Intentional actions that cause another individual to fear imminent physical harm or an attack sum up an assault. This definition acknowledges the cause of fear of bodily injury by the perpetrator to the victim. Under California Law, Penal Code 240, this action is a crime. The offender commits the crime even if his/her actions do not cause physical harm to the victim. This law allows law enforcement agencies to arrest offenders without waiting for the victim to suffer physical harm.
With an attorney’s assistance, you can fight simple assault charges. The Los Angeles Criminal Attorney is ready to legally represent you and help you fight the allegations to secure an ideal outcome.
Simple Assault Under California Law
Penal Code 240 defines simple assault as the illegal attempt, with the present ability, to inflict a violent injury on another.
The language PC 240 uses means that any individual who willfully acts in a manner likely to result in the application of force commits an offense. Therefore, based on this definition, the following actions are examples of simple assault.
- Pushing another individual away from you in an argument
- Raising a fist at an individual and swinging
- Throwing a glass at another
California laws prohibit violence against other individuals. PC 240 goes further by making it an offense to attempt to commit violence. If you attempt to use force on another individual aiming to inflict injury, you will be charged for a simple assault, even if you did not succeed in causing harm to the targeted individual.
Elements Prosecutors Must Prove
PC 240’s definition of simple assault offers the elements prosecutors must prove to secure a guilty verdict by the jury. They must prove:
- You committed an act, and the very nature of the act is a likely direct application of force to another
- You acted willfully
- When you acted, you had the awareness that your actions could cause harm or that you were aware of the facts that would cause a reasonable individual to believe that the action taken would probably or directly result in the application of force to the victim
- You had the present ability to apply force to the victim when you acted
Here is an in-depth look at each element.
Application of Force
Application of force means any offensive or harmful touching. Any slight touch done in an offensive or rude manner counts as an application of force.
It bears emphasizing that any touching is an assault, even if it does not result in an injury or lacks the potential to cause physical harm. Further, the touching need not be direct. An indirect touch achieved by using an object also counts as assault.
Under PC 240, you do not need to apply force to the victim successfully. All that is needed is that you take action with the potential of resulting in force being applied to the victim.
Willful action refers to acting deliberately or intentionally. However, you do not need to have intended to hurt the victim, break the law, or gain an undue advantage for you to be guilty of the offense.
Knowledge that the Act Could Lead to the Application of Force
Penal Code 240 does not require you to have intended to use force against the victim for you to be guilty of the offense. You only need to be aware that, under the circumstances, force was likely a result of your actions.
Difference Between Assault and Battery
People use assault and battery interchangeably because of the assumption that the two are synonymous. However, assault and battery are two different crimes. We have already defined assault. Battery, on the other hand, occurs when an individual commits an act that results in offensive or harmful contact with the victim.
The difference between the two offenses lies in the actual physical contact. Whereas assault does not necessarily require physical contact for you to be found guilty of the offense, battery does.
Referring to PC 240’s definition of assault, an individual commits an offense only when he/she acts in a manner likely to inflict physical harm on another.
Under Penal Code 242, an individual only commits battery when he/she commits an act that causes physical injury to the victim.
Defenses You Can Assert
Since prosecutors will focus on awareness, intent, and the present ability to apply force to secure your conviction for simple assault, our team will develop a strategy around challenging these aspects. We can proceed with any of the following based on the circumstances in your case.
You Lacked the Ability to Inflict Force
If prosecutors establish you could inflict force, you are guilty of a PC 240 violation. The lack of an ability to direct force on another challenges the case enough to potentially result in a not guilty verdict.
For example, Bob and Jack get into a brawl. Some individuals step in. They separate the two, pulling them on different sides away from each other. Bob takes a swing in Jack’s direction. Is the swing an assault on Jack?
No, it is not. Since there was a distance between the two, Bob lacked the present ability to inflict harm on Jack. The distance made it impossible for Bob’s swing to land on Jack.
Victim of False Accusations
There is a need for irrefutable evidence in most assault cases, like footage of the actual assault. Prosecutors often rely on witnesses or victims’ testimony as evidence of the defendant's wrongdoing.
It is not uncommon for witnesses or victims to lie and falsely accuse a defendant of assault. Their actions could be motivated by jealousy, hatred, or the pursuit of revenge for a perceived wrong. In other situations, business partners or colleagues could claim the defendant assaulted them to eliminate competition from the workplace and generate an advantage after the defendant’s conviction.
Familial setups account for a significant portion of assault cases. Intimate partners claim to be assaulted and use the claim in custody battles to tip the scales in their favor. Children, too, are manipulated to accuse a parent or guardian of assault. The alleged victim will use the accusations as evidence in a custody proceeding.
Experienced attorneys understand the motivation behind false allegations. They will present to the jury evidence that calls into question the credibility of the witness or alleged victim.
