Simple assault is a complex crime, and most people think assault technically is a battery. The offense of simple assault is described as an attempted battery, although it does not lead to bodily injury or harm.  Comprehending the nature of charge you are facing helps a lot in developing a good defense, especially in assault charges. Below, the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm addresses simple assault, elements of assault, penalties, legal arguments, and examples of assault to enable you to understand what makes up simple assault crime and how to differentiate it from battery.

Legal Definition of Simple Assault

As codified under the California PC 240, simple assault, also known as assault, is when someone unlawfully attempts, combined with a present ability, to inflict harm or injuries against another person. PC 240 states that attempted assault is not a crime. If you threaten someone or try to attack someone, you can still be found guilty even if there was no actual physical contact. All that is necessary is to show you had the present ability to carry out the threat.

With the definition, you can learn that the difference between battery and assault is that assault is a threat to inflict physical injury under PC 240 while the battery is the actual inflicting of injuries to another person as codified by PC 242.

Elements of Simple Assault in California

The prosecution can find you guilty of simple assault in a criminal jury trial if it can prove the following elements:

  1. Application of force

In justifying this element, the prosecution must prove that you acted or did something, whose complexion would directly or presumably lead to the use of force on another person. Offensive touching is proof of the application of force. Using an object to touch another person indecently is also an application of force even though it’s done offensively.

The defendant doesn’t even need to have succeeded in the application of force to be found guilty of assault. All that is necessary is to show the jury you took an action that a sensible individual would perceive or discern the action would have resulted in the use of force on someone else. For instance, if you get in a heated argument with a bartender who is accusing you of not paying for the drinks, if you spit on the bartender, then that will still count as simple assault even though you didn’t use force. Also, if the saliva doesn’t make it to the bartender’s face, it will still be assault because it could have probably made it to his or her face.

  1. Willfully 

If you broke the law or caused injuries on another person on purpose, then you are likely to be convicted.

For instance, Stephen is on a date with Carol, conversation and emotions escalate where he begins to touch her.  Carol, tells Stephen to stop, but Stephen continues to touch her willfully.

Although Stephen did not intend to hurt Carol or violate the rule of law, he can still be charged with assault because touching is considered under this law as offensive touching.

  1. Aware that certitude would make a sensible individual trust that the action would presumably spring in the use of force on someone else.

In proving this element, the prosecution needs to demonstrate that you were aware that under the circumstances, there was a reasonable probability that your act would follow the use of force on another individual. 

For example, Peter and John are in love with the same woman. Peter decides to confront John in his home about the issue. John comes out of his house and tries to tell Peter to leave his home, but Peter doesn’t listen.

John picks up a stone and throws it in the direction of Peter, and it catches him on the leg. Although John did not injure Peter on purpose, he can still be found guilty of simple assault. The argument being that John threw the stone on purpose in the direction of Peter, fully aware that the stone could have caught Peter and caused injuries.

  1. Present ability to apply force

You will be guilty of PC 240 if the prosecution can show that you could apply force on someone else at the time of the act.

  1. Lack of legal excuse

If the prosecution can show that you were not acting to defend yourself or someone else when the assault occurred, then you will be convicted of the crime.

Penalties for Simple Assault

Simple assault is a misdemeanor, according to California law. If you are convicted of this crime, the penalties are:

  • A maximum sentence of 180 days in jail,
  • A fine up to $1000, or
  • Summary probation.

The penalties of an assault conviction will be enhanced if the assault was on a specific category of experts. Your penalties will increase if you hurt a:

  • Law enforcement or peace officer,
  • Traffic officer,
  • Lifeguard,
  • Paramedic,
  • Nurse or doctor providing emergency medical care outside the place of work,
  • Animal control officer, or
  • Process server.

Any action that prevents the above professionals from effectively performing their duties attracts penalties under PC 217.1 (a). These penalties include:

  • Two thousand dollars, or
  • Serve three years behind bars.

The fine doubles to $2000 if the assault occurs to a parking control officer on duty.

Legal Defenses for Simple Assault

If you have an assault record in your criminal report, then your life might never be the same again because most people will view you as a violent person while in reality, you did a simple act that the court considered assault. Therefore, whenever you are facing these kinds of charges, first understand the nature of the charge then retain a criminal defense lawyer who will evaluate the best legal defenses to use on your case. Some of the legal arguments that can apply on simple assault include:

  1. Self-defense or defense of someone else

Self-defense or defense of others can act as a great way to fight the charges of assault. However, for this defense to hold in court:

  • You must have reasonably believed that you or another person would be in impending danger of being touched unlawfully or suffering physical injury,
  • The defendant had a reasonable belief that the application of force was required to defend against the imminent threat, and
  • You didn’t use excess force than necessary to protect against the danger.

