, they are two separate crimes under the same umbrella.
The most confusing difference between assault and battery is what the successful commission of a Harmful or Offensive Physical Act (HOPA) constitutes. According to Cornell Law School, to convict for assault based on a successful HOPA would have to meet the standards of, “With the intent to cause physical injury, actually causing such injury to another person. Essentially, the same as a battery.” However, according to them, a battery is a, “…physical act that results in harmful or offensive contact with another’s person without that person’s consent.” There is only one difference between them. The assault definition notes mens rea (intent) of the defendant, while the battery notes the consent of the victim. Cornell’s case appears to present two ways to prosecute one crime.
From another perspective, a 2002 edition of Gilbert Law Summaries presents that assault is the lesser crime. It says that battery is the successful commission of the HOPA, with at least negligence from the defendant, while assault is broken up into attempted battery and intentional placing in fear. According to Gilbert, attempted battery is what it seems, a failed attempt to cause a HOPA, while intentional placing in fear is only defined as, “Conduct that is likely to induce fear in a reasonable person and which does in fact induce fear in victim… intent to put victim in fear of a battery.” Essentially, it is just making someone afraid of one’s intent to cause a HOPA. Cornell agrees with Gilbert’s definitions of failed HOPA’s, with slightly different terminology.
The Model Penal Code, a model of criminal law developed by the American Law Institute, has a slightly different definition of a successful commission of a HOPA, but agrees with Gilbert that only failed commissions of HOPA’s are assault. The difference is that the standard for battery according to the Model Penal Code is recklessness, while the standard in Gilbert is negligence. The difference between them is that negligence only needs a high risk to exist, but recklessness needs an awareness of that risk. Therefore, the Model Penal Code suggests that someone must have disregarded a risk, instead of just unknowingly creating or being in a high risk.
Many other stances do exist, but the commonly accepted fact is that the commission, attempt to commit, or the placing in fear of a HOPA is a crime. The only distinction is the classification.
Disclaimer: This column is not an adequate or appropriate replacement or substitute for legal advice. The Northwest Youth Journal or any of its affiliates are void of any liability stemming from this article. Contact your lawyer for legal advice.
Gilbert Law Summaries, by George E. Dix, published by BAR/BRI (2002)