Assault is a crime of violence against another person. In some jurisdictions, including Australia and New Zealand, as well as the USA, assault refers to an act that causes another to apprehend an immediate harmful contact, whereas the actual contact itself is called "battery." The word "apprehend" doesn't equate with fear. While fear encompasses apprehension, a victim can be apprehensive of unwanted contact, yet still not be in fear of it. For example, most people are apprehensive of a cat scratch, but they may not be fearful of such an event. A distinction must be made between the tort of assault, which is a civil matter, and criminal assault, for which the state will prosecute a wrongdoer. Within the arena of criminal law, an assault can result from an attempted battery. Since some attempted batteries might theoretically occur when the victim is sleeping, unconscious, or otherwise unaware of the threat, criminal battery can occur even when no threat is perceived by the victim. With the tort of assault, in contrast, a perceived threat by the victim is paramount.
In some jurisdictions within the United States, assault may refer only to the threat of violence caused by an immediate show of force.
Assault is often defined to include not only violence, but any intentional physical contact with another person without their consent. In common law jurisdictions, including England and Wales and the United States, battery is the crime that represents the unlawful physical contact, though this distinction does not exist in all jurisdictions. Exceptions exist to cover unsolicited physical contact which amount to normal social behavior known as de minimis harm. Assault can also be considered in cases involving the spitting on, or unwanted exposure of bodily fluids to others.
In most jurisdictions, the intention to cause grievous bodily harm (or its equivalent) may amount to the mental requirement to prefer a charge of murder in circumstances where the harm inflicted upon the victim proves fatal.
At common law criminal assault was an attempted battery. The elements of battery are (1) a volitional act (2) done for the purpose of causing an harmful or offensive contact with another person or under circumstances that make such contact substantially certain to occur and (3) which causes such contact. Thus throwing a rock at someone for the purpose of hitting him is a battery if the rock in fact strikes the person and is an assault if the rock misses. The fact that the person may have been unaware that the rock had been thrown at him is irrelevant under this definition of assault. Some jurisdictions have incorporated the definition of civil assault into the definition of the crime making it a criminal assault to intentionally place another person in "fear" of a harmful or offensive contact. "Fear" means merely apprehension - awareness rather than any emotional state.
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