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What is assault in California?

On Behalf of | Mar 5, 2024 | State Criminal Defense

Under California law, assault is defined as “an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.” This definition is detailed in Section 240 of the California Penal Code and emphasizes the intention and capability to commit harm, rather than the actual infliction of injury.

The distinguishing feature of assault in California is the focus on the attempt and ability to cause physical harm, which means that physical contact or actual injury is not necessary for an act to be considered assault.

Key components of assault under California law

In order for a person to be charged and convicted with assault in California, specific elements must be part of the case. These include:

  • Unlawful attempt: The individual must have made an attempt or taken some action that could potentially result in a violent injury to another person. This attempt indicates an intention to cause harm.
  • Present ability: At the time of the attempt, the individual must have had the present ability to inflict harm or injury. This means they must have been physically capable of carrying out the assault at the moment the action was attempted.
  • No requirement for physical contact: Unlike battery, which requires physical contact, assault in California can occur even if no physical contact was made with the victim. The essence of the crime lies in the attempt and the ability to inflict harm.

A conviction on this charge shouldn’t be possible if the basic components of the charge aren’t met.

Legal implications and penalties

The classification of assault in California typically falls under the category of a misdemeanor. It’s subject to legal penalties including fines, imprisonment in county jail for up to six months or both.

The severity of the penalties can vary based on specific circumstances surrounding the case, such as the use of a weapon or the assault being committed against certain protected individuals, such as law enforcement officers, firefighters or emergency personnel, which may elevate an offense to a felony with more severe consequences.

Building a defense against an assault charge can be a complex undertaking. Legal assistance is critical in these cases because of how much is at stake and how difficult it is to navigate the complexities of the criminal justice system alone.