For most people, assault can be a confusing term. This is because it is sometimes used interchangeably with the word "battery." However, assault and battery are two different crimes under California state laws. Under the same laws, an assault is a malicious and illegal attempt to cause bodily harm to another person and is classified under Penal Code 240. Battery, on the other hand, is the use of extreme force or violence when assaulting the other person and is classified as Penal Code 242 under California state laws.
For a person to be convicted of the crime of battery, there must be proof that the defendant acted willfully. In a civil case where a person files for financial compensation against the defendant following an altercation that resulted in physical injuries, the terms assault, and battery are often used.
Understanding Simple Assault And Battery
A simple assault happens when an individual threatens to hurt or deliberately attempts to cause bodily injuries to another. The battery is the actual physical contact that results in bodily harm against the victim's consent.
Although most states consider both crimes a form of physical injury, an assault is an attempted battery and a serious crime that may lead to a conviction without battery being inflicted on the victim. A good example is if a person raises a hand to slap another person. The raising of the hand is an assault in itself. If the slap lands on the other person's face, and they are hurt, then the assaulter has committed a battery.
Furthermore, the law doesn't necessarily require that the victim must sustain injuries to validate the crime of assault. This means that you can be arrested by merely attempting to hurt the other person without necessarily hurting them. If you find yourself in such a situation, you must seek legal help as soon as possible to avoid a lengthy and damaging legal process.
Difference Between Simple Assault And Aggravated Assault
You can be charged with a simple assault if you threaten to hurt someone or cause them bodily injuries, which are less severe. However, if you use a deadly weapon to effect the assault, and the victim ends up sustaining serious physical injuries, the charge will be aggravated assault. An assault may occur as a result of the following:
- Self-defense during an altercation
- A commotion in a public place
- A road confrontation
- A disorderly conduct
Elements Of An Assault Charge
The following are the elements of the crime of simple assault ( what the prosecution needs to prove to pronounce you guilty of the offense):
- You acted in a way that would naturally result in direct application of force on the other person
- You committed that act deliberately
- When you committed that act, you were very much aware that any reasonable person would believe that your conduct would result in applying force to the other person
- When you committed the offense, you could use force on the other person
Let's look at these elements of the crime of simple assault to understand their meaning fully:
Application of force: Application of force is defined as touching another individual in a way they find offensive and which could probably hurt them physically. A rude or offensive touch will be considered a crime no matter how slight it was.
Furthermore, the offense doesn't have to be direct. Even passing an object to hit or touch another person is considered a crime. Again, the object doesn't have to touch the victim for the crime to count. The fact that you deliberately raised the object at them, even if they ducked and missed it, you can still be charged with simple assault.
Acting deliberately or willfully: You commit a crime “willfully” when you consciously conduct yourself or behave in a certain way, willfully or on purpose. Even if you didn't intend to hurt someone or break any law, the fact that you intentionally acted that way and the victim was hurt by your actions, the rules still apply.
You were aware that your actions could result in the application of force: Once again, you must understand that California assault laws apply even if you didn't intend to hurt the victim. As long as you were aware that given the circumstances, there's a high chance that your actions could lead to the application of force on the victim.
Assault On Law Enforcement Officers, Health Or Emergency Personally
A simple assault charge can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony charge. The penalties depend on the degree of force applied, if the victim sustained any injuries, and most importantly, the victim's identity. The penalties for California assault are severe if the victim belongs to a specific profession. Simply put, you face a higher degree of punishment if you assaulted any of the following professionals while performing their duties:
- Law enforcement officer or peace officer
- Emergency medical professional such as paramedics
- Traffic officer
- Animal control officer
- Process server
- Medical professionals
- Search and rescue officers
If you deliberately assaulted any of these professionals while knowing - or had a reason to know - that they belong to any of the above-mentioned professional categories, then you face a possible jail sentence of 12 months and a fine of up to $2,000. The same penalties apply if the victim was a parking control officer (a common target for assault).
Penalties For The Crime Of Simple Assault
If you are accused or charged with a simple assault case under PC 240, the penalties you could face differ if you were accused of a battery case under PC 242. In a simple assault case, you could face the following penalties:
- A maximum of six months in a county jail
- A maximum fine of $1000 or if you committed the assault against a parking tickets officer, the fine could be up to $2000)
- A probation sentence of up to six months.
All these penalties fall under California Penal Code § 240/241. If, however, you assaulted a
a healthcare professional or any of the above listed public workers while they are performing their duties, then you could be sentenced to the following penalties. Note that the same applies according to California Penal Code § § 241, 241.5, 241.6:
- A maximum of up to one year in county or city jail
- A maximum fine of up to $2000
- A probation sentence of up to 12 months.