For example, his/her history of deception, the frosty relationship between the witness and the defendant, or the alleged victim and the defendant.
Further, the attorney could also introduce video evidence showing that the defendant did not assault the alleged victim or that he/she was acting in self-defense.
You Acted in Self-defense or in Defense of Others
Self-defense or in defense of others requires that your response match the perceived threat. That is, you can only use force necessary to eliminate the threat.
Defense attorneys assert the following when using self-defense or in defense of others' strategy.
- You believed you or another was in imminent danger of suffering bodily harm or being touched illegally.
- You reasonably believe the immediate use of force was necessary for defending yourself or another against the danger.
- You used appropriate force, that is, no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend yourself or another against the perceived danger.
This strategy is not applicable without a perceived danger to you or another.
Note: There are situations where the defendant could use threatening words to defend themselves. However, words without action, no matter how offensive, words without action are insufficient to justify an assault.
For example, if in the heat of an argument, an individual, while showing a hand gesture, shouts at another, “I will shoot you!” However, the words do not meet the assault threshold if no gun is present or visible.
If there were a gun or an individual took a step indicating an intent to carry out the threat, an assault would have occurred.
The question of a loaded and an unloaded gun arises. Is it an assault if the firearm was not loaded?
Courts focus on the victim’s interpretation of the situation. Individuals have no way of ascertaining whether a gun is loaded or not when one is pointed at them. Thus, a victim’s interpretation of the situation is that of fear and that it is more likely than not that the gun is loaded.
Therefore, you will face assault charges whether the gun was loaded.
No Willful Action
Prosecutors must prove you acted with intent for you to be found guilty of assault. It follows that failure to prove that you acted deliberately beyond a reasonable doubt will result in a not guilty verdict.
Assault requires intent. The perpetrator must deliberately interfere with another individual’s liberties or rights in a manner likely to cause them harm. Intent is established when a reasonable individual can conclude that the defendant’s actions could have harmed the victim.
This defense is applicable where your actions were accidental, or your actions resulted from a misunderstanding. Both acts lack deliberateness.
Penalties Upon Conviction for Simple Assault
Simple assault is a misdemeanor violation. The offense is punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine not exceeding $1,000, or both. The judge could consider issuing summary or misdemeanor probation terms for you to serve as an alternative to time in jail.
The penalties become steeper for any assault on a law enforcement officer or emergency personnel. The law protects specific individuals because of the nature of their duties. That is why an assault on anyone in the following professions will result in severe punishment.
- Law enforcement officers or other law enforcement agents
- Traffic officers
- Paramedics or emergency medical technicians (EMTs)
- Process serves
- Animal control officers
- Code enforcement officers
- Search and rescue agents
- Nurses or doctors offering medical attention
You are only guilty if any of the officials mentioned above were on duty and you knew or should have reasonably identified them in their professional capacity. Should the prosecution prove this fact and the jury finds you guilty, a judge will sentence you to one year in jail, and the fine will increase to $2,000.
Note: An assault on a parking control office will result in a fine of $2,000 upon conviction.
Civil Lawsuits By Assault Victims
Victims of assault can seek damages in civil court. It is important to note that criminal proceedings seek to punish the defendant for the crime. In civil court, the action by a plaintiff against the defendant is to seek monetary compensation for the assault.
The two proceedings are independent of each other. That means the outcome and findings of the criminal proceedings are not used in the civil proceedings, nor is the civil proceedings’ outcome used as in a criminal case. It is possible to be found "not guilty” in a criminal proceeding and be sued in a civil proceeding.
Criminal assault cases require prosecutors to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. However, civil proceedings mandate the plaintiff to prove his case through a preponderance of the evidence. It means that they should convince the jury that it is more likely than not that the defendant assaulted the plaintiff.
The preponderance of the evidence requires a plaintiff to prove:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff
- The defendant breached the duty through recklessness, intentional wrongdoing, or negligence
- The breach caused the plaintiff damages
You can defend yourself against assault allegations in civil court with the help of a personal injury attorney. He/she will use any of the defenses mentioned above.
Offenses Related to Simple Assault
Your charge sheet could include additional offenses related to the assault. In other circumstances, the prosecution opts to pursue any of the following violations separate from the assault charges, based on what they can prove.
Assault on a Public Official
An assault on a public official is a violation of Penal Code 217.1. The offense is an aggravated assault, meaning it is more severe than a simple assault.
PC 217.1 makes it a crime to assault a public official to prevent him/her from discharging his/her official duties or as an act of retaliation.
The D.A. must prove the following to secure a conviction.
- You committed an assault as outlined in PC 240
- The victim of the assault was a public official or a member of the official’s immediate family — Immediate family members include spouses, children, siblings, grandchildren, parents, or stepparents.
