Simple assault is a serious offense in California. A conviction could attract a jail sentence and hefty fines. Moreover, the crime carries a lot of stigma and attention. Therefore, if you have been accused of simple assault, you need an attorney to protect your freedom and rights. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we offer defense to clients charged with violent crimes in Los Angeles. 

What is the Definition of Simple Assault?

Code 240 PC is the statute that defines simple assault in California. Also referred to as assault, simple assault is an illegal attempt, combined with the present capability to commit a violent injury on the person of somebody else.

To get a better understanding of the legal definition, here are the facts of the offense that a prosecutor should prove when charging you with simple assault:

  • You engaged in an act whose nature would most likely directly cause an application of force to somebody else
  • You participated in that conduct willfully
  • When you responded, you were aware of the fact that would cause a sensible individual to know that the action could directly and most likely cause the application of force to the individual
  • When you responded, you had the capacity to apply force to the individual

Use of Force

The term use of force refers to a touching that is offensive or detrimental. Even the slightest touch, which is executed in an offensive or impolite manner, will count.

Assault will also occur in California, even when the touching cannot or did not cause an injury. Also, it does not require to be direct. It could be indirect by making a substance touch the alleged victim.

Moreover, it is worth noting that a defendant does not need to have applied force to a victim. What will be considered is that the defendant took an action which would most likely lead to the application of force to the victim.


A person acts willfully when he/she engages in an act on purpose, deliberately, or willingly. The defendant actions don’t require to be planned to:

  • Gain an advantage,
  • Injury another person, or
  • Violate the law

Aware that the Act Could Cause the Application of Force

It's worth repeating that a defendant does not need to have purposed to use force against an alleged victim for Penal Code 240 PC to apply. All they need is knowing that their behavior can cause the application of force under the given circumstances.  

Understanding How Simple Assault Differs from Battery

The terms battery and simple assault are commonly used either interchangeably or together. Well, these two offenses have different legal definitions and penalties in Los Angeles.

Battery is what most people think of when they talk about assault. Battery, under Penal Code 242, is an interaction when an individual touches somebody else using force or violence. Notably, this interaction isn't limited to violent circumstances because it takes into account all non-consensual touching done in an offensive or harmful manner. Battery is the most basic meaning of battery, but the consequences differ depending on the degree of offensiveness, the victim, and the defendant's background.

Assault, on the other hand, is when you attempt to apply violence or force on somebody else. The simplest way to clarify a simple assault is by using the following common examples:

  • Trying to hit a person and missing, and
  • Threats

One of the reasons why battery and simple assault go hand in hand is because a simple assault occurs before a battery. For instance, if you tell a person that you will throw a bottle at them, you have committed simple assault. But if you go ahead and throw the bottle and hit the person, then you have committed battery. In other words, a simple assault is an attempted California battery while battery is a completed simple assault.

What Punishment Does Simple Assault in California Carry?

Violation of simple assault laws is a California misdemeanor. It carries penalties such as:

  • One thousand dollars in fine
  • Summary (misdemeanor) probation, and
  • Up to six (6) months in county jail

Simple Assault on an Emergency Personnel or Law Enforcer

The punishment for simple assault is grave if the alleged victim is a member of a particular professional group. You will face enhanced penalties if you commit assault against a person who is executing their official duties and belongs to categories below:

  • Animal control official
  • Code enforcement official
  • Paramedic
  • Peace officers, like police or any law enforcer
  • Process server
  • Traffic officer
  • A medical practitioner providing emergency medical care, and
  • Firefighter

If you commit an assault against a person who falls in any of the categories above and you knew or should have been aware that they belonged, you risk facing:

  • Up to $2,000 in fines, and
  • Serving time in a county jail for one year

The penalty for assaulting a parking control officer who is performing their duties increases to $2,000. This is because parking control officers are potential targets of simple assault.

How to Effectively Fight California Simple Assault

Having a simple assault conviction of your criminal record makes people think you're a vicious person. While the truth is, you could have been convicted of something that involved very little violence. To fight Penal Code Section 240 PC charges, you should hire an experienced criminal defense legal representative. The lawyer should be able to use any or all of the defenses below on your behalf:

  1. You were Wrongly Accused

There are no requirements that the supposed victim sustained an injury under California simple assault laws. Therefore, it is easy for an individual to falsely frame another person of committing PC 240, out of vengeance, anger, or jealousy.

Any renowned legal expert will tell you they have previously experienced this situation. As a result, they know how to interview any witnesses and collect evidence to ensure the truth is revealed.

  1. You Didn't Have the Capacity to Inflict Violence/Force

Having the capability to cause violence or force on the supposed victim is an element of the crime in question. In other words, if you don't have that capacity, then you can't be found guilty of simple assault.