For wobbler assaults, the assaulter could face between 12 months to
Twenty-four months or three years incarceration in a county jail or state prison. These penalties depend on the offender's criminal history.
Additionally, the offense also attracts a fine of up to $2000 or a probation sentence of up to 12 months or three years per California Penal Codes § § 241.1, 241.2, 241.4, 241.7, 241.8.
Legal Defenses For Simple Assault Charge
Nobody wants to be charged with the crime of assault, or any crime for that matter. No one wants to end up in jail or part with a fine. Most importantly, no one wants to have an assault on their criminal record. The word assault creates the impression that you are a violent person when in fact, you were charged with a minor issue that had nothing to do with violence. To deal with a California assault charge, you and your Riverside criminal defense attorney should consider using some of these legal defenses to win:
You had no ability to use force or inflict violence on the victim: As we already explained, one common element of California assault is the ability to apply force on the victim. However, if you lacked that ability, it will be impossible for the prosecution to argue otherwise, and your criminal defense attorney may prove your innocence based on those grounds.
You conducted yourself in self-defense or in defense of others: Self defense or defense of others who may be in danger of the 'victim's actions is applicable in assault charges and other crime-related offenses if the following elements are true:
- You had reason to believe that you or another person was in danger of suffering physical harm or being touched in an offensive manner
- You believe that the application of force was necessary to evade that danger
- You did not use any more force than was necessary to prevent the danger
Your actions were not willful, or you did not act on purpose with the intention to hurt the victim: If you didn't act deliberately or on purpose with the intent to use force on another person and, by so doing, hurt them, then you cannot be convicted of an assault charge or be guilty of violating PC 240 assault. Your criminal defense attorney should be able to prove that you acted accidentally or that it was a case of misunderstanding. The attorney should also prove that the supposed victim may have misinterpreted your actions. In such cases, you and your criminal defense attorney should ensure that the prosecutor and jury are given the whole story.
You were wrongly accused: Since the law doesn't require a person to have sustained physical injuries to prove that they were assaulted under Penal Code 240 PC, it is not uncommon for people to be accused falsely out of anger, jealousy, or revenge. However, at the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are only too familiar with such scenarios. With our experience in the criminal legal field, we know how to collect the relevant evidence and interview witnesses to ensure the truth is established.
Other Crimes Associated With Simple Assault
In addition to simple assault, California assault charges may be brought alongside other related offenses. They include:
PC 242 California Battery Or Battery Resulting In Serious Bodily Injury
As we explained above, the California crime of battery, Penal Code 242 PC, and a simple assault are different. The former requires the use of force or violence against another person to be classified as battery, while the latter is an attempted battery.
However, it is important to remember that you can be guilty of battery even without necessarily inflicting harm on the supposed victim as long as you managed to touch the victim offensively.
Assault is a misdemeanor offense that attracts a jail term of up to six months and a fine of two thousand dollars. But if you inflicted injury on the victim, you can face more severe penalties under Penal Code 242(d) PC. Under California law, this offense is called a wobbler and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
If it is charged as a California felony, an assault that results in serious bodily harm can earn you between two to four years in prison.
VC 23110 Throwing An Object At A Motor Vehicle
Vehicle Code 23110 VC throwing objects at a motor vehicle is the offense of hurling an object or harmful substance at a moving or parked motor vehicle on a public roadway. In most cases where the facts justify the offense, a prosecutor may opt to prosecute the defendant under Vehicle Code 23110 VC instead of under California’s assault law. Unlike simple assault, hurling an object at a motor vehicle does not require the ability to use force. In other words, a defendant may be guilty of this offense even if the object didn't hit the vehicle or its occupants.
In most cases, a VC 23110 offense is a misdemeanor. However, it is punishable as a felony if the object thrown had the ability to cause serious injuries and the defendant threw it on purpose with the intent to inflict harm on the vehicle's occupant(s).
Assault With A Deadly Weapon PC 245(a)(1)
If you are accused of having committed an assault while using
a deadly weapon such as a gun or knife, or you used other forceful means that had the chance to inflict bodily harm; then you could face a Penal Code 245(a)(1) PC assault with a deadly weapon charge.
Assault with a deadly weapon (ADW) is a wobbler charge which carries a maximum misdemeanor sentence of 12 months in county jail. It also attracts a possible felony jail term of two to four years.
Assault On A Public Officer PC 217.1(a)
The California crime of assault on a public official pc 217, which falls under the Penal Code 217.1 PC, includes simple assault crimes committed against a government official, either in revenge for something or to stop them from performing their official duties. These public officials include judges, prosecution attorneys, public defenders, or any executive officer of a local, state, or federal government. Assaulting a public official is a wobbler charge that attracts a misdemeanor sentence of one year in county jail. It also carries a potential felony sentence of up to sixteen months, two years, or 36 months.