- You assaulted the victim to prevent the official from discharging his/her official duties, or you attacked the victim in retaliation for them discharging their official duties.
For proposes of PC 217.1, the following are public officials:
- The US President or Vice President
- A US state Governor or Senator
- A federal, state, or local judge, justice, or juror, present or former
- Federal or state elected officials
- Referee, commissioners, or subordinate junior officers
- Former or current public defenders
- Former or current district attorneys or prosecutors
- Former or current public defenders
- Directors, secretaries of federal or state agencies
- Mayors, county supervisors, county members, sheriffs, peace officers, law enforcement officers, or municipal chiefs of police
An assault targeting a public official is a wobbler offense. The District Attorney can charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony violation.
If convicted on misdemeanor charges, you will face up to one year in jail and pay a maximum fine of $1,000. Felony violations are punishable by a jail sentence of up to three years, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Assault With Caustic Chemicals
Assaults with caustic chemicals are offenses as outlined in PC 244. You will face prosecution for throwing or placing substances on another person to disfigure or injure the victim.
Prosecutors must prove that you:
- Acted willfully and maliciously
- Placed, threw, or caused the substance to be thrown at someone
- The substance was corrosive, flammable, vitriolic, or a caustic chemical
- You had the intention of disfiguring or injuring the victim’s flesh
Caustic chemicals refer to substances that can corrode or burn living tissue.
A violation of PC 244 is a felony. Convictions result in two, three, or four years in prison. Additionally, you will receive a fine penalty amounting to $10,000.
Judges could impose formal probation terms as an alternative to time in prison.
Assault With a Deadly Weapon (ADW)
Individuals who assault another person by use of a deadly weapon violate PC 245(a)(1). This assault is another form of aggravated assault.
Note: You will be charged with assault with a deadly weapon even if your attempt to injure another failed.
Elements of the crime prosecutors must prove are:
- You performed an act likely to result in the direct application of force on another
- You used a lethal weapon or force likely to cause great bodily injury
- When you acted, you were aware that a reasonable person could also conclude that your actions would cause and probably apply force to the victim.
- You had a present ability to apply force, aided by the lethal weapon likely to result in significant bodily injury at the time you acted.
Deadly weapon pursuant to PC 245(a)(1) refers to known weapons or objects capable of causing death or inflicting significant bodily injury. This definition includes ordinary objects that could turn deadly if used in a manner that could kill or inflict serious physical harm. For example, a pencil can turn deadly if someone uses it to stab another.
Note: Under PC 245(a)(1), a dog is a deadly weapon if you command it to attack another individual.
An assault with a deadly weapon is a wobbler offense if the deadly weapon in question is not a firearm.
Misdemeanor violations result in jail sentences of up to one year, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both. Convictions for felony violations are punishable by imprisonment of up to four years, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
ADW offenses involving using a firearm like a pistol or a revolver are wobbler offenses. The penalties remain similar to those outlined above. However, a convicted defendant's maximum jail sentence is six months.
An ADW offense whose weapon is a machine gun, a.50BMG rifle, an assault weapon, or a semiautomatic firearm is a straight felony. A conviction will result in a 12-year prison sentence.
ADW crimes, whose victims are police officers, firefighters, or peace officers, are also straight felonies. You, however, need to have reasonably known the victim was a firefighter or a peace officer. Convictions result in five-year prison sentences. However, if you used a firearm, you could serve up to 12 years in prison if convicted.
You violate Penal Code 242 when you willfully and illegally use violence or force on another individual. You would be guilty of the offense even if the victim did not sustain an injury or suffer any pain.
Juries find defendants guilty if prosecutors prove that the defendant:
- Willfully touched another person, and
- Did so in an offensive or harmful manner
Touching is not limited to direct contact. It also includes indirect contact made through a victim’s clothes or an object the defendant used to touch the victim.
Simple battery under PC 242 does not result in serious injury. Neither does it target protected individuals, including peace officers and firefighters. It is a violation of PC 243(d) if the battery causes serious injuries. Battery on a peace officer or other protected individuals is a violation of PC 243(b) and PC 243(c)(2).
Violations of PC 242 violations are misdemeanors and are punishable by a jail sentence of up to six months and a fine not exceeding $2,000.
Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer Near Me
A simple assault charge is often mistaken for a lesser crime since it is a misdemeanor offense. Nonetheless, a conviction has negative implications. The offense remains on your record and could adversely impact your life moving forward. You need to fight the charges. An experienced attorney’s assistance will help have the charge dismissed, reduced, or for you to serve fewer penalties. The circumstances of your case determine the outcome of the case.
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we can defend you against the charges. We are guided by the law and our experience and work to ensure the best legal outcome. Contact our team today at 424-333-0943.