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California law criminalizes assault, which is defined in PC 240 as an unlawful attempt to commit a violent injury on a person coupled with the present ability to do so.

If you have been accused of assault, you could face time in jail as well as other penalties.

At our law firm, we work with clients to fight back against assault charges in California. Our team has helped many clients receive a favorable disposition to their case, but the sooner we can get started the better. Contact one of our California assault attorneys today.

What Are Examples of Assault?

The following must be true for an assault to have taken place:

  • The defendant took some act that was likely to result in force being used against someone
  • The defendant took this action willfully
  • The defendant knew that a reasonable person would believe that they were about to get hurt as a result of the act
  • The defendant had the ability to apply force when he or she acted

There are many common examples of assault:

  • Children throw rocks at people walking by their home.
  • Two people get into an argument in a parking garage. A driver takes a swing at the other, who ducks to avoid getting punched.
  • Two people grab the last big screen TV on a Black Friday doorbuster sale and one tries to kick the other person away.

In each of these examples, the defendant attempted to cause a violent injury to another person and also had the ability to inflict force.

However, there are some situations that are not assault. Shouting angry words at a person from across the room is not assault. Likewise, threatening someone on a social media account is not an assault (though it may be another crime). In these examples, the aggressive person has no present ability to inflict force on a person.

Similarly, a person who turns around quickly and slams their shoulder into another person’s face has also not committed an assault. Their accidents were purely accidental and not undertaken willfully, even if the victim suffers serious injuries.

What is Felony Assault in California?

Felony assault is also called aggravated assault, which is a much more serious crime. Some aggravating circumstance is present that renders the assault particularly blameworthy, so the prosecutor can charge for aggravated assault:

  • The defendant used a deadly weapon, like a gun or knife, to commit the assault
  • The defendant committed the assault with the intent to commit another felony, such as rape or murder

You can find the aggravated assault statute at Penal Code 245.

What Are the Punishments for Assault and Aggravated Assault?

Simple assault in California is a misdemeanor offense. The penalties include:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000

If a defendant is convicted of aggravated assault, the prosecutor gets to choose whether to charge as a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor aggravated assault carries the following penalties:

  • Up to a year in jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000

A felony conviction carries even more severe penalties, including time in California prison. A convict can also lose important civil rights, such as the right to vote or serve on a jury. Felons also lose their right to possess a firearm. For life, while misdemeanor defendants lose the right for ten years.

Don’t forget the collateral consequences that follow any assault conviction. With a criminal record, many defendants struggle to find employment since the conviction shows up in a background report.

Are There Defenses to an Assault Charge?

Yes. Some of the most successful defenses include:

  • Self-defense. A person can use self-defense if they reasonably believe they or another person is about to suffer a bodily injury and they believe that self-defense is necessary to avoid the danger. The person can only use the amount of force that is reasonably necessary to defend against the attack.
  • Lack of intent. The defendant might have injured someone accidentally or involuntarily.
  • Lack of present ability to harm. The defendant might have been too far away to actually violently injure a person.
  • Mistaken identity. The police might have picked up the wrong person for the crime.

The prosecutor always has the burden of proof and needs to prove simple or aggravated assault beyond a reasonable doubt. If they fail to do so, then the defendant cannot be convicted.

We can’t talk about defenses without pointing out that the victim does not actually need to be injured. It’s enough that the defendant could have inclicted violent injury. Pointing out the victim walked away unscathed is not a good defense.

Contact a California Assault Attorney

If the police have arrested you for assault, time is of the essence. At our firm, we have seen many criminal defendants make simple mistakes that end up leading to their conviction.

For help with your case, contact us today. The Law Offices of Kerry Armstrong, APLC, has tackled some of the most difficult cases in California. We are proud of our record and want to help represent you, too.

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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