Criminal assault may appear to be a minor crime, but you could face harsh penalties if you are convicted, especially when it is treated as a felony offense. The first thing you should do when charged with this offense is to contact a skilled assault attorney who may be able to help you get out of the situation.
At Darwish Law, we have knowledgeable Santa Ana attorneys who can help to have your charges dropped or reduced. Our attorneys have the skills to present a case legally and prepare a winning defense strategy for you.
What Defines the Crime of Assault?
Mostly referred to as simple assault, assault is a deliberate attempt to harm or injure another person physically. Under PEN CODE 240, assault also entails a threatening statement or act that leads another person to believe they’re about to be attacked, for instance, threatening to punch, kick, poke, spit, or slap a person.
Assault Vs. Battery
Although assault and battery are often used together, they are not the same crime. Whereas assault is a mere attempt or threat to perform the act, battery involves doing the actual action.
Unlike battery whereby one has to make bodily contact (regardless of how slight) with the victim, the crime of assault doesn’t involve any bodily contact or infliction of injury. For example, attempting or threatening to punch someone will be assault while going ahead to punch the person will be a battery.
The crime of assault can happen without battery, but a battery offense cannot occur without an assault. This is because an assault is a behavior that results in a battery; that is, assault is a lesser crime than a battery. However, you can be convicted of both crimes in case you threatened to hurt someone then went ahead to fulfill the threat.
Elements of Assault
Elements of assault include the aspects that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt for one to be convicted of assault. They include:
You performed an act, which (with no doubt) would have led to the direct use of force on someone else.
The use of force means any offensive or harmful touching. Even the slightest contact would count if you did it in an offensive or rude manner.
It is considered assault even if the attempted touching didn’t or couldn’t result in an injury. Also, the attempted touching need not be direct. Even if you used an object to try to have contact with the victim indirectly, you would be guilty.
You performed the act willfully
If the prosecutor proves that you deliberately attempted to touch the victim, you might be convicted. You don’t need to have had the intention to violate the law, harm the victim, or gain an advantage. In simple terms, the prosecutor doesn’t need to show that you had the intent to commit an assault for you to be convicted. He/she only needs to prove that you had the intention of doing the act that resulted in an assault.
You knew that your action would result in the use of force
You do not need to have intended to apply force on the victim for you to be convicted of assault in California. If the prosecutor can prove that you were aware that given the situation, there existed a chance that your action would result in force being used, you might be convicted.
When you performed the act, you had the physical ability to use force on the victim
The prosecutor has to show that you were capable of inflicting violence or force on the victim under the circumstances. Failure to do so, you will not be convicted of assault.
Penalties for Assault
A California assault is charged as a misdemeanor offense. The possible penalties include:
- A maximum of six months of a county jail sentence
- A fine not exceeding $1,000
- Summary probation
Assault on Emergency Personnel or a Police Officer
If you assaulted a person belonging to particular professional categories, the penalties would be more severe. To be specific, you will be subjected to harsher punishments if you assaulted the following professionals in the line of their duties:
- Peace officers (law enforcement or police officers)
- Process servers
- Paramedics or emergency medical technicians
- Traffic officers
- Animal control officers
- Nurses or doctors offering emergency medical attention
- Code enforcement officers
- Members of a search and rescue team
If you assaulted any of the persons mentioned above and you were aware, or you reasonably should have been aware that they belonged to these professions, you will be sentenced to up to one year in county jail and pay a maximum fine of $2,000.
Also, the fine would increase to $2,000 in case the assaulted person is a parking control officer who was in the line of his or her duty because for clear reasons, he/she is a possible common target of criminal assault.
Legal Defenses to Assault Charges
If you are facing assault charges, it doesn’t necessarily imply that you will be convicted. You can hire an experienced Santa Ana attorney, who may boost the chances of having your charges dropped or reduced. The lawyer will review the circumstances surrounding your case, study cases that are the same as yours, and create a solid defense strategy. He/ she can use the following defenses in trying to prove your innocence.
Lack of the ability to use violence or force
For you to be convicted of assault, you must have been capable of inflicting force or violence on the alleged victim. If your attorney can prove that you didn’t have the ability to inflict force, you should not be liable for the assault charges.
For instance, Terry is sitting in one corner of the room while Ann is sitting opposite Terry in the other corner. They have a discussion that turns into an argument. In the heat of the argument, Terry spits in Ann’s direction from where she is seated, but Ann is too far away that the spit could not have possibly landed on her. In this case, Terry cannot be convicted of assault based on this action.
