Simple Assault and Aggravated Assault

What is Penal Code 240? (Simple Assault)

California makes it a crime to violently cause a physical injury onto another person. In legal language, this crime is called “Assault.” More specifically, it is called a “Simple Assault” which is distinguishable from other forms of assault, such as aggravated assault, which we will discuss later. Simple Assault is codified into the California law books as Penal Code 240. If you are charged with a Penal Code 240 violation in a domestic violence context, the penalties and punishments increase significantly. For this reason, let’s review the legal definition of Penal Code 240 so you can develop a better understanding if your rights and liabilities.

The Legal Definition of Penal Code 240- Simple Assault.

Before you can be convicted of a domestic violence crime in a court trial in the state of California, the prosecutor must first prove all the elements of a certain crime to either a judge or a jury. In simple terms, an “element” is simply a particular fact that must be proven. The elements of a crime dictate which facts and issues will be important as you proceed with your individual crime case. For Penal Code 240- Simple Assault, the elements are as follows:

  • You committed an act, that by its own nature, would probably result in the direction of force on another person.
  • You committed that act willfully.
  • When the act was committed, you were aware of the facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that such an act would directly and probably result in the application of force to that person.
  • When the act was committed, you had the present ability to apply force on the other person.

For your information, the following is the actual phrasing of Penal Code 240- Simple Assault as it is presented in California’s law books:

“An assault is an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.”

As you can see, hidden in the short wording of the formal language for Penal Code 240- Simple Assault are a series of elements. Each of these elements are complicated and nuanced to understand. However, they are very important, because you cannot be found guilty of a Penal Code 240- Simple Assault crime in California during a court trial in California without all of the elements being proven beyond a reasonable doubt. For this reason, let us review each one of the listed elements so that you can develop a better understanding of the individual issues that might come up in your case.

The Application of Force

Under Penal Code 240- Simple Assault, “application of force” refers to any touching that is harmful or offensive. The pressure and magnitude of the touching is irrelevant. Even the slightest touching, when it is conducted in a rude or offensive manner, could subject you to liability under Penal Code 240- Simple Assault. For that matter, you could be subject to Penal Code 240- Simple Assault liability even if the touching did not cause or could not cause any physical injury. Additionally, the application of force does not need to be committed directly. You may be subject to Penal Code 240- Simple Assault liability if you indirectly touch another person by causing an object to do so. Lastly, there is no requirement that you actually must have been successful in touching the alleged victim. It only matters that you committed an action that could have probably resulted in force being applied to them.

Example:

Harry and Meghan are married. They are always getting into nasty fights about how to raise their children. One day, the fighting gets too much for Meghan and she decides to take the kids and leave. On her way out, Harry yells at her and spits at her, but she is too far and it just lands on the ground.

In this example, Harry did not touch Meghan. Nor was he successful in causing his spit to touch her. If it did, it would most definitely not cause any physical damage. However, Harry’s actions would fall under the liability of Penal Code 240- Simple Assault because it is likely that his spit would have touched Meghan. It does not matter that the spit did not actually land on her. And it does not matter that the saliva projectile was not actually part of Harry’s body at the time. It only matters that Harry caused the action to occur and that it was likely to occur. For this reason, Harry’s actions meet the 1st element of Penal Code 240- Simple Assault. Although there is a strong case that Harry is guilty of a Penal Code 240- Simple Assault violation, it is important to remember that it cannot be deemed so until all the elements of the law are met. For this reason, let’s continue our exploration of the elements of Penal Code 240- Simple Assault.

Willfully committing the act of assault

This element is met if it can be shown that you acted intentionally or did the act with purpose. It does not matter if you did not intend to break the law. It does not even matter if you did not intend to hurt someone. It only matters that your actions were committed willingly.

Example:

Kobe and his wife are playing basketball. When he tries to dribbe the ball around her, the ball slips from his hand and hits his wife in the face.

In this example, Kobe did not act willfully. The ball “slipped.” He did not act with purpose in causing the actions that injured her. Therefore, in this situation, he will not be liable under California Penal Code 240 simple assault. However, if Kobe threw the ball at her face or even in the direction of her face, he could be liable under California Penal Code 240 simple assault. This is because he acted with purpose in throwing the ball. It does not matter if Kobe did not intend to injure his wife or to break the law. It doesn’t even matter if his wife gets physically injured or not. Because he acted intentionally in the throwing of the ball, Kobe could be held liable under California Penal Code 240 simple assault. In

You were aware that your actions could lead to force being applied on the alleged victim.

Remember that it does not matter whether or not you intended to apply force on the alleged victim to be liable under California Penal Code 240 simple assault. It only matters that you were aware that your actions could lead to force resulting upon the alleged victim.

Example:

Using the Kobe example above, if he threw the ball in the general direction as his wife’s face, then he could be liable under California Penal Code 240 simple assault. This is because it could be argued that he was aware that if he threw the ball in the direction of her face, that it would actually hit her. On the other hand, if Kobe threw the ball at a wall, and it ricochets with another ball in the air, and then hits his wife, he would have a better argument that he was not aware it would result in such a turn. He was not aware of the circumstances that the thrown ball could hit his wife. In this case, he would not be liable under California Penal Code 240 simple assault.

What are the potential punishments for a conviction under California Penal Code 240 simple assault?

If you are convicted under California Penal Code 240 simple assault, then you will receive a misdemeanor. You could receive any of the following punishments: up to 6 months in a county jail, up to $1,000 in fines, and summary probation.