  1. You Reacted in Your Defense or Defense of Others

The defense of self or others could be used as a defense to simple assault allegations in the event all the statements below are correct:

  • You thought that either you or somebody else was at risk of suffering bodily harm or being touched illegally
  • You believed that the abrupt use of force would be crucial to protect against that risk, and
  • You only used the force required to protect against that risk

Nevertheless, words alone, notwithstanding how unpleasant, are not sufficient to justify the offense in question. Defense of self or others can only be used when you reasonably thought a person was at risk of physical harm or unlawful touching.

  1. You didn't Respond with the Necessary Intention or Willfully

In case you didn't willfully attempt to apply force against somebody else, you cannot be convicted of violating simple assault laws.

Your lawyer could argue the alleged victim wrongly interpreted your conduct, or your conduct was accidental. In this case, you should ensure that both the judge and prosecutor get the whole story.

Related Offenses

Simple assault charges could be pressed alongside or instead of charges such as:

Battery Causing Severe Bodily Injury/Battery (California 242 PC)

As mentioned earlier, battery differs from PC 240 in that battery needs you actually to apply violence against another person.

Battery is a California misdemeanor. It is punished by:

  • A maximum fine of $2,000, and
  • A 6-month jail sentence

However, if you inflict severe harm on the supposed victim, you will be charged with more severe  consequences that come with a battery with grave bodily injury charge. Violation of Penal Code 242(d) is a wobbler; it can be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor.

Severe bodily hurt is a substantial or significant injury. It doesn't have to be permanent. The issue of whether an injury is severe bodily harm or not is something only the judge decides after putting the circumstances of the case into consideration. Examples of severe bodily injuries include significant bruising and swelling, chipped teeth, cuts which require stitches, loss of consciousness, and broken bones. 

You will spend 2, 3, or 4 years in California state prison if tried with a California felony.

Disturbing the Peace (Penal Code Section 415 PC)

According to Penal Code Section 415 PC, it is illegal to:

  • Fight another person in public
  • Direct offensive fighting words towards somebody else in public, or
  • Make unreasonable noise that disturbs other people

Penal Code Section 415 PC is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a ninety-day prison sentence. Sometimes it is considered an infraction.

If charged with Penal Code 240 PC and the prosecutor's evidence is not strong, the prosecution may reduce the charge against you to Penal Code 415. This is an excellent outcome since the punishment and stigma for PC 415 are substantially less severe than those of simple assault.

Assault with a Deadly Weapon (California Penal Code Section 245(a)(1))

You will be charged PC 245(a)(1), in the event you commit simple assault with either:

  • A fatal weapon, for instance, a firearm, or
  • Other methods of force that can cause severe bodily hurt

PC 245(a)(1) can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony. If charged with a misdemeanor, you will serve a year in jail. A felony, on the other hand, attracts 2, 3, or 4 years in prison.

Simple Assault on a Public Official

PC 217.1(a) is assault committed on a public official either to prevent them from executing their official responsibilities or in vengeance.

A public official could be a judge, prosecutor, executive or elected official of the federal, local and state government, or a public defender.

Penal Code section 217.1(a) PC is tried as a wobbler. While a misdemeanor attracts a potential one year sentence, a felony is punished by sixteen months, two years, or three years.

Assault with a Caustic Chemical (PC 244)

Breaking PC 244 laws is a severe category of simple assault. Simple assault with a caustic chemical is putting or throwing caustic chemicals on another person's body to harm them.

Simple assault with a caustic chemical is a California felony. It is punishable by 2, 3, or 4 years in prison.

Throwing Objects at a Car (VC 23110)

Throwing a substance at a car happens when you throw a substance at a vehicle that is on the street.

Should the case's circumstances justify it, you could be charged with this law instead of a simple assault. Unlike simple assault, VC 23110 doesn't need you to have the present capacity to apply force to the alleged victim. In other words, you may be convicted of this offense even if the object you threw did not hit the vehicle or those in it.

Typically, VC 23110 is a California misdemeanor. Nonetheless, it could be a California felony in the event the substance thrown was in a position to cause serious injury. Also, you should have intended to inflict severe bodily harm.

How a Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Assist You

What most defendants who want to represent themselves do not know is, reading books with simple assault penalties, defenses, and consequences will not lead them to their case's victory. There is a significant difference between reading law and practicing it in a court of law. Being familiar with the ebbs and flows of a trial makes the difference between winning and losing a case.

Besides interviewing and calling witnesses in your defense, your competent lawyer has many roles such as:

  1. Plea Bargain on Your Behalf

A plea bargain can drastically reduce your penalties or even eliminate the charges pressed against you. However, the prosecution is often unwilling to negotiate with individuals who represent themselves.

  1. Offer you a Reality Check

Experienced attorneys know the intricacies of a trial process better than you. Moreover, they will remain objective during the proceedings. As a result, they can provide insight into how the trial will go. These reality checks and assessments are essential, particularly when deciding whether to accept the plea bargain offer or not.

