Assault seems similar to "attempted battery", so it feels akin to charging "attempted murder" whenever "murder" charges are brought.

  • Assault is not always physical... battery is...
    – Ron Beyer
    Feb 21, 2021 at 5:45
  • 1
    You've tagged this united-states, which normally means the federal legal system, but AFAICT there is no such crime as "battery" in federal law. There may be in the laws of some states (and such crimes would more commonly be covered by state law anyway) but since details will vary, you should specify the state. Feb 21, 2021 at 5:58
  • Under the common law definitions, assault involves causing the apprehension of physical harm, while battery covers the actual physical contact. If A violently swings a stick at B's head, but with the secret intention of stopping one inch before hitting him, and actually does stop, then A has committed assault but not attempted battery. Feb 21, 2021 at 5:59
  • Assault is often followed by battery (I threaten to harm you, then I follow through with the threat), or attempted battery (same, but it turns out you have a karate black belt and my attempt at battery failed miserably), or followed by nothing - I wanted to put you into fear, but never intended to cause any actual bodily harm. It is not attempted battery by itself.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 27, 2023 at 22:45

2 Answers 2


Edit: because this question has tagged the United States, the answer below discusses US law, not the law of any other country.

Because they're separate crimes that, as a general rule, don't merge, and prosecutors like to charge multiple crimes when they can because it gives them leverage in plea negotiations. You could also charge attempted murder if there's been an actual murder, it's just that it would kind of be a waste of time since they would merge upon conviction.

You're close on the view that assault is attempted battery. But, note that generally assault is placing someone in imminent fear of receiving a battery, whereas as an attempt usually requires a 'substantial step' towards commission of the actual offense, so the ambit of assault is slightly larger than the ambit of attempted battery (again, generally speaking).

  • 1
    Assault is not necessarily the threat of battery. It is the threat of harm. Battery is only one type of harm
    – Dale M
    Feb 22, 2021 at 0:42
  • @DaleM that's incorrect. Assault does not contemplate harm outside of the type of harm contemplated by battery. For example, threatening to bankrupt somebody (financial harm) is not an assault.
    – user36183
    Feb 22, 2021 at 16:00
  • not at all. An unlawful imprisonment is also an assault: Hunter v Johnson (1884) 13 QBD 225 (detention of a child after school hours by a master, without lawful authority).
    – Dale M
    Feb 22, 2021 at 23:01
  • @DaleM an false imprisonment is also a battery. By the way, that's a UK case, and do you know if it's still good law even there? You should always sherardize a case before you cite it for a proposition. 137 years is a long time for the law to have changed.
    – user36183
    Feb 22, 2021 at 23:39
  • Its certainly good law in NSW, Australia - its cited in the judge's bench book for assault directions to jurys
    – Dale M
    Feb 22, 2021 at 23:42

Assault may be defined as:

threatening or attempting to inflict immediate offensive physical contact or bodily harm that one has the present ability to inflict and that puts the victim in fear of such harm or contact

Whereas Battery is the:

intentionally or recklessly causing offensive physical contact or bodily harm (as by striking or by administering a poison or drug) that is not consented to by the victim

Battery is almost always preceded by an assault, which is why the terms are often used transitionally or combined, as in "assault and battery."

  • Would it be an exception if I sneak up on a victim from behind and hit them absolutely unexpectedly, so they were never in fear of any attack? Would that be battery without assault?
    – gnasher729
    Feb 21, 2021 at 17:56

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