Client Questions Answered: What’s the Difference between Assault and Battery?

Assault Vs. Battery

It’s easy to think that assault and battery are interchangeable terms, but the truth is that these two terms refer to two different situations. Both battery and assault are violent crimes against a person, but the punishments will vary depending on the degree and classification of the crime. In the state of Maryland, it is possible to receive both assault and battery charges. In fact, “assault” is a wide umbrella that encompasses:

  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Assault and battery

Because an assault charge is very serious and it can result in jail time, it’s important to understand what is the difference between assault and battery.


What classifies as an assault?

Assault is the threat of physical harm or an attempt to cause harm or injury to another person. The mere act of causing another person to think that physical harm is forthcoming is enough cause to be charged with assault. For instance, if John swings his arm in the attempt to hit Pete, but Pete ducks and does not get hit, John still committed an assault.

Can assault result in jail time? Yes, it can.

If you are charged with assault, you might be asking “What is the penalty for simple assault?” or even ” What is the sentence for misdemeanor assault?” The answers to these questions depend on the degrees of the assault.

  • Common assault is an assault that threatens (or delivers) an “offensive physical contact,” i.e., spitting in the face. Common assault includes any unwanted forms of physical contact.
  • First-degree assault is an assault that can seriously or fatally injury a person or cause disfigurement. The key difference between first degree and second-degree assault is whether the physical harm was serious or not. For this reason, assault with a firearm is classified as a first-degree assault.
  • Second-degree assault is an assault that causes physical harm – not necessarily serious harm. As a result, second-degree assault can result in minor injuries that are not life-threatening.

Other factors that play a role in determining the degree of the assault include:

  • The intended target: In the state of Maryland, the degree of an assault is also affected by who was the intended target (i.e., assaulting a police officer will automatically be listed as a felony).
  • Aggravated assault: This term is used to indicate a stronger form of assault, i.e., the use of a deadly weapon. Because this is “aggravated,” it cannot be a misdemeanor. Aggravated assault with the intention to rob, rape, or murder is entered as a felony.
  • Verbal assault: While threats in the “heat of the moment” are often not considered an assault, threats can be considered assault if they fit a few requirements. For instance, if a threat delivered is determined to be a criminal threat, there is a risk of probation, jail time, and/or fines.
  • Sexual assault can refer to inappropriate sexually touching another person without his/her consent; it also includes forcing another person to engage in sexual activity. Sexual assault can further be broken down into first, second, third, and fourth-degree classifications.


While assault is any act that causes a person to believe harm is on the way, battery is the harm. Refer back to the punching example from the previous section; if John did in fact punch Pete, then that would be assault and battery. Battery can also refer to any non-consensual touching of another individual. With this in mind, battery can also include spitting into another person’s face. Spitting doesn’t cause physical harm, but it is indeed a type of touch that was non-consensual. Other types of battery include:

  • Domestic battery: This type of battery occurs when the physical harm is extended to someone who resides within the same residence.
  • Simple battery: This type of battery refers to unauthorized contact that did result in harm or injury.
  • Medical battery: This type of battery refers to harm purposeful harm caused in a medical setting.


If you or a loved one have been charged with assault and/or battery, you probably want to know if you can go to jail for assault. This is a complex question that can result in many different outcomes. For instance, you may not need to go to jail, if you defend yourself on the basis of self-defense or the defense of others. However, it is possible to receive jail time as part of a sentence.

Possible penalties depend on a few different factors, including the degree of the assault. For example, according to Maryland Criminal Code Section 3-202, a first-degree assault is a felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Here is a simple breakdown of maximum penalties classified by type of assault:

  1. A second-degree misdemeanor assault is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to a $2500 fine, according to Maryland Criminal Code Section 3-202.
  2. Assault (reckless endangerment) is punishable by up to five years in prison.
  3. Assault on law enforcement officers is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
  4. Assault (attempted poisoning) is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
  5. Assault (poisoning) is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Note: Sentences may be reduced depending on the circumstances. For instance, defending yourself in a fight is a different situation than intending to kill or rape.

Speak to a Lawyer

As you can see, the topics of assault and battery are complex and vary quite a bit in degree and potential penalties. Being charged with assault or assault and battery is very serious and can result in jail time. If you or someone you know has been charged with one of these crimes, you will benefit most from an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Don’t face a criminal charge of this magnitude without the assistance of a criminal defense attorney experienced in the Maryland criminal justice system.

Secure the services of criminal defense lawyer Jaimee C. McDowell today.