Assault in California is a crime under Penal Code 240 that is punishable with fines and prison time. According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), about 60 percent of the crimes reported in California (2016) were aggravated assaults. Aggravated assaults and other types of assaults may go unreported due to the lack of awareness of the law, due to intimidation, or fear.  Assault under PC 240 is the attempt/intent of one party to cause harm to another. Individuals who are caught in the process of planning an attack or simply raise a fist and attempt to hit another person without justified cause may face charges for assault. Each assault case has a significant amount of factors that should be made clear to any attorney. An attorney may be able to drop charges if you were acting out of self-defense or if you did not act with intent to cause fear, irritation, or physical harm.

Assault can be a simple act like raising your fist in the air or it can be as serious as sexual assault. Sexual assault occurs more often than one may think. The Women’s Center Youth and Family Services reports that a sexual assault occurs once about every two minutes. Sexual assault is when a person acts with intent to have unsolicited sex or perform an act that would fulfill a sexual pleasure. If you are a victim of sexual assault you may want to get in contact with the National Sexual Assault Hotline or at 800-656-4673. In addition, if you are a victim of assault you are encouraged to call the police or contact an attorney to see what you can do about your case. In any case, it may serve your best interest to file and obtain a police report so that you may proceed with a restraining order.

In California assault is treated as a misdemeanor, but it may also be charged as a felony. Assault is a wobbler that can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts of your case. A ‘simple assault’ under PC 240 is treated as a misdemeanor. To  be charged for a simple assault the following must be true:

  • The aggressor acted in a manner that would produce harm to another
  • The aggressor acted willingly
  • The aggressor acted knowing that he or she had the ability to fulfill the act (threats are not enough to be charged under PC 240)
  • The aggressor had the ability to use and apply force

As explained above, the court takes into account the ‘intent’ or ‘attempt’ to cause harm. The court does not take into account whether or not there was physical contact when judging an assault; simply carrying out a plan to attack is enough to be charged for assault. However, if there was physical contact the act may be charged under the battery laws or may be charged with a more serious ‘aggravated assault’. 

If you are caught in the act of a crime or if you successfully completed the attacked, you will be charged under the California Assault and Battery laws. Violation of Penal Code 240 (assault) or Penal Code 242 (battery), holds serious repercussions including jail time and fines. Most people think that battery is worse than assault, however, you’ll find that both are serious crimes that are punished harshly. If you are charged for violation of a penal code described under the assault and battery laws, you are encouraged to speak with a local lawyer. Laws differ from state to state with each state providing their definition of assault and battery. To speak with a local criminal attorney, you may contact the office of the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer at 310-502-1314.  

What Is Assault?

Have you ever screamed at a ticket person while performing his/her lawful duty? Well if the ticket officer wanted to pursue assault charges he or she can. When a person acts in a manner that causes another person to fear for their safety, they may be violating Penal Code 240. According to PC 240, assault is the attempt and present ability to harm another person. If for instance you are screaming at a parking officer and you approach them, the parking officer may have enough reason to believe you are going to hit them and press charges. In a courtroom, other factors would be taken into account and the simple act of yelling is not enough to place a conviction.

However, if convicted of assault, you may be charged with a fine of up to a thousand dollars and/or jail time of up to six months. When an assault is directed towards a person that is performing their parking control duties, the fines can range up to two thousand dollars and jail time for up to six months. The charges in an assault misdemeanor depend on the location, the individuals involved, and the intent of the act.

The penalties increase whenever an assault is directed towards any person employed by the local, state, or federal agencies. Under Penal Code 241 (c), assaulting a public member is a crime that can be punished with up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to two-thousand dollars. You may be charged for violating PC 241 (c), if you assault the following individuals, including a member of their immediate family: police officer, firefighter, lifeguard, nurse, doctor, physician, emergency medical technician, traffic officer, and code enforcement officer.

Examples Of Assault

In California, the following are examples of assault under Penal Code 240:

Billy Jack and Joe Bobby are in a quarrel with the teacher. The teacher is explaining how communism is a beautiful idea. Billy and Joe, both patriots tell their ‘commie’ teacher to go to Russia and throw an eraser at her. Billy and Jack may be charged with assault. Their behavior may have instilled fear in the teacher and the act of throwing an object is seen as an attempt to harm regardless of whether the object hit or not. As seen with the case in New York involving a teen charged with assault with a carrot. According to the Huffington Post, a teenager was charged with assault for throwing a carrot at a teacher.

Daisy is Duke's home health care provider. On a regular basis, Daisy threatens to beat Duke if he doesn’t cooperate with her during shower time. Daisy can be charged for threatening a dependent adult for assault under Penal Code 240. In addition, she may be charged with a crime against an elder under Penal Code 368.

Joe is mad that his neighbor Matt keeps letting his dog use his lawn for number one and two. Without warning one day, Joe starts waving his gun around Matt. Matt fears for his life runs inside his home and calls the cops. Matt can press assault charges based on Joe’s actions.

Felony Assault

In most simple assault cases, you will find that the crime is charged with a misdemeanor. However, there are a few factors that can raise the crime to a felony.

