In California, simple assault is a misdemeanor offense. It occurs when you do something willfully that may result in physical force on another person. For your actions to be deemed as simple assault, if you did the same to another person under similar circumstances, they would also assume you would have applied physical force on them. California PEN 240 defines penalties for simple assault.

If accused of simple assault, the prosecutor will charge you with a misdemeanor whereby punishment upon a conviction could lead to a jail sentence. Besides the legal penalties, criminal record consequences could adversely affect your life, requiring you to fight against a conviction. With the help of our lawyers at The Law Offices of Fountain & Hattersley, you can prevail over the allegations leveled against you.

Defining Simple Assault according to PEN 240

Simple assault is best defined by understanding the offense's aspects that the prosecution must prove to obtain a guilty verdict against you. According to PEN 240, the prosecutor must determine the following beyond a reasonable doubt to have the judge sentence you for the offense:

  • You performed a deed that naturally might have resulted in the direct use of force on someone else.
  • You willfully performed the act.
  • You knew the act could result in a regular person believing that the deed might directly or possibly result in force being applied to them.
  • When committing the act, you used or applied force against the victim.

Applying of or using Force

The law defines applying force as any offensive or harmful touching. Even if the touching is slight,  done in an offensive or rude manner, it counts as simple assault. In California, you can be accused of assault even when the touching could not or did not result in any form of injury. Additionally, simple assault does not have to happen directly but can be through using an item that touches the alleged victim.

For instance, you and your colleague are arguing about political candidates. Each of you supports a different candidate and believes their candidate choice is the best. When the argument becomes heated, you throw water at them. Glass water cannot cause injuries or harm to your colleague. However, the act can be considered assault in California and have you face possible jail time if convicted of the offense.

It is important to know that you do not need to have successfully applied force to another. You are guilty of the crime because you performed an act that may have led to the use or application of force. For instance, in the earlier example, you may have missed your colleague with the water, but the fact that it may have landed on them, means you are still guilty of simple assault.

Acting Willfully

An act is willful if performed on purpose or willingly. In this case, it does not matter whether you intended to:

  • Violate the law
  • Cause harm or injuries to any person
  • Gain the upper hand or advantage over someone

As long as you were not forced and knew what you were doing, you intentionally did it. For instance, if you want to join a sorority group, you are required to creep up to an unpopular girl, push them against the wall, and spit on them. One day as the target walks down the corridor, you do this, but unfortunately, the police are called by a staff member. In this case, the student can accuse you of simple assault, and you face charges.

Although you never harmed the student and were not violating the law, you are still guilty of simple assault. Pinning someone against the wall and spitting at them is offensive, and you purposely did it, so you face charges for violating PEN 240.

You Knew the Deed could Result in Force.

Emphasizing that you do not have to have planned to use or apply force against your victim for you to be found guilty of violating PEN 240 is critical. All that is needed is the awareness that your deeds would have led to the application of force under the circumstances.

For instance, you discover your boyfriend has been cheating on you with your best friend. You receive a tip that they are at her house having fun with friends. Out of anger, you decide to confront them, and you hide a gun in your purse. When you arrive, your boyfriend and friend tell you to leave and are not welcome there.

Because of anger, you take out your gun and shoot in their direction, although aiming at the house. As you shoot, you are aware your actions can harm, but you do so to scare them. This awareness that you could have injured any of them is an element of assault. In this case, you will not only be charged with simple assault but with assault using a deadly or dangerous weapon, according to PEN 245(a)(1).

Differentiating Assault from Battery

Most people do not understand that battery and assault are two different offenses, especially because they are often used together in a phrase, suggesting they are one thing. However, these two offenses are different in California. The primary difference between the two is that:

  • According to PEN 240, assault is when your actions can cause physical injuries or unwelcome touch on another person
  • Under PEN 242 battery, it is when you apply force or use violence against someone

The crime of simple assault does not require direct physical contact with the victim, whereas, in a battery, physical contact is a requirement. Similarly, one may say simple assault is an attempted battery while the battery is when the assault is completed.