What the criminal defense lawyer should emphasize when using this defense is that you reasonably believed someone was in danger.

For example, if Peter, a defendant, is drinking in a bar with his former schoolmates and then witnesses John a victim, harassing a woman by the name Jane. John is touching her rudely and offensively, but she cannot fight back. Peter tries to intervene and asks John to leave the lady alone. John, however, doesn’t stop and continues to touch Jane unlawfully. Realizing that John wasn’t going to stop, Peter raises his fist and threatens to punch John if he doesn’t leave the bar. On is way out, John sees the police and decides to report simple assault from Peter.

If Peter is arrested and charged with assault, he might not be convicted. Although he did something that could have presumably ensued to the use of force against John, had facts that the act could have resulted in the use of force, and had the present ability to hit John, he was trying to defend Jane. Peter realized that John would not stop the offensive touching unless someone used force. Also, since Peter didn’t use excessive force for longer than needed, the charges will be dismissed because it proves he was defending Jane against offensive touching.

  1. You could not use force   

The prosecution must prove that the defendant had the present ability to use force. So, if the criminal defense attorney can prove to from his or her side that the defendant couldn't inflict force or violence, then the defendant will be acquitted.

For instance, Kelvin and Steve are the worst enemies, and they don’t see eye to eye. One day, Kelvin, who is the defendant, and Steve, the victim met while walking on the opposite sides of the road. Steve tries to ignore Kelvin but Kelvin whistles to catch his attention. When Steve turns to the direction Kelvin is whistling from, Kelvin throws his fist in the air as if punching Steve. Steve is scared because he believes Kelvin will cross the other side and make his threats real. Steve goes to the nearest police station and reports assault.

Kelvin threw a punch in the air which suggested direct or probable use of force, and since they were enemies, Steve believed that Kelvin would for a fact apply force on him. Kelvin’s act is not justifiable, but because he was on the opposite side of the road, a reasonable person would not be convinced that Kelvin had the present capacity to exact force or injuries on Steve. The charges facing Kelvin will, therefore, be dropped.

  1. You didn’t act on purpose or willfully 

The prosecutor must establish to the jury that you acted on purpose. If there is something to prove that the defendant didn’t act willfully, then he or she should be acquitted. Often, your lawyer must show the jury that there was a misunderstanding, the act was accidental, or the victim misinterpreted the action by giving the whole story of the events that occurred.

For example, a defendant Lewis is a soccer player and was playing against a rival team in the city. Lewis is dribbling the ball towards the opponent’s goal on the touchline close to the spectators. James from the opponent team pushes Lewis away from the ball and outside the field almost hitting one of the spectators Betty. Afraid that Lewis would have hit her, Betty reports an assault to a police officer nearby.

Although Lewis was running with the ball near the touchline were other spectators including Betty were seated with no excuse of self-defense and fully aware that the fans were sitting close to where he was running with the ball, he didn’t intentionally steer and almost hit Betty. He was pushed by an opponent when he rammed into the crowd. So, because Lewis didn’t intentionally commit the act that was deemed simple assault by the victim, the charges against him will be dismissed.

  1. You were falsely accused

Keep in mind that actual injuries or touching is not mandatory in proving simple assault. So, it becomes elementary for a person who wants to take revenge for something you did, someone who has anger or jealousy against you to falsely accuse you of committing an act that is deemed an assault even though the action never occurred in the first place. Innocent persons have gone behind bars or pay fines after being falsely accused. A reasonable lawyer will study the evidence and facts of the case, plus interview witnesses until he or she finds the truth of what happened to prove that you were falsely accused.

For instance, a defendant Joe has been in a relationship with the Girlfriend Lorna for a few years, but then he decides to end the relationship. Lorna doesn’t take the breakup lightly because she believes Joe has been seeing someone else and thus the reason for breaking up with her without any good reason. Out of anger, she decides to revenge what Joe has done to her by reporting that Joe had assaulted her. Joe is arrested and charged under Penal Code 240.

Apart from her words, Lorna has no other evidence to prove that Joe committed simple assault. No one should go to jail for a crime that was never committed or because someone is seeking revenge. In this case, Lorna is seeking revenge, and because no act of assault occurred, the charge will be deemed as false accusation; hence, it will be easily dismissed, and Joe will walk free.

