Imagine you are being accused of physically assaulting someone and people are pointing fingers at you. You feel like the criminal justice system is closing in on you and you have nobody on your side. This is when you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney with a proven track record in getting positive results in these types of cases. The law is innocent until proven guilty! As terrible as this sounds, it happens every day in San Diego County. The policy for San Diego law enforcement is that if a person comes forward to report a crime, witness statements will be sufficient probable cause to make an arrest. This means people can say whatever they want to police and the police have to take action. It is up to you and your attorney to set the record straight in the eyes of the court early on in your case.
Assault in San Diego
This offense occurs under California Penal Code section 240 when the willful application of force is coupled with the present ability to carry out a threat of harm, injury or commit a violent injury against another person.
Acting willingly; on purpose.
Application of Force:
Touching another person in harmful or offensive manner. This can be done indirectly by causing contact with an object or through another person.
Present Ability to Harm:
Actual intent to use force against that person is not required. Only need to have awareness that under the circumstances, the present ability to apply force would likely cause harm to another person.
The person’s body, clothing or something attached to their person.
Defendant Did Not Act in Self Defense:
The burden is on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense.
Understanding Penal Code Section 240
In consideration of the seriousness of assault, California has criminalized it under Penal Code section 240. Under this law, “Any person who willfully makes an unlawful attempt to apply force, coupled with the present ability to carry out a threat of harm, injury or commit a violent injury against another person is guilty of assault and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by both the fine and imprisonment.”
Basically, to convict someone of PC 240, the prosecutor must prove each of the following elements:
- The defendant willfully and unlawfully committed an act that resulted or would have resulted in force being used against another person;
- The defendant had knowledge of information that would cause a reasonable person to assume that what the defendant was doing would result in force being used against another person;
- The defendant was aware that when the action was taken, he or she had the ability to exert force on the other person;
- The defendant was not acting in self-defense.
Assault is a Specific Intent Crime
General intent refers to a defendant’s intent to commit an act that is prohibited by law. For a conviction under California PC 240, general intent is not enough. Specific intent is the intent to, both commit an act and to cause a particular result. For a conviction under California PC 240, the prosecutor needs to prove intent in two instances. First, that the defendant intentionally committed the act. Second, that the defendant intended to cause a particular result when committing that act. This means that to be guilty of assault, you would need to have intentionally caused harmful contact with the other person with the intent of producing apprehension of harm in that person.
An unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another is a misdemeanor offense.
In California assault is charged as a misdemeanor, if convicted under PC 240, you may face:
- A sentence up to 6 months in the county jail;
- A fine of up to $1,000;
- Informal probation.
Enhancements for Different Assault Cases
An enhancement offense is an offense whose commission alone increases the penalties for the simple offense. In California the identity of the alleged victim and the location where the assault took place may subject you to sentence enhancements. This means that if the person belongs to a protected class or the assault occurs on protected property, the court is allowed to add extra time to the sentence for the underlying crime of assault.
Assault Against a Peace Officer
This offense occurs under California Penal Code section 241(c) when the willful application of force is coupled with the present ability to carry out a threat of harm, injury or commit a violent injury against a special victim in a protected class who is engaged in the performance of his or her duties.
A person whose profession designates special protection by the law when engaged in the performance of his or her duty.
An assault against the following special victims carries sentence enhancements to simple assault charges:
- police officer
- public safety officer
- health care provider
- prison guard
- government official
- elderly person
Prosecution's Burden for Assault Against A Special Victim
The penalties you could face for simple assault will be increased if you knowingly commit an assault against a person in a protected class. In order to be convicted under California PC 241(c), the prosecution MUST prove each of the following elements:
1) You assaulted a peace officer, firefighter, search and rescue member or any other type of person engaged in rendering emergency medical care;
2) At the time of the assault, the protected person was engaged in the performance of his or her duties;
3) You knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a peace officer, firefighter, or search and rescue member engaged in the performance of his or her duties or a person engaged in emergency medical care;
4) You were not acting in self-defense.
An assault against a special victim under these circumstances carries more severe penalties than simple assault against any other victim. Instead of facing up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to one thousand dollars under PC 241(a), assault against a peace officer under PC 241(c) would subject you to an enhancement of up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
Assault Against Any Person On Property That Receives Special Consideration
This offense occurs under California Penal Code section 241.3 when the willful application of force is coupled with the present ability to carry out a threat of harm, injury or commit a violent injury against any person on the vehicle or property of a public transportation provider.
School Property or Park
This offense occurs under California Penal Code section 241.2(a) when the willful application of force is coupled with the present ability to carry out a threat of harm, injury or commit a violent injury against any person on school or park property. Except for facilities used for commercial events or professional sports.
Prosecution's Burden for Assault Occurring On Property That Receives Special Consideration
The prosecution MUST prove each of the following elements:
- You assaulted the victim;
- At the time of the assault, the victim was on property that receives special consideration by the law;
- You were not acting in self-defense.
An assault that takes place in a school, park, or public transportation provider’s property carries more severe penalties than simple assault that occurs anywhere else. Instead of facing up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to one thousand dollars under PC 241(a), assault under either PC 241.2(a) or 241.3 would subject you to an enhancement of up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
Ultimately, any enhancement to a misdemeanor assault charge is an added risk to your liberty. That is why it is imperative that your criminal defense lawyer address any aggravating factors in your case early on in order to prevent an enhanced sentence if you are convicted.
Assault Related Offenses: Firearms Ban
In California, a single misdemeanor assault conviction carries a ten year firearms ban. In consideration of the seriousness of this ban, California has criminalized it under Penal Code section 29805. A person violates this ban if he or she owns, purchases, receives, possesses, or has under his or her custody or control a firearm within ten years of a conviction for misdemeanor assault.
In California when you receive a conviction under PC 240 and violate PC 29805 you could face:
Misdemeanor Penalties for Related Assault Offenses
- A sentence up to 1 year in the county jail;
- A fine of up to $1,000.
Felony Penalties for Related Assault Offenses
- A sentence for 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in California state prison;
- A fine of up to $1,000.
These are some of the criminal defenses that we can assert on your behalf to help you overcome the charges for assault filed against you:
- You did not willfully intend to commit the act that caused injury to the other person.
- You lacked the ability to cause harm or inflict force against the other person.
- You were falsely accused of committing the assault.
- You were acting in self-defense or were protecting another person.
To assert this defense, you must have had a reasonable belief that you or the person you were protecting were likely to be physically harmed. This means that the threat of harm you faced was imminent and not a future threat of harm. Moreover, for you to be justified in using force, the force you applied to fight off the attack must have been proportionate to the threatened force.
If you find yourself in a situation where you could be charged with assault make sure to contact San Diego criminal defense attorney Vik Monder to defend you. It is important you understand the charges against you, recognize the potential for enhancements in your case and are made aware of the consequences of a conviction under these charges.
California Penal Code section 240 is charged as a misdemeanor because it is considered the least serious form of assault. However, an enhancement for simple assault could subject you to the maximum penalties for misdemeanors. Not to mention the firearm consequences that you will be exposed to if convicted of a misdemeanor violation of simple assault.
You see a conviction for assault, even if a misdemeanor, can still have detrimental consequences. It can take away your liberty, affect your right to own a gun, and limit you future employment options. You do not have to face these charges alone; we can help you launch a strong criminal defense to avoid these consequences.