When it comes to serious crime, assault is often associated with it. But assault itself can be a complicated topic. Is it beating up another person? Is it related or identical to battery? Assault in California is a complex topic, as it starts with simple assault and escalates from there, depending on the situation. There are also related crimes that may accompany an assault charge, adding complications to the legal journey.
If you or a loved one are accused of (charged with) assault, you may be feeling nervous, scared, sad, and unsure what to do. And rightfully so. Assault can be a confusing topic to understand, but we are here to help make sense of it. At San Diego Criminal Attorney, we have been helping people across the San Diego region to fight charges like assault.
Compiled below are some frequently asked questions regarding assault, particularly its treatment, defense, and penalties in California. This information is intended to be informational in nature only – it is not intended as legal advice. It is a good idea to start here to get a basic understanding of what constitutes assault in California, but you should never use such generalized information in trying to navigate your own defense. Instead, speak with one or more lawyers to get a sense of how a professional legal team, with experience defending against assault charges, can help you.
What is Assault?
Assault can be a confusing topic, and here’s why: if you look up the word “assault” in the dictionary, you’ll often get a definition along the lines of the act of one person inflicting or imposing physical harm and/or physical contact upon another person who does not want or welcome such contact or the force or violence used in it.
In the U.S., however, most states define assault as the attempt to commit such an act, not the act in and of itself.
How Does California Define Assault?
California is one of the states that generally sees assault as an attempt to use force or violence upon another person, regardless of whether that attempt “succeeds” and actually makes contact with the subjected person.
California Penal Code Section 240 is the part of state law that prohibits assault. The law defines assault within the state as any attempt by a person who has the ability at the moment in question to commit an injury of violence upon another person. It is important that the person have the ability at the time of the incident, because without the ability, assault is not a valid charge.
An assault that is illegal per Penal Code Section 240, known as simple assault, is treated as a misdemeanor crime under California law.
Are Assault and Battery the Same Thing?
No, assault and battery are different crimes, at least in California. Though often used together in the term “assault and battery”, it is possible for one crime to occur without the presence of the other crime.
Because assault has a double-meaning outside of California law – that is, sometimes it is the act of using force illegally upon another person and sometimes (as in California) is the attempt to use force illegally upon another person – we think it can be a confusing topic.
In California law, assault and battery are different:
- Assault is the attempt to cause harm or inflict injury upon another person.
- Battery is the actual act that causes harm or inflicts injury upon another person. Battery is made illegal by California Penal Code Sections 242 and 243.
Are There Different Types of Assault?
Yes, the State of California recognizes a few types of assault that are based upon simple assault, covered briefly below, as well as some similar crimes that aren’t directly assaults.
Assault Upon A Parking Control Officer
This crime is slightly elevated based on the very specific victim. If you take standard, simple assault and apply it to a situation wherein you acted intentionally against a parking control officer who was performing his or her duties at the time of the assault and you had reason to believe the person was acting as such a parking officer, you may be tried and penalized in line with this increased assault.
Assault Upon A Peace Officer
Like the previous crime, assault upon a peace officer is elevated specifically because of your victim. For the purposes of this crime, the victims can include a number of occupations including, but not limited to, peace and police officers, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and doctors and nurses acting in an emergency manner, firefighters, lifeguards, search and rescue members, and more. In order for this type of assault to be tried, the victim must have been working within his or her responsibilities as a peace officer, even if off-duty, as long as the assaulter would have reasonably known that.
This type of assault has an increased punishment compared to simple assault, but is generally still tried as a misdemeanor crime.
Assault with A Deadly Weapon
Whereas the first two types of assault above are variants on simple assault based on who the alleged victim is, assault with a deadly weapon is a variant on simple assault because of how you attempted to use force on another person. This crime means that you intended and/or attempted to harm another person by use of one of the following:
- A deadly weapon, such as a knife, gun, rifle, or other tool
- Another means of force that could cause significant injury to another person, such as a non-violent object or your own body
This type of assault can be tried and prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances, such as your criminal history, the excess of force, etc. If tried as a felony, you will likely face a sentence of two, three, or four years imprisoned in a California state prison and you will have to comply with post-conviction felony losses, such as loss of the right to vote and loss of the right to own and use legal firearms.
Assault with Caustic Chemicals
Like assault with a deadly weapon, assault with caustic chemicals has less to do with the victim and more to do with the method: chemicals. This law, covered by California Penal Code section 244, refers to a range of chemicals and solutions used in an assault with the intention of injuring and/or disfiguring the person.
- Caustic chemical assault is a felony crime.
Other Crimes That Relate to Assault
Because California law sees assault as an attempt to cause harm or force against another person, it can also be associated or charged alongside other crimes. Here are some crimes that relate to assault:
- Battery, battery on a peace officer, and battery causing serious bodily injury. The term “assault and battery” go together for a reason: assault is the intention and attempt to do harm, and battery is the so-called follow-through, the actual action of harming another person. Simple battery can be as basic as shoving a stranger or spitting on a customer, but it can increase in severity based the victim being a peace officer and whether the battery action caused serious injury to the victim’s body. Simple battery is generally prosecuted as a misdemeanor, but elevated versions may be treated as a felony crime.
- Disturbing the peace. Made illegal by California Penal Code 415, disturbing the peace is a catch-all phrase for any action of provoking another person in public with specific, direct fight words or making loud noise in order to disturb others. It often goes with assault because it is the act of provoking, which shows intent and attempt. It is treated as a misdemeanor crime, though a less severe one than simple assault.
