Simple Assault:
California Penal Code Section 240

Assault (Simple Assault), California Penal Code (CPC) §240, applies whenever anyone willfully does anything that would result in applying force to another person while having facts that would make a reasonable person realize the act would result in applying force to someone else. To be convicted, you have to have the present ability to apply force and you can’t have acted in self-defense or defense of another.

Simple Assault is a Misdemeanor crime. Conviction can result in six months in a county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both jail time and a fine.

What Does California Penal Code §240 (Assault) Prohibit?

In sum, to be guilty of Assault under CPC §240, you must:

  • Do something that would result in applying force to a person; AND,
  • Do the act willfully; AND,
  • Be aware of facts that should make you realize your act would result in applying force; AND,
  • Have the present ability to apply force; AND,
  • Possess no legal excuse.

Defining “Assault” Under California Penal Code §240

To convict you under CPC §240, the prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • Act/Directly And Probably…: You did an act that, by its nature, would directly and probably result in the application of force to another person; AND,
  • Willfully: You did the act willfully; AND,
  • Aware Of Facts/Reasonable Person…: When you acted, you had facts that would make a reasonable person realize the act would directly and probably result in applying force to someone; AND,
  • Present Ability/Apply Force: When you acted, you had the present ability to apply force; AND,
  • No Legal Excuse: You didn’t act in self-defense or in defense of someone else.

Example:  Defendant Dick is a professional football player. He is about to tackle Victim Vern during a game when a penalty flag is thrown, indicating that play has stopped and no one should even attempt to strike another player. Dick, however, lunges at Vern, shocking Vern and sending him falling backward. Vern shatters his pelvis as he hits the ground. He calls for stadium police and has Dick arrested for Assault under CPC §240. Dick insists that he was “just playing the game.” Should Dick be convicted?

Conclusion: Dick willfully lunged at Vern, clearly having the present ability to strike Vern, and (since he was facing Vern on a football field) he possessed facts that should’ve led him to realize that lunging would’ve resulted in force being used against Vern. Thus the act itself would’ve directly and probably resulted in the use of force, and while Dick may have believed that the rules of the game allowed him to commit Assault, he didn’t act with a legal excuse. A penalty flag was thrown; Dick was thus obligated to refrain from striking – or even appearing to strike – another player. Dick, therefore, should be convicted.

Penalties For Assault Under CPC §240

As noted previously, Simple Assault is a Misdemeanor under California law. If you’re convicted of the charge, you face up to six (6) months in a county jail, a fine of up to $1,000 (one-thousand dollars), or both a fine and jail time.

Defenses To California Penal Code §240 – Assault

Four of the most common defenses against a charge of Assault are:

You Were Defending Yourself or Someone Else

Example: Defendant Dale is drinking with friends at a tavern when he witnesses Victim Vin harassing   Patron, a woman, by touching her in ways she says are offensive. Dale asks Vin to leave Patron alone, but Vin refuses, telling Dale “to find” his “own girl.” Tensions quickly mount. Dale, realizing that Vin won’t leave Patron alone unless he’s threatened, raises his fist and tells Vin to leave or Dale will punch him. Vin leaves, finds a police officer, and reports Dale for Assault under §240. Should he be convicted?

Conclusion: Dale willfully did something that would directly and probably result in force being used against Vin (raising his fist to punch Vin) and possessed facts that should’ve led him to realize that the act would lead to applying force against Vin. Dale also had the present ability to hit Vin, since Vin was scared into submitting to Dale. However, Dale was trying to defend Patron against Vin’s unwanted advances, which included physical acts (offensive touching). Since Vin wouldn’t relent unless some sort of force was used – and since Dale didn’t use more force than was required or for longer than was needed – Dale should be acquitted. He was defending someone else, which provides Dale a legal excuse.

You Didn’t Have The Present Ability To Use Force

Example: Victim Vail is walking on one side of a suburban street. Her worst enemy, Defendant Deena, walks in the opposite direction on the other side. Vail decides to ignore Deena but Deena sees her, whistles to get Vail’s attention, and, once Vail looks at her, punches her left palm with her right fist while glowering at Vail. Vail is frightened. She believes that Deena will cross the street to hit her. She finds a   police officer and has Deena arrested for violating CPC §240. Should Deena be convicted of the charge?

Conclusion: Deena willfully punched her palm with her fist, an act that suggests the direct and probable result would be application of force.  Knowing that Vail was her worst enemy, Deena would also have been aware of facts that could’ve led Vail to assume that Deena was going to apply force against Vail. Deena had no legal excuse for her act. However, Deena was on the opposite side of a street when she made the offending gesture. A reasonable person wouldn’t assume Deena had the present ability to strike Vail because she was too far away at the time. Given these facts, Deena should be acquitted.

You Didn’t Act Willfully

Example: A bicyclist, Defendant Daniel, is riding in the Tour de California. At one point he’s riding along a narrow street inside a village. This is when another bicyclist, Competitor, pulls alongside Daniel and runs him off the road. Daniel barely avoids hitting a spectator, Victim Violet, who, fearing that she would be struck, finds a police officer and reports Daniel for Assault under CPC §240. Should Daniel be convicted?   

Conclusion: While Daniel rode his bicycle toward Violet without self-defense as an excuse, giving him the present ability to strike Violet, and while it is reasonable to assume that Daniel knew of the presence of spectators watching the race, he didn’t intentionally steer his bicycle toward Violet; he was forced off the road by Competitor and unwittingly rode into the crowd. Therefore, since Daniel didn’t willfully commit the act that would’ve constituted the Simple Assault, Daniel should be acquitted of the charge.

The Accusation Is False

Example: Defendant Darien decides to end her relationship with her girlfriend, Victim Valerie, but the breakup doesn’t go well. Valerie, convinced that Darien is seeing someone else, decides to get revenge by telling police that Darien committed an Assault against Valerie even though Valerie knows that no such thing occurred. Valerie has Darien arrested and charged under §240. Should Darien be convicted?

Conclusion: As the facts indicate, Darien committed none of the elements of the crime of Assault; Valerie simply created an accusation and charged it against Darien because she wanted revenge.    Therefore, since no one should be convicted in the United States of a crime she or he didn’t commit (and because there’s no evidence that Darien committed an offense), Darien should be acquitted. The accusation against her is simply false.

Note: The crimes below are described as “related” because they’re frequently charged with CPC §240 and/or have common elements that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

The California Penal Code includes several offenses related to Assault, among them:  Battery (CPC 242), Assault With A Deadly Weapon (CPC 245(a)(1)), Disturbing The Peace (CPC 415), Assault On A Public Officer (CPC 217.1(a)), Assault With Caustic Chemicals (CPC 244) and Throwing Dangerous Object At A Motor Vehicle (California Vehicle Code [CVC] 23110(b)).

What Can I Do If I’m Charged With Assault?

The State of California treats Assault as a serious offense. If you’re charged with Assault, it’s essential that you retain a skilled, dedicated criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Your rights, freedom, and livelihood are at stake.

Remember, a professional criminal defense attorney may be able to:

  • Negotiate a lesser charge in a plea bargain;
  • Reduce your sentence;
  • Or even get charges dismissed completely.

The attorneys at KN Trial Attorneys have an excellent understanding of the local courts and an extensive knowledge of California’s criminal justice system. We can represent you in Ventura, Santa Clarita, Los Angeles, Encino, Pasadena and many other Southern California cities. 

If you or someone you know has been arrested for, or charged with, Assault, our attorneys will analyze the facts of your case and plan a strategy that will help you obtain the best possible outcome.

Contact the KN Trial Attorneys today to schedule your free and confidential consultation.

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