The punishments for Simple Assault are much more lenient than Assault with a deadly weapon, which are discussed further down below. For this reason, your case will depend heavily on which charges the prosecutors sticks you with. And with the right domestic violence attorney, you might be able to negotiate charges down to simple assault.

  1. What are Legal Defenses available to combat a California Penal Code 240 simple assault charge?

The punishments for California Penal Code 240 simple assault can be quite severe. They can be even worse if you consider the affect on your ability to find a job, housing, or even on your general reputation. Fortunately, there are many legal defenses available to combat a California Penal Code 240 simple assault charge. With a smart and veteran domestic violence attorney on your side, you can raise all available defenses to fight an unfair California Penal Code 240 simple assault charge. A domestic violence attorney can examine the particulars of your case and develop a legal strategy that utilizes all available defenses to maximize the best possible outcome. The following is a list of the more common legal defenses to a California Penal Code 240 simple assault charge:

You did not have the capability to apply force.

California Penal Code 240 simple assault contains an element that states that you must have had the capability to apply force on the alleged victim. And remember, a prosecutor must prove all the elements of a domestic violence crime, before you can be convicted in a trial court in California. Therefore, if it can be shown that you did not have the capability to apply force on the alleged victim, then you may be able to avoid a conviction under California Penal Code 240 simple assault.

Example:

Kayleigh and Susan are in a romantic relationship. Even though they have not committed to each other formally, they have been dating for a significant amount of time. But they often get into violent fights when they drink alcohol. One night, Kayleigh and Susan get into a loud fight and are eventually pulled apart by security and taken to opposite sides of the room. While separated, Susan kicks her feet in the hair.

In this situation, Susan was too far away from Kayleigh for her kick to land. She did not have the ability to inflict force on Kayleigh by doing so. Therefore, she would not be liable under California Penal Code 240 simple assault.

However, if Susan threw a beer bottle at Kayleigh, then she could be liable under California Penal Code 240 simple assault. This is because it is possible that the bottle could have landed on Kayleigh.

You were acting in self-defense or in the defense of another person.

If it can be shown that you were acting in defense of yourself or another person, then you get a California Penal Code 240 simple assault charge dismissed. This defense only is available if all of the following can be proven:

  1. You had a reasonable belief that you or another person were in immediate danger of experiencing physical injury or illegal touching.
  2. You had a reasonable belief that the use of immediate force was needed to combat against that danger.
  3. You did not exceed the amount of force that was reasonably needed to combat the danger.

The court will consider a belief or force used to be “reasonable” if an ordinary, prudent person could have acted in the same way that you did. Of course, what is reasonable depends on the person you ask. In these type of cases, the jury chosen by your attorney can make or break your case. Note, it does not matter what you actually believed. The law only allows for this defense if your belief was legally reasonable. Thus, in these cases, you want an attorney who has experience conducting domestic violence criminal trials.

Related Offenses to California Penal Code 240 Simple Assault.

California Penal Code 240 only applies to “simple assault”. However, depending on the circumstances of the crime, you could be charged with “aggravated assault and battery” crimes. These crimes could significantly increase the punishment you face. Therefore, its important that your domestic violence attorney argue early on for more lenient charges. The charges first set in a case dictate the negotiations later on and give you a enhanced ability to plea to more favorable sentences.

California Penal Code 245(a)(1) Assault With a Deadly Weapon

If you commit assault with a deadly weapon or use a method that could result in “great bodily injury”, then you will be charged with Penal Code 245(a)(1). The penalties for a Penal Code 245(a)(1) are more serious than under California Penal Code 240 simple assault.

Penal Code 245(a)(1) is considered a wobbler. This means that the prosecutor has the discretion to charge you with either a misdemeanor or a felony. This decision is based on the specific circumstances of the crime and your past criminal history. The more violent the crime, the more likely you will be charged with a felony.

If you receive a Penal Code 245(a)(1) misdemeanor, you could receive up to 1 year in county jail. However, if you receive a felony conviction, you could get up to 4 years in state prison time. If you have a domestic violence attorney on your side early on in a domestic violence case, they might be able to convince the prosecutor to charge you with a misdemeanor. This is important because the charges set in the early stages of a case affect negotiations later down the road.

Under Penal Code 245(a)(1), a “deadly weapon” means any object that is used in a way that is capable of resulting in death or great bodily injury. This definition is very broad and includes a wide variety of objects. Of course, it includes guns and knives. But it could also include any object generally considered non-lethal, such as a pen, bottle, or even a dog, if used in a way that could result in significant injury.

The use of your own body definitely does not classify as a deadly weapon under this law. But if you use your hands or feet in a way that could result in great bodily injury, then you would be liable under Penal Code 245(a)(1).

“Great Bodily Injury” refers to any significant physical injury. This is also a vague definition. This is a good and bad when it comes to negotiating your case. On one hand, a prosecutor could charge you with this serious crime when you are probably more deserving of a simple assault charge. However, because it is vague, your domestic violence attorney has some legroom to negotiate reduced charges. The vagueness of the definition makes it easier to persuade the city attorney or district attorney to give you a more favorable plea bargain.

What Should You Do If You Are Charged With Simple or Aggravated Assault?

As discussed above, assault charges carry significant penalties. The earlier you contact a domestic violence attorney, the better position they will be to fight on your behalf.

We invite you to contact Domestic Violence Attorney for a free consultation. We will review the details of your case and give you advice on the case against you, what penalties are on the table, and how to fight them. Our years of experience and passion for domestic violence defense will ensure we handle your case with care and confidentiality.

Call 424-276-6060now to schedule your free consultation.

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