  1. Highlight Laws that you Might not Find on Your Own

Many details concerning criminal prosecutions are buried within laws. For instance, if you choose to represent yourself, you might not know whether the search conducted by the police in your house was legal or not.

  1. Explain to You the Hidden Cost of Pleading Guilty

Most people who represent themselves never think of the consequences of pleading guilty provided it will result in lesser penalties. However, you could find it hard finding a lucrative job after completing your punishment.

  1. Able to Collect Statements and Evidence from Witnesses

Most witnesses refuse to give details and statements to defendants for fear of their safety and life. Nonetheless, these witnesses are more willing to speak to a legal expert about their testimony.

  1. Engage Expert Witnesses and Investigators

Investigators will investigate both the alleged offense and the witnesses. If the investigators can get proof that would make the witnesses' testimony less credible, this could assist your case tremendously.

How Simple Assault Committed by a Minor is Treated in California

Any person below the age of 18 years in California is considered a minor in the eyes of the law. Unfortunately, minors aren't exempted from getting in trouble with the law. If your child has been accused of simple assault, they will be tried in a juvenile court instead of an adult court. Simple assault charges are the same irrespective of the age.

Sometimes a minor could be tried as an adult. This happens when the child is above fourteen years of age and has committed a severe offense, such as assault with a firearm. If your child is charged as an adult, they could face an adult prison sentence.

It is worth noting that juvenile offenses could be counted as a strike under Three Strike Law. A strike could result in life imprisonment after a third conviction. As a result, it is crucial to seek a skilled attorney so that you know the charges and punishment your child could face. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Will You be Tried with Simple Assault if you Used a Firearm that was not Loaded?

A firearm that is not loaded is not able to shoot any person and can assault no one. If a defendant used a gun that wasn't loaded to rob or coerce an individual, they would face other crimes other than simple assault.

But it is considered an assault if the defendant hits an individual with a gun or attempts to. It does not matter whether that gun is loaded or not.

Is Spitting an Assault in California?

Generally, spitting is an expression of anger or disgust that people resort to rather than hitting their targets. It often happens when people are engaged in a heated argument or being arrested.

As mentioned earlier, even a non-forceful or non-violent act can be considered an assault if the court finds the touch unwanted or offensive. That means, when the spit touches another person, it can be regarded as an assault even when you didn't contact the other person.

Spitting on somebody else often doesn't cause them any harm, particularly when you spit on their shoe. But it could be well-thought-out to be Penal Code 242 PC.

If you spit into another person's food and the person takes the food, the act of spitting is an assault. This is because the person made contact with your spit.

Spitting is usually not reported to the police unless when done to a peace officer during an arrest or at traffic stops. In that case, the charges will most likely prevail. However, the prosecutor may use the assault charges as a plea bargain to have you agree to a guilty plea in exchange for dropping the assault charge.

Is Drunkenness a Defense to Simple Assault in California?

When a defendant assaults a person while intoxicated, they can't use voluntary intoxication as a defense. The defendant ought to be aware that alcohol or drugs impair mental functioning. Nevertheless, if a defense lawyer can successfully prove that the defendant was involuntary intoxicated, they won't be found guilty of simple assault. This is because they didn't choose to consume drugs or alcohol.

Is a Piece of Metal a Lethal Weapon as far as Assault is Concerned?

Items such as firearms are deadly weapons in the eyes of the law. However, objects which are not dangerous in everyday use, if used in a manner that can result in serious bodily injury are well-thought-out to be lethal weapons. Typically, objects are considered inherently dangerous based on their nature and how they were used in the case's circumstances.

Will You be Charged with Simple Assault if You wanted to Assault a Different Person Other than the One You are Charged with Assaulting?

According to assault laws and the doctrine of transferred intent, the prosecution team should prove that you willfully assaulted another person. There are no requirements of whether the alleged victim was your intended target or not. Defending a case like this can be complicated. As a result, you should hire a skilled assault attorney immediately to help you with your case.

If You were Charged with Simple Assault when You Hit another Person and Committed a Battery, Can You Win Based on the Fact that You were Charged with the Wrong Offense?

The answer does not lie under the facts. The prosecutor is free to charge a defendant with a lesser crime of the same version if they choose to.

Finding a Los Angeles Criminal Attorney Near Me

Facing simple assault charges in Los Angeles can be both scary and devastating. You might have a lot of questions, and suddenly your life is complicated as a result of legal penalties, court dates, and uncertainty about the future. Bearing all this in mind, you should hire the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we believe in offering our clients with a personalized and aggressive defense that has our client's interests in mind. Do not risk the severe punishment for a simple assault conviction. Call us today at 310-935-1675 to set up your initial consultation.