Penalties for Violating PEN 240

As earlier stated, simple assault is a misdemeanor in California. If you are charged with the offense, and the prosecutor determines the elements earlier discussed, the jury will convict you of the offense. In this case, the possible legal penalties you will face include:

  • Summary or misdemeanor probation
  • Serving six months or less in County jail
  • A fine not exceeding $1,000 penalized in addition to or instead of the jail sentence

Assaulting Emergency Personnel or a Peace Officer

Besides assaulting a civilian, you can be accused of assaulting a police officer or emergency personnel. When you assault such a person, the punishments are steeper than when the assault is directed to a regular person. In California, if the simple assault charges were against any of the following, your penalties are enhanced. These are:

  • Peace officers that include the police and other types of law enforcement officers
  • Firefighters
  • Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) or paramedics
  • Lifeguards
  • Process servers
  • Animal control officers
  • Traffic officers
  • Doctors or nurses giving emergency medical attention, among others

If the victim of your assault falls under any of the above groupings and you were aware of that or should have been aware, the county jail time is enhanced to one year at the maximum. Additionally, the fine charge is raised to a maximum of $2,000.

Equally, if the victim of your assault was an officer that controls parking, the fine charged for the offense also increases to $2,000. An important point to note is that assaulting the persons mentioned above while performing their duties enhances your legal penalties. However, if you assaulted them without knowing who they were and were not on duty, the simple assault offense is prosecuted as a regular person.

Defending Simple Assault Charges in California

No one wants to serve a jail sentence or part with their money as payment for fines. Additionally, no one wants to have a guilty verdict for assault in their criminal record. The other consequences of having a criminal record are equally severe, just like the legal penalties one receives. Some people will assume you are violent and deny you opportunities, yet you can receive a conviction for this offense because of not necessarily violent behavior.

Despite the charges and a possible conviction, you can still beat them with the help of a criminal attorney on your side. When charged with the offense, you must find an attorney experienced in criminal matters and narrate to them what happened. Your attorney will also study the prosecutor's case and interview the arresting officers to establish any weaknesses in the case and process. For instance, if your Miranda rights were not read for you when you were arrested, your attorney can use this in your defense.

The witnesses to the incident are also interviewed, and every form of evidence to help your case is collected. Based on the alleged offense circumstances, your attorney will formulate defense strategies that will see you acquitted from the charges or you receiving more favorable results. Some of the defenses your attorney can use in court include:

You had no Ability to Cause Violence or use Force

Earlier, as we discussed the elements or aspects of simple assault crime that a prosecutor must establish, the ability to apply force or use violence against the alleged victim is critical. Before the court could rule a guilty verdict, the prosecutor must prove that you could use force or violence, but you can be acquitted of the offense if this is not determined.

For instance, you are watching your favorite football team play against another in a bar. In the same bar, there are fans of the other team supporting their own as well. As you enjoy the game, you start arguing about which team is the better one with the other team supporters. The argument becomes heated, and a fistfight almost breaks. However, because you are seated a considerable distance from the other person you are arguing with and swung a fist at, you cannot be guilty of simple assault.

Due to anger, the other person can accuse you of assault, but it would not have been possible to hit them because of the distance between you. Your attorney can use the witnesses to the argument and CCTV footage to exonerate you from the allegations.

You were Defending Yourself or Another Person

Self-defense or that of others is a legally acceptable defense strategy in assault cases when the below are true:

  • There was a reasonable belief that another person or yourself was in potential danger of sustaining bodily harm or being unlawfully or offensively touched.
  • Because of that, you believed using force was critical or necessary in your defense or that of others against the possible danger.
  • The force you used was reasonable and necessary to prevent you or another person from the possible danger.

For instance, you are quiet by nature and love studying. In College, some bullying students consider you a geek and always taunt you with insults and other bullying behavior. One day as you walk along the corridor, one of your bullies comes at you stronger than usual, and you become scared they may hurt you. In response, you push them away for touching you inappropriately, and because you reasonably believed you were in danger. Unfortunately, the bully stumbles and falls, injuring the back of his head.

As a result, the bully accuses you of simple assault, and you become formally charged with the offense. Fortunately, the law allows you to enter self-defense as a strategy to fight violations of PEN 240. With the help of witnesses and a convincing argument by your attorney, you can overcome the allegations using self-defense as a strategy.

But, if the other person only used words and did not physically touch you, this defense is not applicable. The law states that words alone are not sufficient to justify your violating PEN 240. This defense strategy is only appropriate where any other person in similar circumstances would have acted.

Your Actions were not Willful

When you purposely assault another person, you cannot use this as your defense. If you never willingly tried to apply force or violence on another person, you cannot be found guilty of violating PEN 240. In some cases, your actions could have been by accident, or the alleged victim misunderstood or misinterpreted your deeds. If this happens, your attorney can ensure the full story is narrated to the jury and the prosecutor.

For instance, you were late for a meeting, and you walked hurriedly, almost running. Unfortunately, you accidentally collide with another person causing them to fall and hurt themselves. If, as a result, you are accused of simple assault, your lawyer can argue that your pushing the alleged victim was accidental and not intentional. In this case, a convincing argument backed with evidence can result in the charges being dismissed.

