Assault Charges in California: The Comprehensive Guide

Assault charges in California can have a significant impact on your freedom and future, but a skilled attorney can protect your rights.

Basics of Assault Charges in California


Understanding assault charges in California is vital for anyone who has been charged with such crimes or for those who need to take legal action against someone else. The State of California has dedicated California Penal Code Section 240 to defining assault and outlining its potential penalties. Essentially, the law states that a person has assaulted another when he or she commits an unlawful attempt coupled with the present ability to commit a violent injury to another person. Assault is a serious offense in California, so if you find yourself in any situation involving California assault charges, you should hire a lawyer immediately.

I am San Francisco defense attorney Valery Nechay, founder of the Law Office of Valery Nechay. I have obtained favorable results for my clients such as: getting cases discharged and dismissed, reduced sentences, diversion resulting in dismissal, and not-guilty verdicts at trial for countless clients who have been charged with assault and battery in California. If you or someone you love is facing California assault charges or would like to proceed with pursuing charges against someone who assaulted you, I have precisely what it takes to protect your rights.

There are several different factors that will determine the type of assault a person can be charged with, including their motive for the assault, the severity of the injuries suffered by the alleged victim, and whether a weapon was used. I will further discuss the intricacies of assault under the California Penal Code shortly.

Simple Assault and Battery Charges in California


While simple assault and battery laws are relatively similar in California, these are two separate crimes, with each bringing its own potential consequences. Understanding the difference between simple assault, battery, and felony assault charges in California is essential when understanding the nature of the charges you face.

In the state of California, a party is guilty of simple assault if they swing at another person, even if they miss. For instance, if you are at a bar where you wind up in a verbal altercation with another patron and one of you swings at the other, that individual has committed the crime of simple assault. Under California Penal Code 240, this crime is a misdemeanor and may be punishable by up to six months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Such charges may also be accompanied by other misdemeanor charges such as disturbing the peace, which may increase your potential penalties.

The identity of the alleged assault victim also has an impact on what sort of charges are filed against the aggressor. In California, healthcare workers and other public employees are protected against assault by a stricter set of laws than the average California resident. 

If the assailant knows that the person they assaulted was a public employee such as a police officer or a healthcare worker, the defendant may be subject to harsher penalties based on the occupation of their victim when they are convicted of assault in California. The penalties for assault on a public worker, for instance, include up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000, while the penalties for knowingly assaulting a police officer include between sixteen months to two or three years of county jail time or state prison time and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

In essence, the difference between an assault and battery charge in California is intent. While simple assault involves an attempt at causing violent injury to another person, simple battery in California involves the actual application of force or violence on that person. It’s important to note, however, that while the use of force is considered simple battery under the California Penal Code, the act does not need to have caused any harm or injury. In any case, even the most minor simple assault or battery charges can bring significant consequences, so it’s always a good idea to treat your misdemeanor charges seriously and consult an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Assault With a Deadly Weapon & Felony Assault Charges in California


Someone who does more than swing at another person or throw an object at them may face more serious penalties under California law if they are convicted of assault. However, there are several factors that determine if the offense will be filed as a felony assault charge in California.

First of all, the end result of the assault will have a serious bearing on whether the case is viewed as a misdemeanor or a felony. For instance, if the victim suffers serious bodily injury, the assailant is more likely to face felony assault charges in California. If a deadly weapon is involved, such as a firearm, a knife, or a flammable substance, the offender may be charged with assault with a deadly weapon or assault with caustic chemicals, both of which may be categorized as felonies.

Of course, no one is injured if an assailant throws a punch but fails to make contact, which is why those cases are viewed as misdemeanors. However, if the victim suffers great bodily injury stemming from the attack, the assailant may face felony charges.

While misdemeanors typically come with a fine and a maximum of six months in jail, felony charges may carry with them a sentence of up to four years under California Penal Code 240. However, to be convicted of felony assault or battery, the prosecutor must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused intended to use force and knew that it would directly and probably result in great bodily injury to the victim.

This high burden of proof means that you have a fighting chance at successfully beating your charges, so you should not hesitate to seek help from a skilled Southern California criminal defense attorney. Depending on the circumstances, your battery defense lawyer may be able to reduce your charges to a lesser offense. If you are accused of assault by throwing an object at someone’s motor vehicle, for example, your charges could be argued down to the misdemeanor crime of throwing objects or substances at a motor vehicle if there is evidence that you did not have the present ability to apply force to the victim.

