Section 240 of the California Penal Code defines an assault as “an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.” Lawyers and judges usually refer to 240 PC as “simple assault” to distinguish the offense from crimes that involve the actual infliction of violent injuries.
Simple assault is one of the most frequently charged offenses in Orange County and across Southern California. While the crime is a misdemeanor, it carries the potential for serious consequences that go beyond a jail sentence. As a crime of violence, a 240 PC conviction can have an impact on employment prospects, professional licensing, and immigration status.
An aggressive defense to an assault charge can result in immediate dismissal of the charge, a “not guilty” verdict, an amendment to a nonviolent or noncriminal charge, or a deferred prosecution that ends with dismissal. As a former prosecutor, Randy Collins understands how to present your case in its most sympathetic light. As a trial lawyer who has been recognized as one of the Top Attorneys in Orange County, Randy Collins knows how to persuade juries that his client is innocent of assault.
Proof of a 240 PC Assault Charge
Penal Code section 240 requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the following facts:
- The accused did an act that by its nature would directly and probably result in the application of force to a person.
- The accused acted willfully.
- While engaging in that act, the accused was aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the act by its nature would directly and probably result in the application of force to a person.
- When the accused acted, the accused had the present ability to apply force to the person.
“Willfully” means deliberately or on purpose. “Application of force” means touching in a way that is offensive or harmful. No touch actually needs to occur. It is enough that the accused acts in a way that would directly and probably result in offensive or harmful touching. For example, throwing an object at someone can be an assault even if the object misses its target.
When touching does occur, it does not need to cause pain or physical harm. Slight touching is enough to constitute an assault if it is done in a rude or angry way.
Despite that complicated definition, the crime defined by 240 PC is often easy to understand. Willfully swinging a fist at someone’s nose is an assault because a punch, if it connects, is an “application of force” and swinging a fist gives the victim good reason to fear being struck.
Under other circumstances, whether a person arrested for assault actually violated 240 PC is ambiguous. Accidentally swinging a fist at someone is not a willful act. Swinging a fist without realizing that another person is present gives the accused no reason to believe that another person would fear the application of force. Playfully swinging a fist in the belief that the other person will recognize the joke creates no reason to believe that the other person will fear being struck. In any of those circumstances, a jury should find the accused not guilty.
Penalties for a 240 PC Charge
A simple assault in violation of California Penal Code 240 PC is a misdemeanor. The maximum penalty is a 6 month jail sentence and/or a $1,000 fine.
The maximum penalty increases to 1 year and/or a $2,000 fine if, at the time of the assault, the victim was performing his or her duties as:
- a parking control officer;
- a police or traffic officer;
- an EMT or mobile intensive care paramedic;
- a lifeguard;
- a process server;
- an animal control or code enforcement officer;
- a member of a search and rescue team;
- a highway worker; or
- a physician or nurse rendering emergency health care outside of a health care facility.
The higher maximum also applies when the assault is committed on:
- school property;
- park property; or
- the property (including vehicles) of a public transportation provider.
Finally, the higher maximum applies when the 240 PC violation is committed against a member of the U.S. Armed Forces because of that person’s military status.
Defenses to a 240 PC Assault Charge
The prosecution is only entitled to a conviction if it can prove the crime of assault beyond a reasonable doubt. The circumstances surrounding an assault often raise questions that create doubt:
- Did the accused act willfully or were the accused’s actions accidental?
- Would a reasonable person have perceived the accused’s innocent actions (such as pushing through a crowd) as normal behavior rather than the application of force?
- Has the accused been falsely accused of committing an assaultive act? Were there witnesses other than the alleged victim? Did all witnesses see the incident in the same way?
- Has the accused been mistaken for the person who actually committed the assault?
- Were the accused’s actions of a nature that would naturally and probably result in the application of force, or was the likelihood of physical contact so remote that no reasonable person would have reason to be concerned about it?
- Did the accused have the actual ability to inflict harm, given the circumstances and the relative locations of the accused and the alleged victim?
- Was the accused responding to a threat by exercising the right of self-defense or defense of others in a reasonable way?
Doubt makes it possible to win acquittals. Doubt also encourages prosecutors to resolve charges in a way that avoids a criminal conviction. Experienced criminal defense attorneys know how to raise doubts to benefit their clients.
California Assault Defense Lawyer
Pleading guilty or trying to negotiate without the assistance of an experienced assault defence attorney is a decision that assault defendants quickly regret. Representing individuals charged with 240 PC violations in Orange County, Riverside, and all Southern California courts, Randy Collins uses his skill and experience to help clients obtain dismissals, acquittals, and other outcomes that avoid harsh consequences.
If you have been arrested for or charged with assault, call The Law Offices of Randy Collins at (888) 250-2865 for a confidential assessment of your case.