What You Need to Know About Each Degree of Assault in California

Understanding the various degrees of assault can be challenging to navigate. Here is what you need to know about the different degrees.

The different degrees of assault consider the intent behind the assault and the action of the assault. Different states may interpret the different degrees of assault differently. Below are the legal definitions of the types and degrees of assault in the state of California and the legal consequences as stipulated by California Penal Code section 240.

Definition of Assault in California

In California, the legal definition of assault applies to an individual who willfully acts with the intent of committing a violent injury against another person. There are a few types of assault: verbal, simple, aggravated, and sexual.

  1. Individuals are charged with verbal assault if they threaten to harm someone with a physical act of violence.
  2. Simple assault is the most commonly known form of assault—meaning it is intentional physical violence against another person.
  3. Aggravated assault is slightly more severe than simple assault. Aggravated assault may include a deadly weapon or is an assault that results in serious injury.
  4. Sexual assault is defined as the touching or assaulting of intimate body parts of another individual against their will.

Related: Assault vs Sexual Assault in California

Elements of Assault

In order to be prosecuted for assault, one must be found guilty of all of these conditions:

  1. The act of assault, by nature, would directly apply force against someone.
  2. It was purposeful.
  3. Prior to the act of assault, one was aware that the act would result in reasonable harm to a person.
  4. Prior to the assault, one had the ability to inflict physical harm.

In California, someone can be prosecuted for assault even if no one was hurt or if they never even touched the other person. An example of this is if Person A and Person B were in an argument and Person A goes to punch Person B. If Person A misses the punch because Person B avoided it, Person A may still be found guilty of assault because they satisfy the four elements that classify assault.

Simple Assault vs. Aggravated Assault

The way to distinguish the difference between simple assault and aggravated assault is the behavior and intent behind the action. Simple assault can often be charged as a misdemeanor and can include actions that are borderline criminal and non-criminal.

Aggravated assault is defined as when someone is intentionally reckless or violent with their actions and can cause serious injuries to the body. Thus, an assault is considered aggravated when a person acts without regard for the well-being or life of another.

The Difference Between Assault and Battery in California

In the state of California, assault and battery can be charged as two separate convictions. As defined above, a person can be charged with assault so long as there is enough evidence to show there was the intent for violence and harm and the person had a reasonable ability to commit violence on another person’s body.

Assault charges can also be made when there were no actual violent acts committed, however, when such action was attempted. Battery is charged when actual violence is carried through. Assault and battery can be charged together when the defendant is found guilty of attempting to assault someone and successfully doing so.

An example of the difference between assault and battery is Person A punching Person B. If Person A attempts to punch Person B but misses, Person A can be charged with assault. However, if Person A lands the punch, they will be charged with both assault and battery.

Penalties for Assault in California

Penalties for assault in California can range anywhere from a few months to several years of jail time along with fines. The severity of the penalty depends on the severity of the assault.

Because simple assault is considered a misdemeanor in California, the penalty is typically up to six months of jail and a fine of $1,000 for one charge of assault. Multiple charges can increase the penalty.

Related: 1st Degree Assault in California: Penalties & Defenses

Battery charges can be either a misdemeanor offense or a felony offense depending on the severity of the injury. If it is charged as a misdemeanor offense, the penalty is up to six months in jail and a fine of $2,000. But if the battery charge is a felony charge, a person can face up to two to four years in prison.

If a person is charged with assault with a deadly weapon, they can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony. This charge can lead to up to four years in prison.

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