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Assault with a Deadly Weapon Definition

California imposes strict penalties on those convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. When you hear the term “deadly weapon,” you may assume that we are talking about firearms.

Yet, there is a separate law for assault with a firearm because it is the one weapon that does not touch another person, the victim. Only its output, the bullet, does that.

So what is assault with a deadly weapon if it does not involve firearms?

Assault with a Deadly Weapon in California: Defined

Assault with a deadly weapon is defined in California Penal Code §245.

Assault with a deadly weapon occurs when someone assaults another person either:

  • With a deadly weapon;
  • With a weapon other than a firearm; or
  • With force likely to produce great bodily injury.

Your attorney can help you better understand these factors and how they might affect your case.

What Is a Deadly Weapon?

California law considers a deadly weapon any object or weapon that is inherently deadly or used in a manner capable of causing or likely to cause great bodily injury or death. Objects considered deadly weapons under California law include:

  • A baseball bat,
  • Brass knuckles,
  • A knife,
  • A blunt object, or
  • A glass bottle.

Almost anything, when used with enough force, can be called a deadly weapon. 

What Is Great Bodily Injury?

California law considers great bodily injury to be a substantial physical injury that is greater than minor harm. Examples of great bodily injuries include:

  • Broken bones,
  • Significant lacerations,
  • Losing consciousness,
  • Open wounds, and
  • Facial wounds.

However, charges for assault with a deadly weapon do not require the victim to sustain injuries whatsoever. The prosecutor only has to establish that you had the ability to inflict great bodily injury and the victim believed you would do so.

For example, if you purposely threw a hammer at someone’s head with all your strength, but missed, you could still be charged with assault with a deadly weapon. 

Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon

The crime of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon does not exist in California. However, assault with a deadly weapon is frequently referred to as “aggravated assault.” 

Throwing Bricks at Vehicles – A Scenario

Jon Berger and Billy Waltzer (not their real names), both 16 years old, decided on a whim late one night, to get to the overpass of the highway close to their homes.

Along the way, they found three bricks loose on the ground by an abandoned home. They picked them up and put them in Jon’s backpack which he always wore everywhere he went.

When they got to the highway overpass, Billy dared Jon to throw one or two of them at cars passing underneath the overpass on their side. The target was to be the rooftops of the cars and the timing had to be just right to hit the roof exactly.

On the first try, Jon missed the car entirely as the brick fell behind the car onto the road. For the next try, Jon dropped the second brick sooner, but the brick hit the front window, crashing through the glass, and knocking out the driver.

The car bounced off the right-side wall just past the overpass, then careened over to the other side of the highway, headed straight into another car coming from the opposite direction. Jon and Billy looked on in horror as their prank escalated into a terrible disaster.

A mother, father, and two out of three children in the back seat died on impact in the second oncoming car. A baby, still in its seat, was pulled out with only minor scratches. The driver of the first car also died at the scene from his injuries.

The two boys were caught because someone had seen the boys earlier on the overpass and called police. While the police did not arrive in time to avert the accident, they caught the two boys sitting on the ground of the bridge crying.

The backpack was found at the point where the bricks were thrown, and the third brick was found inside the pack.

What was a dangerous boys’ prank, was now a murder case, due to the number of deaths involved, and a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, was now a felony second-degree murder charge.

However, the intent of the two boys was not to commit physical harm against anyone. The defense attorney is also looking at a plea deal that might reduce the sentence further to manslaughter, along with other options.

Penalties for Assault with a Deadly Weapon in California

Individuals charged with assault with a deadly weapon are sentenced according to whether their crime is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Misdemeanor Charge

As a misdemeanor, assault with a deadly weapon carries the maximum penalties of:

  • Misdemeanor probation;
  • Up to one year in jail; and
  • Up to a $1,000 fine.

If the victim was a police officer or firefighter, the crime can be charged as a felony.

Felony Charge

As a felony, assault with a deadly weapon carries the maximum penalties of:

  • Felony probation;
  • Up to four years in prison; and
  • Up to a $10,000 fine.

In the event the victim was a police officer or firefighter, the potential prison sentence increases to five years.

Defenses to Assault with a Deadly Weapon

Being charged with assault with a deadly weapon does not necessarily mean you will be convicted. In some situations, charges result from a misunderstanding that can be remedied without ever going to trial. Some legal defenses to assault with a deadly weapon are described in detail below.


In some situations, use of a deadly weapon is brought on by defending yourself. A criminal defense lawyer can help show that you had a reasonable belief that your life, or the life of another, was in imminent danger.

Thus, you used the amount of force necessary to defend yourself or the other person from that danger.

False Accusations

Unfortunately, false allegations occur on a frequent basis. A person can file a police report based on anger, jealousy, greed, or to seek revenge. Alternatively, an eyewitness can falsely identify you as the party responsible for an attack they saw.

In these situations, the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, is prepared to advocate for you to ensure you are not charged for a crime you did not commit.

We can discredit the allegations against you by providing evidence proving that you are the victim of false accusations.

Lack of Intent

A vital element of any assault charge requires proving that the defendant acted willfully. The prosecutor will attempt to show that you intended to commit the act.

However, a criminal defense attorney can argue that your actions were purely accidental and that you lacked the requisite intent to commit the crime. 

San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney 

If you have a charge of assault with a deadly weapon placed against you, contact the experienced assault and battery attorneys at the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC today for a consultation.

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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