- Throwing an object at a motor vehicle. In assault and battery cases, one way to contact the victim is by throwing an object at them, meaning that assault does not have to be direct skin-to-skin contact between two people. In the case that a person throws an object at a car, van, motorcycle, or other moving vehicle, the case can be charged as the crimes of either an assault or as throwing an object at a motor vehicle. This is treated as a misdemeanor crime.
Is Simple Assault Always A Crime?
In California, most simple assault is tried and prosecuted as a crime, depending how the alleged victim chooses to press charges.
There is, however, a way for alleged victims to seek reimbursement for damages caused, without pushing criminal charges: a civil lawsuit. In a civil lawsuit about assault, the victim sues the assaulter for reimbursement of things such as lost wages, medical bills, or other costs associated with the assault.
Importantly, in a civil lawsuit, the victim can sue the alleged assaulter without that person being charged with the crime or without being deemed guilty of it because it is possible for a person to sue anyone and up to the courts to decide whether the other party is indeed responsible for the damages.
How Will My Lawyer Try to Beat My Assault Charge?
If you are charged with (formally accused of) the crime of assault in California, a prudent move is to secure or retain a lawyer as soon as possible. We do not recommend attempting to navigate the legal system and legal defense process on your own, as it is a confusing, bureaucratic system.
Defense lawyers specialize in defending their clients against charges brought against them. Defense lawyers also frequently specialize in specific types of crimes, so it is possible to find a lawyer who specializes in criminal defense of specific assault crimes in your region. This is a good path to follow because your lawyer can provide expert knowledge of the laws as well as how local courts (judges and jurors) often apply the laws.
Upon securing a lawyer to defend you in your case, your lawyer will develop a defense strategy that hinges on the facts and the impressions of the case upon those deciding it. It is your duty and responsibility to share all facts pertaining to the incident as question as openly and clearly as possible, in order to give your lawyer and legal team the chance to mount the strongest possible defense.
Here are some common defense strategies against assault your legal team may consider:
- Self-defense. In California, as in many other states, you are legally protected from actions you performed that attempted to, or did, result in harm on another person as long as your actions where in response to a reasonable belief that said person was going to first inflict harm upon your body. Known as self-defense, you may be able to argue this right if you can show that the alleged victim was instead going to injure or cause harm to you first.
- Defense of others. Similar to defending yourself, California also legally protects situations wherein you acted, or attempted to act, in order to prevent another person from causing harm to one or more other persons, not including yourself.
- Lack of ability to inflict such violence or force. The California law prohibits assault hinges on the ability of you, the assaulter, at the time of the alleged incident to inflict such violence or force upon the other person. If you did not have such an ability at that moment, you may be able to argue this point successfully.
- Lack of intent. Because the law defines assault as an attempt to use force or violence, the idea of an attempt implies intent – you meant to do so. But if your actions were accidentally or mistaken by the alleged victim, you may be able to show you had no intention of causing harm or injury to the person.
- This can include a range of strategies, such as your innocence itself, a false accusation by the alleged victim, whether by accident or on purpose (such as for a personal vendetta against you), or a simple case of wrong person, wrong place, wrong time.
What Is the Punishment for Being Guilty of Assault?
In California, violent crimes can be tried and punished as either misdemeanor crimes or felony crimes. A misdemeanor is the less offensive of the two, so it is punished in a less severe manner than felony crimes. The long-term effects of misdemeanor punishment are also minimal when compared to the far-reaching negative impact that a felony conviction can render on one’s life.
California law prosecutes simple assault as a misdemeanor crime per California Penal Code Section 241. If you are convicted of (determined guilty) of assault in California, your punishment will be some combination of the following situations:
- Being imprisoned in a county jail (different from a state prison) for up to 6 months
- Paying a fine of up to $1,000
If, however, you are convicted of other types of assault, the penalties may increase, per various subsections of Penal Code Section 241. For instance, if you convicted of assault upon a parking control officer, your punishment is some combination of the following situations:
- Being imprisoned in a county jail for up to 6 months
- Paying a fine of up to $2,000
If you are convicted of assault upon a peace officer, your punishment is some combination of the following situations:
- Being imprisoned in a county jail for up to 1 year
- Paying a fine of up to $2,000
Additional situations of assault align with the last punishment (up to 1 year in jail, up to $2,000 fine), depending on the victim of the assault and the circumstances therein, including but not limited to the following: a juror in a related legal action, a member of the United States Armed Forces, a school employee, a highway worker, a person on the property of (including the vehicle of) a public transit provider, or any person at a park or on a school property.
Assault in California: Know The Facts
Here is a brief summary of the facts about assault in California:
- Simple assault is the mere intention and attempt to injure someone, but not the action of injuring the person. That action is reserved for the crime of battery.
- There are several types of assault, depending on who the victim was and what types of force, weapons, tools, or other methods were used to force upon the victim.
- Most assault cases in California are charged and prosecuted as misdemeanor crimes, but some can be elevated to the more severe felony status.
- There are several defense strategies to consider when fighting a charge of assault. An experienced lawyer can guide you through this complicated time.
Finding the Best Assault Attorney Near Me
Has someone brought charges of assault against you? If so, get in touch with our San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney today. Our team of lawyers and legal professionals are experts at navigating California’s crime laws, including assault. We have served clients across San Diego, mounting the best defense strategies. If you’re ready for help during this difficult time, call us today at 619-880-5474.