Pressing Charges for Assault in California


If you have been the victim of a violent crime in the state of California, you may have the grounds to press assault charges against your assailant. However, the first thing anyone who has been the victim of assault should do is seek medical attention. Not only is it important that you have any injuries you may have sustained being treated by a healthcare professional, but it is also a vital part of building your case against your assailant.

Even if you believe that the injuries you suffered are minor, medical documentation will be crucial in your case. As the patient, you will have access to the medical records which you can turn over to your attorney who will be representing you in your case against the person who assaulted you. Once you have sought medical attention, you should immediately contact law enforcement to file a formal complaint against your assailant. Again, even if your injuries are minor, having documentation that you took your case to the police will matter when a judge or jury hears your case.

Finally, if you are going to pursue a case against the person who allegedly assaulted you, you will want your own legal representation. Finding an attorney who is familiar with California law regarding assault is important when officially making your case against your assailant. This attorney can review your medical records and your police report and help you begin building your case.

This is also relevant if you have been charged with the crime of assault in addition to having been assaulted yourself. When you consult my criminal defense office about your California assault charges, I can help build a strong case establishing that you were acting in self-defense or defense of others and that you did not intend to cause violent injury.

Common Defenses Against Assault Charges in California


Defending against assault charges in California hinges on understanding and strategically applying several key legal defenses. One commonly invoked is self-defense, where the accused must prove that they reasonably believed they were in imminent danger of being injured or touched unlawfully, that immediate use of force was necessary to prevent this harm, and that the amount of force used was not excessive relative to the threat.

Another prevalent defense is the defense of others, akin to self-defense, which justifies the use of force if the defendant reasonably believed that another person was in immediate danger of physical harm and that the intervention was necessary at the moment.

Consent is a defense occasionally used, particularly in cases involving sports or mutually agreed-upon physical conduct where physical contact is a known risk.

Accident or misfortune also stands as a valid defense, emphasizing that any harm caused was unintentional and occurred during a lawful activity without any negligent or criminal intent.

Moreover, the lack of ability to carry out the threat can nullify assault charges if the prosecution cannot establish that the defendant was actually capable of inflicting harm at the time of the alleged assault.

These defenses require thorough evidence and professional testimony to substantiate, making them complex but potentially very effective in proving a defendant’s innocence or mitigating the severity of the charges.

Statute of Limitations for Criminal Charges in California Assault


It is important to note that there is a statute of limitations for criminal charges in California assault cases. In simple assault cases, you have one year to report the attack to the police. However, most felony assaults carry a three-year statute of limitations. While these numbers may give you an idea of the maximum amount of time you can wait to file charges, you should not wait to file charges against your assailant.

Even though any charges that are filed within the allotted window are supposed to be treated the same, the human element of a judge or jury who hears your case years after the fact can have a negative impact on the ruling you’re seeking. As years pass, the details of the assault become less clear and evidence often gets buried in law enforcement evidence lockers. Therefore, whether you’ve been charged with criminal assault in California or you are looking to pursue legal action against someone who assaulted you, acting quickly and retaining the services of a skilled California criminal defense lawyer is your best course of action.

How to File Assault Charges With the Police Department in California


Filing an assault charge with the police department in California is a relatively straightforward process. You can dial 911 or contact your local law enforcement office. They will dispatch an officer to you who will take your statement and the statement of any witnesses who may have seen the attack take place. The officer will then take those statements back to the office, prepare a written police report, and investigate the case against your assailant. As the person who filed the claim, you can request a copy of the police report after it is finished.

If you want to pursue civil litigation against the person who allegedly assaulted you, you will need the services of an attorney. This attorney can review your medical and police records and help represent you when your case is heard by a judge or jury.

As a trusted San Francisco criminal defense attorney, I have extensive experience representing individuals who have been impacted by violent crimes like assault in California, including those whose situations involve domestic violence. In addition to helping you pursue civil or criminal charges, I am also equipped to help you obtain a restraining order if you are in need of protection.

If you are ready to begin building a strong case against your assailant and obtain the results you desire, please contact my Southern California law firm immediately. Together, we’ll begin laying the foundation for a better and brighter future.


If you are under investigation or charged with a crime, I will consult with you in person and at no charge to you.