What Is Simple Assault: Understanding the Basics

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Simple assault is a common crime, but exactly what is simple assault? California law defines simple assault as an unlawful attempt, with the present ability, to inflict a violent injury on another person.

This means that you can be charged with simple assault even if you don’t actually hit or hurt the other person, as long as you were capable of harming them and meant to do so. 

Being charged with simple assault can result in severe penalties. However, defenses are available to those accused. Below, we discuss the elements of the crime, provide examples of simple assault, and explain how to defend against a simple assault charge.

If you are facing a simple assault charge, it’s important to contact a criminal defense lawyer online or call 619- 304-2058 as soon as possible.

What Are the Elements of Simple Assault?

For a jury to find someone guilty of simple assault, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:

  • Unlawfulness. The act must be against the law. You must not have acted in self-defense or defense of another.
  • Application of force. You must have committed an act that would likely result in the direct “application of force” to someone else. “Application of force” means any harmful or offensive touching, even a minor touch.
  • Willfulness. You must have acted willfully or on purpose, deliberately or intentionally. It does not matter if you did not intend to hurt someone.
  • Awareness. You must have been aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the act would directly and probably result in the application of force to another person.
  • Present ability. You must have had the present ability to apply force to another person. This means that you must have been close enough to reach them and had the means to injure them.

In simpler terms, for you to be found guilty of simple assault, the prosecutor must prove that:

  • You intentionally touched or attempted to touch someone else in a way that was harmful or offensive, and
  • You were capable of touching them at the time.

Even a minor touch can be considered assault if it is done in a rude or threatening way. For example, if you push someone or shove them (even fairly softly), that is assault. 

You cannot be found guilty of assault if you acted in self-defense or defense of another person. For example, if someone is attacking you or a loved one and you push them away to stop them, that is not assault.

Examples of Simple Assault

Some examples of actions that could be considered simple assault in California include:

  • Threatening to hit or punch someone,
  • Threatening someone with a weapon,
  • Throwing something at someone,
  • Raising or swinging a fist or other weapon at someone,
  • Spitting on someone, and
  • Touching someone without their permission in a way that is meant to be annoying or hurtful.

In each of these examples, the actions are likely to cause fear or harm in another person, and the actor is actually capable of harming them. 

What Are the Penalties for Simple Assault?

Simple assault in California is a misdemeanor crime that can be punished by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. However, the actual punishment will vary depending on the facts of the case, such as:

  • Whether you have been convicted for a crime previously,
  • Whether the victim was a police officer or other government worker, and
  • Whether the assault took place in a domestic violence situation.

These circumstances increase the penalties for simple assault to up to one year in the county jail, a fine of up to $2,000, or both. 

If you face multiple assault charges, you could face additional fines and jail time.

Furthermore, the person you assaulted has the right to sue you in civil court for monetary compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and other related issues.

How to Defend Against a Simple Assault Charge

You may be wondering how to beat a simple assault charge. Your first step should be contacting a knowledgeable simple assault lawyer.

An attorney can help you understand your rights and options and develop a strong defense strategy. Some defenses your attorney may use include:

  • Self-defense—you acted to protect yourself or someone else from harm;
  • Defense of property—you acted to protect your property from damage or theft;
  • Lack of ability—you were not physically able to hurt the other person;
  • Alibi—you were somewhere else at the time of the assault and could not have committed the crime;
  • Lack of intent—you did not mean to act as you did; and
  • Duress—you were forced to commit the assault by someone else.

It is important to note that each defense has its own specific requirements. The best defense for your case will depend on the particular facts and circumstances. 

What Are Your Rights When Charged with Simple Assault?

If someone accuses you of simple assault, it is essential to remember that you have rights. The law protects these rights, and they cannot be taken away from you.

The Right to Remain Silent

You have the right to not say anything to the police or anyone else about the accusation. You do not have to answer any questions.

If you say something that makes you sound guilty, it could be used against you in court. Even if you think you are innocent, it is best to stay silent and talk to a lawyer first.

The Right to an Attorney

You have the right to have a lawyer represent you. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint one. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and protect your interests.

The Presumption of Innocence

You are presumed innocent until proven guilty. This means that the prosecutor must prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for you to be convicted.

The reasonable doubt standard requires evidence that is so convincing that it leaves no reasonable doubt in the minds of the judge or jury that you are guilty.

Let Us Represent You

Simple assault is a serious crime with serious consequences. If you have been charged with simple assault in California, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.

With well more than 100 jury cases tried, The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, has a proven track record of successfully defending clients against many criminal charges, including simple assault. We will go to great lengths to safeguard your freedom, rights, and future.

Contact us online or call 619-304-2058 today for a free and confidential 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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