  • Assault with a Deadly Weapon:
    • Assault with a deadly weapon can be anything that can be used as a weapon aside from a firearm. Assault with a deadly weapon such as a bat may constitute a fine of up to ten-thousand dollars and prison time ranging between two to four years. Furthermore, the same penalties apply whenever there is the use of a firearm. Additionally, the fines increase depending on the type of fire arm. For instance, if you are carrying out an assault with a semi-automatic gun, you may be charged with up to nine years in prison. If the weapon was a machine gun, the defendant may face up to 12 years in prison.
  • Assault on a Public Official:
    • Assaulting a public official can also be charged with a felony. In the state of California, assaulting a public official for retaliation or to prevent them from performing their official duties, is a crime that can be punished as a felony under Penal Code 217.1. For example, attacking a congressman or congress woman based on their stance on abortion, may be charged with assault on a public official. However, if you did not know you were engaging with a public official and your motives were not motivated by their official position, then you may not be charged with PC 217.1.

Contesting An Assault Charge In Court

Individuals who are charged with assault have a number of options that may help reduce the fines and jail time. In addition, there are a number of reasons you may want to contest an assault. To learn the ways you can defend your case in court, you may discuss your case with a local attorney. The following are the most common ways you can contest an assault charge given certain circumstances.

You Were Defending Your Property

If someone enters your home without permission, you have the right to use reasonable force to prevent the aggressor from taking your property. Reasonable force is described differently from state to state. In some states, anyone entering your home may be treated with a deadly weapon under stand your ground laws. In the state of California, there are no stand your ground laws that permit the killing of another just because they are on your property. You may only kill another person or use deadly force on the other person if his or her actions cause you to fear for your life while on your property (home, business, another private estate). Under the ‘castle doctrine’ otherwise known as Penal Code 198.5, a person may use lethal force if the intruder causes the victims to fear for their life or the life of others in the household or private estate.

For example, in California, it may be reasonable to use lethal force against someone that charges at you with a knife on your property and causes fear of death or bodily harm. However, if the thief or unwanted person turns around after told to leave, it may not be reasonable to shoot him down. If you are charged with assault when defending your property there are many factors that can affect the outcome. You may want to speak with a local attorney to see your how the case will hold up in court given the factors of your case.

You Received Consent Prior To The Act

When you receive consent from someone, it means you have their permission to proceed. If a person gives you consent to engage in sexual intercourse then it may be difficult to press charges for sexual assault in a courtroom. Likewise, if a person gave you consent to punch them in the face, then you may not be charged with assault or battery. For example, if you and a buddy exit the boxing gym and later decide to spare. Both have given consent to touch each other in a manner that would produce physical harm therefore, they may not press charges on each other for assault or battery. In another case, if you and your sexual partner engage in sexual acts like sadomasochism, then it may be difficult to press charges for assault and battery based on those acts. However, if the person exerts more force than permitted, for instance, beating someone until they back out, then they may press charges for battery despite the given consent.

Your Actions Were Out Of Self-Defense

You can be charged with assault whether you started the fight or not. In theory, you can be charged with about any crime so long as someone makes a case. Individuals who acted out of self-defense may be capable of dropping the assault charges if they can show that the other party was at fault. For instance, if you punched someone after you see them approaching you with a bat, you would be able to press charges for assault and your excuse would be ‘acting in self-defense’. In this case, the aggressor was met with equal force to deter the force and not cause further damage. Keep in mind that in self-defense, the judge will take into account the possibility of the other party to cause harm and the amount of force on your aggressor. If the judge finds that you met your aggressor with disproportionate force, you may face charges. For instance, if you meet a fist fight with a gun, the aggressor is being met with more than the force they can apply.

Likewise, if force is directed towards a close family member, like your mom or your child, then you may not be charged with assault or battery for defending them from physical harm. If your actions were out of self-defense, you are encouraged to speak with an attorney to ensure that your side of the story is rightfully represented. 

What Should I Do If I Am Charged With Assault?

  • Speak with an attorney:
    • In most cases, it is advised to seek the attention of an attorney or a public defender. An assault case is not black and white meaning that there are a number of factors that could have incentivized either party to act out. In a courtroom, every case involves a thorough investigation of the factors presented. Often times, you want to be represented by a person that can speak on your behalf and present your independent findings to prove your case. Working with an attorney can help you reduce your penalties and in some cases, your charges may be dropped.
  • Plea Guilty
    • When you plead guilty you avoid entering a courtroom and you may be charged with lesser punishments. In other cases, you may not have an option but to plead guilty. For instance, if your act was recorded and there is no reason to contest your account, then you may plead guilty.
  • Diversion program
    • In some courts, you may be allowed to complete a diversion program instead of facing jail time. A diversion program may have probation obligations such as staying off drugs, reporting to a probation officer, and attend counseling. If individuals fail to fulfill a diversion program, then he or she may be charged with the penalties for assault.

If you are charged with assault, it might be in your best interest to discuss the situation with a local attorney. The assault laws differ from state to state so you want to ensure that your attorney is applying the correct local laws to your case. Keep in mind that an assault case can always be contested, especially if you did not mean to cause harm or your actions were not intentional. There are many factors that can affect the outcome of your case. As mentioned above, if you were acting out of self-defense, if you have been given consent, or if you were defending your property or close family members, then you may have reason to drop charges of assault. Before you enter a courtroom you are encouraged to speak with a criminal law attorney. You may reach the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer at 310-502-1314.