PC 244 Assault With Caustic Chemicals
Assault with caustic chemicals, which falls under Penal Code 244 PC, is a serious assault in California. In legal terms, assault with caustic chemicals refers to inflicting bodily harm to another person by pouring caustic chemicals of any kind on their body with the intention to cause them injury or disfigurement. PC 244 is a felony that comes with a state prison sentence of two, three, or four years.
Disturbing The Peace PC 415
Disturbing the peace laws is highlighted in California Penal Code 415 PC. The penal code specifies that any public fight, verbal or physical, which results in making unreasonable noise that disturbs the peace of others, willful provocative fighting words toward someone else in public is a crime.
Disturbing the peace is often charged as a low-level misdemeanor. The penalty for this particular offense is a maximum of three months in jail. Otherwise, it can also be considered an infraction. If you are faced with California assault under PC 240 and the evidence brought against you is not substantial enough, the prosecutor may be compelled to lower the charges to PC 415, disturbing the peace. This can work to your advantage since the convictions for this offense are significantly lighter compared to penalties for assault.
Lawsuit For California Assault
An individual who is a victim of a simple assault in California has the legal right to file a lawsuit against the responsible parties. The victim can seek medical bills, lost wages, lost earning capacity, loss of quality life, and similar damages. In such cases, it is not a must that the defendant should be found guilty of committing the crimes. Neither do they even have to be charged with the crime. If anything, a person who is declared “not guilty” can be sued and still lose the case. This is because you do not need to prove a civil assault charge beyond a reasonable doubt. The rule of thumb in a civil case is “preponderance of the evidence.” This is a better way to say that the jury believes it is “more likely than not” that the defendant indeed assaulted the plaintiff.
More ever, a defendant can be faced with a civil case on top of the criminal charges following an assault and battery. The law permits the victim to file a civil lawsuit besides the criminal charges a defendant is faced with.
In California, criminal prosecutions are often designed to penalize offenders for their unlawful conduct. On the other hand, civil cases are meant to restore the victims and make them "whole" by compensating them for their damages or suffering.
If you have been assaulted and brought a civil lawsuit against the preparators to recover damages, you will need to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care
- The defendant violated that duty of care through recklessness, negligence, or a deliberate unlawful act
- As a result of this violation, you suffered damages.
Special Damages in Civil Assault and Battery Cases
Besides the typical damages the plaintiff may be awarded in a successful assault lawsuit, such as medical expenses, etc., they may also receive special damages. Such damages are called punitive damages, which the plaintiff is awarded to cover therapy expenses if the plaintiff was found to be traumatized by the assault. Civil assault and battery are willful offenses, meaning they are caused by the deliberate actions of the defendant and not negligence.
These punitive damages offered to victims of intentional offenses are meant to punish the defendant for their irresponsible behavior and to discourage others from doing the same in the future. In most cases, punitive damages can be two or three times more than the regular damages awarded to the victim.
The legal defenses used in a civil case of assault and those used in a criminal assault charge are the same. For more information, please check out our resources on Lawsuits for Assault and Battery in California.
Statute of Limitations
Keep in mind that if a plaintiff decides to file a civil lawsuit, they have a specific time to do so before it lapses. In California, the statute of limitations for assault charges should be filed within one year. This 12 months window period is for misdemeanor charges, while felony charges can be filed within three years from the time the assault was committed.
What To Do If You Are Faced With An Assault Charge
A criminal charge in Riverside, CA, be it an assault or battery or any other type of crime, calls for aggressive defense from an experienced lawyer. No matter the severity of the crime or the number of charges you are facing, it is critical to have an attorney who will help you maneuver through the complicated legal process and judicial system as well as provide you with a better understanding of what you are up against. It is imperative that you seek legal representation as soon as you have been arrested or if you believe you are under some kind of investigation.
The earlier your attorney gets started on the case, the easier it will be for them to develop a defense strategy that will lead to the best possible outcome for you. You should never underestimate any criminal charge since your freedom and future hang in the balance when you are arrested. With the charge comes a possible jail term, hefty fines, and a permanent criminal record that may affect your future prospects at education, employment, and other social privileges.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we can help you avoid all that. Our attorneys are well versed with California criminal laws and experienced in handling criminal defense cases and trials. For each case we take up, we employ a unique strategy and defenses to ensure you receive the best possible outcome for your case. From investigation to gathering evidence, arranging bail, and preparing for trial, we will hold your hand throughout the legal process from start to finish. To make the process easier for you, we provide a free consultation and an initial case review to help us determine the way forward. If you face an assault, battery, or any criminal charge in Riverside, don't hesitate. Call us on 951-946-6366 to get started.