False Allegations

In simple assault, there isn't a requirement for the victim to sustain bodily injuries. As a result, many people are falsely accused of this offense, and without proper legal representation, one can be wrongly convicted of the violation. Additionally, it is easy for a person to accuse others of the crime out of:

  • Revenge
  • Anger
  • Misunderstanding or
  • Jealousy

For instance, your ex-girlfriend is angry that you left her for her friend. She confronts you at the mall blocking your way as she insults you. You ask her to move away, and she places her hand on you, which you shake off. With their need for revenge, she falsely accuses you of assaulting her.

Most experienced criminal lawyers understand their clients can be falsely accused of offenses they never committed. Because of this, they know the best way to defend you against the allegations and have you acquitted for the crime.

Other Related Offenses to Simple Assault

When an offense is related to another, it can be charged alongside or instead of the primary offense. Simple assault in California is related to various crimes that include:

PEN 242 – Battery or Battery Resulting in Significant Bodily Harm

As earlier discussed, the circumstances of a simple assault and battery cause the offenses to differ. In a battery charge, the prosecutor must prove that you actually applied force or used violence against the victim for a guilty conviction.

However, a victim of what may seem like a simple assault can accuse you of battery. If you touched the alleged victim offensively and as a result they injured themselves, the prosecution can charge you with battery. For instance, you argue about a football match and push the other person. Unfortunately, they fell and injured themselves; the prosecutor can charge you with battery.

An offense like simple assault is a misdemeanor in California. If convicted, you could pay a $2,000 fine in addition to or instead of serving a jail sentence not exceeding six months. However, if the victim suffers significant injuries, the penalties you will earn are steeper, according to PEN 242(d), causing great bodily harm.

In this case, the battery becomes a wobbler, meaning you can face charges on misdemeanor or felony violations. If the prosecutor charges you with a felony offense for causing significant bodily harm, you can be jailed for two or three, or four years in state prison.

PEN 245(a)(1) Assault with a Dangerous Weapon

Assault can also be committed using a weapon. If in your charges, the victim accuses you of using a knife, a firearm, or any other weapon considered deadly and could cause significant bodily harm, the offense is more serious. In this case, instead of simple assault charges, you will be prosecuted for violating PEN 245(a)(1), which stipulates the penalties for using a deadly or dangerous weapon to assault another.

The offense is a wobbler in California. Depending on the crime’s circumstances and your criminal background, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense. A misdemeanor conviction will earn you a year or less of county jail incarceration. A felony conviction, on the other hand, earns you harsher penalties that include state imprisonment for two or three, or four years.

PEN 415 Disturbing the Peace

Under this statute, it is a criminal offense to:

  • Engage in a fight with another person in public
  • Cause unnecessary and unreasonable noise to result in disturbance to others
  • Use directly provocative words that incite a fight with another individual in public

Although the offense is a misdemeanor, it is a lower one meaning the penalties following a conviction are less harsh. When you are charged with a simple assault violation, your lawyer can negotiate with the attorney to charge you with a lesser offense. In most cases, the lesser offense is PEN 415, whose penalty is three months or less. Sometimes, a defendant can be faced with an infraction instead of having harsher penalties.

Prosecutors readily offer this as a plea deal when the case against you for simple assault is weak. One of your attorney's roles is to discredit the prosecutor's evidence against you, and this done well would weaken the evidence against you. In that case, the prosecutor would opt to have you charged with violating PEN 415 instead of PEN 240.

PEN 217.1(a) Assaulting a Public Official

Simple assault on a public officer is charged differently from simply assaulting a member of the public. The offense is more severe than a typical simple assault when you perform the act to stop the officer from performing their official duties.

The offense is a wobbler, meaning you can be prosecuted on misdemeanor or felony charges. The circumstances of the offense and your criminal background determine the charges you face. If convicted on misdemeanor charges, the penalties include county jail incarceration for twelve months or less. A felony conviction will earn you harsher penalties that include imprisonment for sixteen months, twenty-four or thirty-six months.

Find a Criminal Lawyer Near Me

In Pasadena, simple assault is one of the offenses that you could be easily convicted of and wrongly accused of by a vengeful person. A conviction can have severe consequences on your life, let alone the legal penalties. However, you could fight the allegations against you with help from the Law Offices of Fountain & Hattersley. We understand the serious repercussions a conviction can bring you, and we work hard to fight against an unfavorable outcome in your case. Call our offices at 626-793-4111, and we will discuss your defense strategies for the allegations.

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