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What is the Difference Between Battery and Assault in Pennsylvania?

Certain legal terminology is very common and often appears in TV and movies. You have likely heard about offenses like assault and battery, but what do these terms really mean? While they are often used interchangeably, they are not the same.

Assault and battery might be used independently, together, or interchangeably, but the two have distinct differences. Assault might be described as using physical menace or intimidation against someone, while battery involves actual bodily harm and physical contact. In Pennsylvania, both actions are wrapped up in the same criminal statute for assault. Essentially, when someone is charged with the crime of assault in Pennsylvania, that might involve what civil law calls assault, battery, or both. These criminal charges are classified as simple or aggravated assault. How you mount your defense depends on the nature of the alleged crime. You might be able to dispute the severity of the victim’s injuries, whether a weapon or deadly instrument was used, or even whether the offense happened at all.

For a free review of your case, call our Philadelphia assault defense attorneys at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171.

How Assault and Battery Offenses Are Defined in Pennsylvania

Assault and battery are some of our legal system’s most widely known yet misunderstood offenses. In some states, these offenses are combined into one offense. In others, they are separate and distinct crimes. Pennsylvania has no criminal statute for battery, only assault. However, the statute for assault seems to include offenses that meet the description of both civil assault and civil battery.


Civil assault may be best understood using the common law definition instead of specific state statutes. Assault is generally defined as threats or intimidation. For example, if someone does something to cause harm or places you in imminent danger, they have committed the crime of assault. Contrary to popular belief, an assault does not necessarily involve actual bodily injuries or physical contact with the victim.

In Pennsylvania, the criminal statute for assault, as detailed below, includes physical menace and intimidation in addition to actual harm. In short, you might be charged with assault in Pennsylvania whether or not you physically hurt the alleged victim. Our Pennsylvania assault defense attorneys can help you challenge these charges in court.


Civil battery can be thought of as an assault that makes physical contact with a victim. Rather than threats of violence or physical menace, battery involves actual violence and bodily harm. For example, if someone swings to hit you with a baseball bat, they might be guilty of assault. If that person actually strikes you with a bat, they may be guilty of battery.

Remember, there is no separate criminal statute for battery. In fact, Pennsylvania criminal statutes do not really mention battery by name. Instead, battery is included within the definition of assault.

Criminal Charges for Assault and Battery in Pennsylvania

Criminal charges for what would constitute assault and battery under civil law are lumped together under one statute in Pennsylvania, and battery is not mentioned by name. Assault is divided into two categories: simple and aggravated assault.

Simple Assault

The crime of simple assault is defined under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2701(a). A person might be found guilty of assault under several specific circumstances.

First, simple assault may be charged if someone attempts to cause or actually causes bodily injury to another. The act must be intentional, knowing, or reckless. Hurting someone by accident is not considered assault.

Second, a person might be guilty of simple assault if they negligently cause bodily harm to another with a deadly weapon. This might involve something like a firearm, knife, or any other instrument capable of deadly harm. Note that the standard is lowered to negligence, not knowing or intentional action, if a dangerous weapon is involved.

Third, if someone attempts to put another person in fear of imminent bodily harm by means of physical menace (e.g., cocking a punch, swinging a hammer, pointing a gun), they might be charged with simple assault.

Fourth and finally, charges for simple assault might be assessed if someone conceals or attempts to conceal a hypodermic needle to stick a police officer, correctional officer, or other law enforcement officials.

As you can see, much of what is considered simple assault involves both assault and battery.

Aggravated Assault

Charges for aggravated assault might be filed according to 18 Pa.C.S. § 2702(a). Much like simple assault, this crime also covers what would be both assault and battery under civil law. The main difference is that aggravated assault involves more serious acts of harm.

Aggravated assault might be charged if the injuries involved are severe, the victim is a law enforcement officer, a deadly weapon is used intentionally, or under various other circumstances. Aggravated assault might involve serious physical menace or intimidation, but it also involves serious bodily harm caused by actual impact and acts of violence.

Defending Yourself Against Criminal Charges for Assault and Battery in Pennsylvania

Defending yourself against these charges might mean defending against accusations of assault, battery, or both. Keep in mind that there is no separate criminal statute or set of charges for battery and assault. They are lumped together under the criminal statutes for simple and aggravated assault.

One strategy is to argue over the evidence. If the prosecutor does not have enough evidence to prove their case against you, we can ask the judge to dismiss your charges. This might be possible if the lack of evidence is so glaring that there is simply no way the prosecutor can meet their burden of proof. For example, if there are no signs of physical injury (e.g., bruises, cuts, scrapes), the prosecutor’s case might be very weak.

Alternatively, we can develop a defense based on the severity of the alleged charges. Your attorney might negotiate a plea deal where your charges are reduced to simple assault from aggravated assault in exchange for a guilty plea. If you are initially charged with simple assault, we might negotiate it down to a disorderly conduct charge for fighting, a summary offense often punished with a fine.

Contact Our Pennsylvania Assault Defense Attorneys for Legal Support

For a free review of your case, call our Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171.