What Is the Difference Between Assault and Battery?

What Is the Difference Between Assault and Battery?

If you are in an altercation that includes the threat of violence or actual violence, chances are very good you or the person you were fighting with, or both of you will end up charged with assault or assault and battery.

This charge is different in Minnesota versus if you get charged in another state because Minnesota, by statute, has no separate charge for battery.

That distinction is important because what you get charged with can influence how you and your defense attorney approach your case.

How Other States Treat Assault and Battery

How Other States Treat Assault and Battery

Most other states have a charge for assault and a separate charge for battery. Each charge has its own meaning.


By legal definition, an assault is any intentional act that puts another person in a state of reasonable fear that you may harm or attack them. Any assault charge meets specific criteria. Specifically, the defendant:

  • Must act with the intention to cause “harmful or offensive” contact.
  • Must cause the victim to expect harmful or offensive contact beyond reasonable doubt.

The key distinction is that no physical injury is necessary for an assault charge. The driver with assault is that you or the person you are in a confrontation with makes the other fear a physical attack.


Battery is charged when the defendant acts on the threat of assault and physically attacks another person. The following must take place to qualify for a battery charge:

  • The action of the defendant physically impacts the victim.
  • The action by the defendant is physical but offensive or insulting to the victim.

With both criteria, no actual bodily harm is necessary. Intent is also not a factor, meaning a person can be charged with battery even if they did not intend to harm the victim. That stipulation introduces the concept of negligence into the mix.

There is also no requirement that the victim be aware that battery has taken place. This criterion addresses battery committed on a sleeping or unconscious person. Additionally, under certain circumstances, battery is implied contact, such as if a person were touched in a crowded room.

Offensive Contact

A defendant does not need direct contact with the victim to be guilty of battery. However, battery will apply if the defendant’s action results in harmful or offensive contact with the victim. For example, battery would still have occurred if someone shoved another person into the victim, even though the defendant did not physically touch the victim.

Additionally, the action does not have to cause bodily harm or injury. For example, someone that touches another without permission, or if the victim is a minor, has committed battery. If the victim is an adult, any unwanted touching is battery unless the touching, at that specific moment, was consensual.

Merely because someone has a relationship with someone or had a relationship does not permit them to initiate unwanted touching of another person.

How Minnesota Handles Assault and Battery

In Minnesota, there is no crime called “battery.” Crimes that would qualify as battery in other states fall under the assault statutes (MN Stat Ꞩ 609.224). Instead of having the two separate charges, assault happens when the defendant:

  • Attempts to strike or does strike another person.
  • Behaves in a threatening manner that puts another person in harm’s way.

Under these two umbrella definitions, assault is broken down by degree.

First-Degree Assault

A person that commits first-degree assault causes extreme bodily harm to a person by physically attacking them or initiating actions that harm them. The victim must be severely injured to the point of possible death, disfigurement, or disability. A felony, first-degree assault conviction can land a person in jail for up to 20 years and result in up to $30,000 in fines.

Second-Degree Assault

When a person commits an assault with a dangerous weapon, they are guilty of second-degree assault. The weapon can come in several forms, such as:

  • Firearms
  • Knives
  • Swinging objects
  • Strangling
  • Vehicular assault

The severity of a second-degree charge is delineated by whether bodily injury is caused. If the assault does not cause bodily injury, the punishment is up to seven years in prison and $14,000 in fines. If the assault results in bodily injury, the jail time is longer, often up to 10 years. In either case, second-degree assault is a felony-level criminal act.

Third-Degree Assault

In Minnesota, third-degree assault covers three different types of felonies and is charged when the defendant has assaulted:

  • Someone under the age of four.
  • A minor when there is a history of abuse.
  • Any person causing substantial bodily harm.

This type of felony can result in up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines. It is considered less than first or second-degree assault, but still very serious.

Fourth-Degree Assault

Fourth-degree assault is a “gross misdemeanor” and can cause a person to be incarcerated for up to one year and owe fines of up to $3,000. Fourth-degree assault is charged when the victim does not meet any felony criteria. 

Typically, this type of misdemeanor is leveled against someone when they have assaulted a police or corrections officer, emergency medical personnel, or firefighter.

It can also be charged when a victim is targeted under any “hate crime” definition, including, but not limited to, assault because of race, religion, sexual preference, or disability.

Fifth-Degree Assault

A person is charged with fifth-degree assault when the assault does not meet any of the other criteria listed above. A fifth-degree assault charge is a misdemeanor and can result in up to 90 days in jail and fines. Under this statute, you do not have to commit the act to be charged. Attempting and even threatening in some cases is enough to warrant misdemeanor charges.

Understanding the Difference Between Assault and Battery Is Key

Understanding the Difference Between Assault and Battery Is Key

Assault and battery are covered under the assault in Minnesota. There are degrees of assault charges, depending on the severity of the action.

If you are charged with assault, you need to talk to a qualified defense attorney as soon as possible to explore your options, get advice on how to proceed, and formulate a robust defense. Contact CJB Law’s experienced legal team today to talk about your case.