Simple Assault and Other Related Offenses  

Saying a particular offense is related to PC 240 assault means that the crime is often charged with, alongside or in addition to PC 240 or have common elements the prosecutor should justify. Some of these offenses include:

  1. PC 242 battery

As stated earlier, most people confuse assault and battery. However, battery differs with simple assault on the actual application of force on another individual.

Remember that in California, you can be convicted of battery even if you didn’t inflict any bodily harm or injuries to the victim. All the prosecution needs to prove is that you touched someone rudely or offensively. Battery relates to assault because it is a completion of the crime of assault.

In a criminal jury, the prosecution must prove that you unlawfully and on purpose touched another person rudely or offensively and when you did so you were not acting in protecting yourself or others, and while not sensibly disciplining a child. It is good to note that touching alone is enough to convict you of battery even if it doesn’t cause pain or injuries.

If the jury finds you guilty of misdemeanor battery, you will:

  • Serve a term of up to one hundred and eighty (180) days in jail, or
  • A maximum of two thousand dollars fine.

However, if you inflict serious bodily harm to another person, the crime of battery will be deemed a wobbler.

  1. Assault with a deadly weapon (ADW)

According to CPC 245 (a) (1) ADW occurs when someone is alleged to have assaulted someone else with a deadly weapon such as a knife or by other ways that can cause great bodily harm. The crime can be filed by the prosecution as either a felony or a misdemeanor.

PC 245 (a) (1) relates to PC 240 in that assault can also involve the use of a deadly weapon or application of force that can result in severe physical harm. To justify you are guilty before a California criminal jury, the prosecutor must show that:

  • You acted willfully, and you were aware that your actions might have led a reasonable person to notice the move would result from using force,
  • You assaulted someone with a deadly weapon or applied force that would have resulted in great bodily harm,
  • You were not defending yourself or someone else, and
  • You had the present ability to use force that would have caused significant physical damage.

If the prosecution succeeds in proving the above facts and you are convicted, the penalties that you are likely to face are:

  • A prison term of twenty-four, thirty-six or forty-eight months, or
  • A fine of up to $10,000 for a felony charge.

For misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon, the penalty is a term of 12 months in jail.

  1. Disturbing the peace

Disturbing the peace (CDC 415) occurs when a person unlawfully challenges or fights another person in public, makes absurd noises to distract or provoke other individuals, or uses offensive words that are likely to incite violence in a public setting. It relates to simple assault since disturbing the peace can be in the context of assault; hence, a person can be charged with both offenses at the same time.

The prosecution must prove in this case that you unlawfully fought someone or challenged someone to fight you in a public place or structure. Disturbing the peace is deemed as a low-level misdemeanor and can be treated as a California infraction. The penalty for the offense is three months in county jail.

The penalties for simple assault are more severe than those of disturbing the peace conviction. As a result, if the prosecution has a weak, simple assault case, your lawyer can request a plea bargain to have you charged under CPC 415. That way, you get to face lighter penalties.

  1. Assault on a public official

The crime is codified under California PC 217.1 (a), and it made up of assault perpetrated against individuals protected by the statute also known as public officers as retaliation or preventing them from performing their official duties. Public officials in this context include judges, executive officers in the local, state or federal government, public defenders, and prosecutors. The offense is related to simple assault because simple assault can also occur to a public official.

The prosecution in these cases must prove that you assaulted a public official and the assault was as a retaliation against the person or to prevent them from performing their official duties. If you are convicted or found guilty of misdemeanor assault on a public official, you are sentenced to twelve months in jail. When convicted of a felony assault on a public official, the penalties are:

  • Sixteen, twenty-four, or thirty-six months sentence, or
  • A fine of ten thousand dollars.

Sometimes, however, you might get both the fine and serve your sentence.

  1. Throwing a dangerous object at a motor vehicle

Vehicle Code 23110 happens if an individual willfully and maliciously throws an object or material towards a car on the street, an object or material that could cause significant bodily injury to the vehicle or its occupants. Throwing an object at a vehicle can be charged alongside or with simple assault. You could be convicted of this crime even if the object you threw had no chance of hitting the car.

The penalties for being convicted of this offense are:

  • At most 36 months sentence in state prison, or
  • A maximum fine of $10,000.

Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

For more information about the simple assault offense, how to negotiate for a lesser charge, or have the charges dismissed, arranging for an initial consultation is the subsequent big step. Find all the information necessary regarding an assault by contacting us at the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm at 714-740-7848. We can help you get acquitted or avoid harsh penalties after a conviction.