Under California Penal Code 240, it is against the law to assault another person, which means it’s illegal to make an attempt to commit an act of violence against someone. While people often use the terms, “assault,” and, “battery,” interchangeably, these terms actually refer to distinct crimes, which are punishable under different penal codes. Oftentimes, assault is explained as an attempt to commit violent battery, without actually carrying out the act of violence itself. So, for someone to be found guilty of assault, the prosecutor doesn’t need to show that any violence actually took place, rather he/she simply needs to demonstrate that an attempt to inflict violence took place. Assault under Penal Code 240 is commonly called simple assault, to distinguish it from more serious forms of assault. Depending on the circumstances of the criminal activity, people in California can be charged with a crime even more serious than simple assault. One such crime is aggravated assault, which can be charged when the perpetrator of the assault exhibits a clear intention to cause their victim serious bodily injury.
If you find yourself involved in a legal dispute that stems from a situation associated with an alleged assault, the most important action you can take is to reach out to a capable lawyer in your area. At Domestic Violence Attorney, reachable at 619-393-8588, the lawyers employed are the top lawyers in the SD area, who possess years of experience dealing with assault cases in SD County courthouses.
In addition to reaching out to one of our respected attorneys, another crucial step you can take to prepare yourself to take on this legal dispute is to read up on assault law in California. Continue reading below for a summary of the most important aspects of simple and aggravated assault law in California.
What Must be Proven for Somebody to be Guilty of Assault
For someone to be convicted of assault under PC 240, a variety of criteria must be established by the prosecuting attorney beyond a reasonable doubt. First, it is required for it to be demonstrated that you took an action that would probably result in the infliction of force against another person, according to standards of common reason. Additionally, it must be proven that you acted fully willfully, and that you understood that by taking this action that you would probably cause the person to endure physical force according to basic standards of reason. Lastly, it must be proven that when taking the action in question, you possessed the ability to actually inflict physical force upon the alleged victim. Some of these criteria can appear a bit confusing on first glance, so each of the criteria above are unpacked in the paragraphs below.
For a deed to constitute the infliction of force, the force must involve harmful and/or offensive touching. This means that the magnitude of the force inflicted is mostly irrelevant, what matters is the nature of the touching itself. So long as the touching was carried out in an offensive fashion, it can be categorized as assault under PC 240. Also, it is not a requirement under PC 240 for the touching to cause the alleged victim to sustain an injury of any kind. Offensive touching can be completely harmless to the alleged victim’s physical wellbeing, but be deemed offensive due to the way the touching was carried out. Usually, offensive touching involves unwanted sexual contact that places the victim in a state of mental duress.
Additionally, touching does not necessarily require the presence of direct contact, or in other words, the perpetrator doesn’t need to physically touch the victim with a part of his/her body in order for a deed to be considered touching. If a person uses any sort of object to inflict physical force upon another person, then this is considered touching according to the law. Lastly, as touched on briefly above, for someone to be convicted of assault, the person doesn’t need to actually succeed in applying force. It is only required for a person to have attempted to take an action that would have probably resulted in the infliction of force, if that action had been completed as intended.
For an act of physical force involving touching to count as assault under PC 240, the act must have been carried out in a willful manner. If the action involving touching was only perpetrated due to a complete accident, then you cannot be convicted of assault, due to a lack of willful intent. However, this being said, it’s important to understand that an action will always be considered willful if the person intended to carry out the action, even if the consequences of that action were totally unintentional. Even if you didn’t intend to break the law as a result of your actions, your behavior will be considered willful. Also, it doesn’t matter if you never intended to hurt anyone with your action, so long as you meant to carry out the action itself, you can be convicted of assault.
To be found guilty of assault, it also must be shown that you were aware or reasonably should have been cognizant that the action you decided to take could lead to the infliction of force. The second half of that sentence means that even if you weren’t fully cognizant of the possible consequences of your action at the time it took place, you can still be found guilty if it can be shown you should’ve been aware that you action would cause the infliction of force, according to basic standards of reason. In other words, carelessness or basic lack of forethought do not release you from the responsibility for the awareness of your actions.
This standard of proof is fairly basic in its nature. The prosecutor must show that you actually possess the ability to inflict force in the manner described. If you were accused of assaulting somebody with a hammer, it must be proven that you possessed a hammer at the time of the alleged assault. If you were accused of assaulting someone by punching them in the face, it must be shown that you possessed the ability to throw a punch, and that you weren’t physically incapacitated by an arm injury or other relevant affliction.
In order to be found guilty of the more serious crime of aggravated assault, it must be shown that you clearly meant to cause the victim of your alleged assault to suffer a significant bodily injury, in addition to the criteria outlined above. A great bodily injury is vaguely defined as a serious injury, but is not specifically defined. Generally, a great bodily injury is understood as one that incapacitates the victim in some manner, such as via a broken bone or a high-grade concussion. Generally, in order for aggravated assault to be charged, there must exist a piece of evidence that unambiguously shows that the accused meant to cause serious physical harm. This piece of evidence will oftentimes come in the form of a firearm, knife, or other form of deadly weapon.
