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When a Fight Becomes Assault and Battery

By Criminal Defense Attorney on September 7, 2018

Just about everyone has been in a heated situation. Tension can turn into arguments, yelling, or even become physical. So when does a simple fight turn into assault? And when does it become battery?

Although people often use the term “assault and battery” while speaking of one incident, these are two different crimes under California law. A person can be charged with either, depending on the specifics of the situation.

Definition of Assault

Under California Penal Code 240, assault is defined as attempting to use violence or force against another person. For example, if two people were arguing and one tried to hit the other but missed, that could be described as assault because there was no actual contact. Assault is the intent to cause someone else bodily harm, or the intent to commit battery, as it is also sometimes called.

Simple assault, as in the example above, is considered a misdemeanor in California and punishable by up to six months in county jail. A fine of $1,000, probation, and restitution to the victims may be possible punishments.

However, if one of the people in the argument pulled out a weapon and started making threats or tried to injure the other person but was unsuccessful, this would be considered assault with a deadly weapon. A weapon is not always required for someone to be charged with this crime. If it is thought that the person intended to cause great bodily injury to another, he or she may also be charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

In California, assault with a deadly weapon is a wobbler crime, meaning the prosecution can use its discretion when determining whether to charge it as a misdemeanor or a felony. The penalties for such a conviction range depending on the weapon used, if an injury resulted, and the severity of that injury. Also, if the victim was a member of law enforcement, a firefighter, or another protected person, the penalties become much more severe.

Definition of Battery

Unlike assault, which refers to the intent to cause someone bodily harm, battery refers to the actual use of force. While the term battery leads people to imagine severe beatings, battery does not always require actual harm. For example, if someone was standing in line at a store when someone else cut in front of her, pushing that person away can constitute battery even if the person was not injured.

Like assault, battery can have varying degrees. Simple battery includes a crime in which force was used but no serious injury resulted. The penalties for this crime can include misdemeanor, or summary, probation and up to six months in county jail. A fine of up to $2,000 may also be imposed by a judge.

A battery charge can become more severe if it resulted in serious bodily injury. The penalties can include up to one year in county jail. In some circumstances, the person can be sentenced to two to four years in state prison.

Defenses to Assault and Battery Charges

Being provoked is not a defense to an assault or battery charge. Individuals, even when provoked, are responsible for their own actions and are expected to act in a way that will keep others safe. But there are still defenses to both assault and battery charges.

Self-defense is one of the most common defenses used in assault and battery cases. This can include self-defense when a person thought he or she was in danger, in defense of another person, or in defense of property.

While it may sound implausible, consent can also be used as a defense against assault or battery charges. For example, if two people were joking around in the street, or acting out a scene of a movie, but had no real intention of harming each other, it can be misconstrued as assault or battery by law enforcement.

Lastly, there are cases in which the prosecution has mistaken an innocent person for someone else who actually committed the crime. This often happens when an eyewitness to the assault or battery mistakenly identifies one person as the assailant whose only crime was being present at the time.

How an Attorney Can Help

A fight can easily turn into something more. When a person feels threatened by another, the “threat” can be charged as assault. If physical contact was made, it can result in the more serious charge of battery.

In addition to jail or prison sentences, either charge can remain with a person for the rest of his life if he is convicted. Anyone charged with assault or battery should speak to a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

At JD Law, our San Diego assault & battery attorney can ensure your rights are upheld throughout the entire process. More importantly, we work with you to build you a strong defense to beat the charges. After any arrest, time is of the essence. Call (760) 630-2000 for a free consultation today.

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