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Assault: What is the law and punishment?

California Penal Code 240 PC "Assault" is a misdemeanor.  Simple assault is an attempt to use violence to caused injury in another person.

What Must Be Proven in an Assault Case?

PC 240 "assault" requires the following to be proven:

  1. Defendant unlawfully committed an act which by its nature would probably and directly result in the application of physical force on another person.
  2. At the time the act was committed, defendant had the present ability to commit a violent injury on a person.

Assault can be thought of as an attempted battery.  No contact or harm results from the defendant's actions but the act itself would probably result in injury if contact was made.  A common example is throwing an object at a person but the object misses by a small amount.  This would not be a battery because no contact was made however, being hit by an object would probably result in a violent injury and thus is an assault. 

In the United States justice system, a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  The prosecutor has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt that an assault has occurred.

What are the Penalties for Assault?

PC 240 ​is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of a fine up to $2,000 and/or 6 months in county jail.

What are the Defenses to Assault?

The force was not willful

The legal definition of willful requires you to have acted purposely.  Intent to cause the harm that resulted is not required.  If the alleged assault was the result of an accident or unintentional act by the defendant, an assault has not occurred. 

The defendant did not have the present ability

At the time of the assault, the defendant must have the ability to inflict violent injury on the alleged victim.  If the victim was significant distance or in position that no harm could possibly be caused an assault could not have occurred.  


Self-defense is a defense that may be used if a defendant believes they are in imminent threat of harm to their person and only use sufficient force to prevent that harm.  This is a tricky defense in that, a defendant is conceded a assault occurred but is justified in using the force.  An experienced attorney will be able to review the evidence to determine if self-defense was justified in a particular situation.  

Bottom line, you need an experienced attorney who is willing to walk you through the entire process, evaluate your case effectively for weaknesses and exploit the issues in your case to achieve the best results.  The Law Offices of Steven McNicholl has that experience and will get you through your case in the best shape possible.

See also

PC 242 Battery

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If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, call the Law Offices of Steven McNicholl at (951) 405-0990. We have the skill and experience in San Bernardino County to protect your rights and get the best results in your case.

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