Is Assault The Same As Battery?


Assault vs. Battery 

The difference between assault and battery is a fine-line distinction that can be pretty confusing for a lot of people. What more confusing, is that in Washington State, we do not use the term "assault" in the way that it is commonly used in other jurisdictions

In general, battery is defined as when a person "intentionally causes harmful or offensive contact with another person." Most states will then define the level or severity of the battery, based on the amount of injury to the victim, or the modality of the battery.

For example, the State of Idaho defines battery in a similar fashion, and then has an additional crime of Aggravated Battery when, among other instances, a victim suffers great bodily harm, or the defendant uses a deadly weapon. 

In those jurisdictions that use the term 'battery' in this way, assault is generally defined as, "an intentional act that puts another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact." Some jurisdictions, such as the State of Idaho, go further to include verbal threats within that definition: "An intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent." 

The easiest example to show the difference between the common definitions of assault and battery is to think of the game that we try to stop our kids from playing, Two For Flinching. If you've never played, the basic idea is someone tries to make the other person flinch by pretending to punch them, without actually hitting them. In that setting, actually hitting the other person is battery, but causing them to flinch is assault. The law draws a distinction between the actual contact, and the reasonable fear of the contact, but outlaws both

How Is Assault Defined in Washington State?

But, if you live in Washington, none of this applies! Washington State does not have a crime for "battery", and instead uses the term "assault" to describe any situation where there is:

  • an attempt, with unlawful force, to inflict bodily injury upon another
  • an unlawful touching with criminal intent
  • putting another in apprehension of harm

So, Washington State uses the term assault in a way that tries to marry the terms assault and battery together, by including both the traditional understandings of assault and battery in the same offense. 

Note that in Washington State, assault does NOT require a physical injury. An assault can be the result of any intentional offensive touching. Even if the victim doesn't bleed, have a bruise, or feel any pain, an act can still be offensive touching.

Consider a person who intentionally gropes a woman's breast in a bar: the act wouldn't leave a physical injury, wouldn't bleed, and may not cause physical pain, but it is also clearly an offensive and intentional touching of another person without their consent.

Not only would the Washington State definition of assault cover this situation, but if the act was done for the purpose of sexual gratification, additional penalties and charges could be imposed. 

If you've been accused of a crime in Spokane, contact us at (509) 800-5420.

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