Important California Laws To Know – Assault

Important California Laws To Know – Assault

Important California Laws To Know – Assault

California Penal Code § 240 PC defines the crime of assault or “simple assault” to which it is sometimes referred, in contrast to the crime of “aggravated assault.” Section 240 makes it a misdemeanor to commit or attempt to commit a violent injury on another person in California. Assault is a distinctive act because anyone may be charged with it even if they have not actually hurt anyone by their actions.

While many laypersons often use the terms “assault” and “battery” interchangeably, they are actually two distinct crimes. The crime of battery involves the actual use of unlawful force or violence against another person while an assault involves just an attempt to use violence or force.

PC § 240 states that

“an assault is an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.”

The slightest touching will count if done in a rude or offensive manner, thus the application of force may be any harmful or offensive touching. A charge of assault may be warranted even if the touching did not or could not cause any sort of injury or harm. Also, contact with the victim may be done indirectly by causing an object to touch the victim.

The act must simply be done willingly or on purpose. It is not required that the assailant intend to break the law, hurt another person, or gain an advantage. It is also not required that the assailant intended to use force, only that he or she was aware that, based on the facts and circumstances, there was a good chance that their actions would result in the application of force.

The following are examples of incidents that would be considered as an “assault” under California law:

  • threatening to hit or kill another person;
  • pointing a weapon at another person and threatening them.;
  • swinging at another person and missing;
  • spitting at another person;
  • wearing a mask while threatening another person; and
  • throwing an object at another person.

The prosecution must prove the following four facts to convict someone of assault in California:

  1. The defendant committed some act that was likely to result in the use of force against another person;
  2. The defendant committed this act willfully;
  3. The defendant was aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that this act would directly and probably result in force being applied to the other person; and
  4. When the defendant acted, he or she did so with the ability to apply such force to the other person.


Legal defenses that challenge the alleged perpetrator’s intent and ability to inflict force or violence may effectively contest an assault charge. When charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties for assault typically are a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000) and/or up-to six (6) months in county jail.

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