Self-defense or defense of another person
This defense will only apply if the following are true:
- You had a reason to believe that you or another person was in immediate danger of being unlawfully touched or suffering a physical injury.
- You had a reason to believe that you needed to immediately apply force to defend yourself or another person against the danger.
- You applied the exact force you reasonably believed was necessary to defend yourself or another person against the danger, and not excessive force.
However, note that mere words, regardless of how offensive they are, cannot justify a criminal assault. Thus, self-defense or defense of another person is only valid if you had a reason to believe that you or another person was in imminent danger of physical injury or offensive touching. For instance, it’s unlawful to attempt to kick someone because they said offensive words to you.
It was not a willful act or lack of intent
In any case that you did not intentionally try to apply force against another person, you are NOT guilty of assault. It could be that your action was accidental or it resulted from a mere misunderstanding. It could also be that it was the victim who misinterpreted your action. If your attorney can prove this to the judge, you may walk free.
Since an assault victim doesn’t need to show that he/she suffered a physical injury, it is easy for an individual to accuse another person falsely of committing an assault. False accusations can be out of jealousy, need for revenge, or anger. Our attorneys are familiar with these situations. We know how to cross-examine witnesses and collect proof to ensure the right part of the story is unveiled.
Charges Related to Assault
Along with or instead of being charged with assault, you can also be charged with the following related offenses.
Aggravated Assault (Penal Code 245(a) (1)
This is also referred to as assault with a deadly weapon. In case you committed assault with a weapon like a knife, gun, or you used other means that were likely to result in serious bodily injury, you will be charged with aggravated assault.
This offense can be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor penalties include a maximum of a one-year sentence in county jail while felony penalties include up to four years of a county jail sentence.
Assault with Caustic Chemicals (Penal Code 244)
Assault with caustic chemicals is more serious than simple assault. It refers to placing or throwing any form of corrosive chemicals on the body of another person with the intention of injuring or disfiguring the person.
Assault with caustic chemicals is considered a felony, with a maximum sentence of four years in the State prison.
Assault against a Public Official (Penal Code 217.1(a)
If you committed simple assault on any person holding a public office, either by retaliating or preventing them from performing their official duties, you might be charged under Penal Code 217.1(a) instead of PC 240.
Public officials, in this case, include prosecutors, public defenders, judges, and any person that has been elected or is an executive officer of federal, state, or local governments.
This is a wobbler offense, which means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanor punishments include a one-year county jail sentence while felony penalties include up to a three years sentence in county jail.
Disturbing the Peace (PC 415)
As per PC 415, it is an offense to fight another person publicly, make insensible noise with the purpose of disturbing other people, or direct provoking words towards someone else in public.
This offense is a low-standard misdemeanor. If convicted, you will face a punishment of up to 90 days in county jail sentence. In other cases, this crime may also be charged as an infraction.
In most cases, if you get charged with PC 240 assault and the proof against you isn’t strong enough for a conviction, the prosecution might agree to lower the charges and have you convicted of PC 415 charges. This would be a good outcome for you since PC 415 penalties are less severe than those of PC 240 assault.
Battery (PC 242)
As we mentioned above, assault and battery are two different crimes since a battery involves the actual use of violence or force against another person. However, note that just like assault, you can be convicted of battery even if you didn’t cause the victim any bodily injury. What counts is that you touched the victim in an offensive or harmful manner.
Battery is a misdemeanor offense with penalties that include a maximum fine of $2,000 and a maximum jail sentence of six months.
If you caused the victim severe bodily injury, you would be subjected to stricter penalties under PC 243(d)-aggravated battery. PC 243(d) can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Felony charges carry a maximum of four years of state imprisonment.
Throwing a Substance at a Vehicle (VC 23110)
VC 23110 crime happens when a person throws an object at a vehicle that is on a public street. If the facts can be justified, a prosecutor can choose to prosecute you under VC 23110 instead of assault law. This crime does not need the prosecutor to prove that you had the ability to use force on the victim as assault. Thus, you may be convicted of this offense even if there wasn’t any possibility of the thrown object hitting the motor vehicle.
In many cases, this crime is a misdemeanor. However, if the substance you threw was capable of resulting in severe injury and you intended to cause serious bodily harm, it will be charged as a felony.
Contact an Orange County Criminal Attorney Near Me
If you or your loved one in Santa Ana is facing assault charges, contact Darwish Law firm as soon as possible at 714-887-4810. Our attorneys have years of experience handling criminal cases. We pay attention to the minor but essential facts of your case to prepare a strong, winning defense strategy.