Also, a person will also generally be charged with aggravated assault if it can be shown they assaulted someone with the intention of committing a felony offense. This is called an aggravating circumstance, and is the most common reason for someone to be charged with aggravated assault instead of simple assault. If a person assaulted someone for the purpose of sexually assaulting them afterwards, then this person will almost certainly be charged with aggravated assault.
Legal Defense Strategies for Accusation of Assault
Just because you are being charged with simple assault or aggravated assault does not by any means indicate that you will automatically be found guilty. There exist a variety of legal strategies one can use to defend yourself from such charges, which can result in you being found not guilty if employed correctly. In order to make sure you pick the correct legal defense for your case, and ensure this legal defense is deployed in the most effective manner possible, you should make certain you hire a great attorney with assault law experience. Continue reading below for summaries of commonly employed legal strategies.
You will be found not guilty of assault if you can prove that you only made the choice to inflict physical force as an act of self-defense. However, for self-defense to work as a legal strategy, a few criteria must be met.
First, it must be shown by the defense that you believed you and/or another person were at imminent risk of suffering a bodily injury of being touched in a harmful/offensive manner.
Second, it must be proven that you reasonably believed that the use of force was the only viable option to defend yourself against the imminent threat, and that you had no other option available to fight off the threat.
Third, you are required to demonstrate that you used no more physical force than was absolutely necessary to repel the threat. If you used a disproportionate amount of force to respond to the threat, say by stabbing someone in response to a light jab to the shoulder, then you would not be able to successfully use self-defense as a legal strategy. Lastly, it is good to know that self-defense can only be claimed in response to a physical threat; words, no matter how offensive, are not viewed as a legally legitimate reason for self-defense measures.
You might be able to rebuff a charge of assault if you are able to demonstrate that you did not possess an ability to inflict force. This is because under PC 240, it must be shown that you possessed a real ability to inflict force in order to be found guilty of assault. This defense can only be used in situations that involved only an attempt to inflict physical force, as clearly it would be impossible to argue a lack of ability when force was actually inflicted. If you got into a verbal altercation with another person, and then swung your fist in that person’s direction from all the way across the room, you would be able to argue a lack of ability to inflict force, as it would have been impossible for you to inflict force across a room.Since it must be shown that the defendant possessed the ability to inflict force in order for them to be convicted of assault, you may be able to fight the charges by arguing that you didn’t possess the ability to inflict force in the first place. If the defendant is an elderly person, or a person suffering from a disability of other condition that makes it impossible for them to inflict force on another person, then you may be able to argue a lack of ability to inflict force.
You might possibly be able to stave off a charge of simple or aggravated assault if you are successfully able to show that you in no way meant to take the action in question. Note, a defense strategy involving absence of will/intent will not work if you only argue that you never meant to injure the alleged victim, or that you had no intention of breaking the law. A strategy involving absence of will/intent will only yield positive results for the defense if the defense can successfully prove that the accused never meant to take the action in the first place.
A common method of arguing absence of will/intent is to try and show that the relevant action only occurred as the result of a complete accident, that could not be reasonably interpreted as the fault of the defendant. If someone pushed the defendant into a third person, and that third person accused the defendant of assault, the defendant would successfully be able to argue a lack of will. Another common method is to argue that the alleged victim totally misinterpreted the situation, and that an attempt to inflict force never even took place.
Penalties for Simple Assault and Aggravated Assault
Simple assault can only be charged as a misdemeanor offense in the California legal system. If found guilty of simple assault under Penal Code 240, you may face a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to six months in a county jail. Alternatively, the judge may decide to sentence you to summary probation and participate in anger management courses, depending on the specifics of your case. Additionally, the penalty for simple assault can become more severe if the victim of the assault belonged to specific categories of profession, and the perpetrator of the assault was aware or should reasonably have been aware the victim belonged to one of these professions. If you assaulted a peace officer, firefighter, EMT, traffic officer, or any other class of protected person, the penalties essentially double. In this scenario, you face up to a full year in jail and/or a monetary fine of at most $2,000.
Aggravated assault is a wobbler, which signifies that it can be charged a) as a misdemeanor or (b) as a felony. The factors that go into determining if the aggravated assault is charged as a misdemeanor or felony are the severity of the injury caused, and the criminal history of the defendant. If charged with a misdemeanor, you are dealt a jail term of up to one year and/or up to $10,000 in fines. You may also face probation, as well as a requirement of community service and/or anger management courses. The penalties for a felony conviction are relatively similar to the penalties for a misdemeanor offense, with the main difference being that the guilty party will face a longer prison sentence, and possibly a heftier fine.
Additionally, if one is found guilty of aggravated assault involving the use of a deadly weapon, you may face even harsher penalties. If charged with a misdemeanor, you face the same 1-year maximum jail term, but if it is charged as a felony, you face a sentence of up to four years in state prison. Also, the prosecutor may choose to pursue a weapons enhancement as part of the case, which could lead to even more time in prison and even heftier fines.