What Does the Prosecution Have to Prove in an Assault Case?
California Penal Code Section 240 defines the crime of assault and describes what the prosecution needs to prove for a conviction. Under California law, assault is an “an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.”
Broken down further, the prosecution must demonstrate that the defendant:
- Perpetrated an act that would likely result in the application of force to another person by its very nature
- Performed the act willfully and under his own volition, and not by accident
- Was aware of the possibility, to the extent a reasonable person would be aware, that the act would directly and probably result in the application of force to another person
- Had the present ability to apply force
To be convicted of assault, the defendant does not actually have to make contact with the victim. The “attempt” to apply force is all that is required.
Secondly, the attempt does not have to be violent. It just has to be an attempt to apply force. In fact, there can even be a degree of separation between the offender and the victim. For example, if the offender throws a rock at someone standing 100 feet away but misses the target, the offender could still be charged with assault.
Perhaps the slipperiest element of assault is intent. The defendant does not have to intentionally assault the victim. Rather they must only be aware that their acts could result in the application of force to another human being. For example, two men are fighting at a party. If one of the men swings to hit the other but accidentally punches a woman standing nearby instead, he could be charged with assault even though he had no intention of hitting the woman.
What’s the Difference Between Assault and Battery?
People commonly use the terms “assault” and “battery” interchangeably. But they in fact describe two different crimes.
California Penal Code Section 242, defines battery as “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.”
The primary distinction between assault and battery is the application of force. A battery conviction requires the actual application of force (physical contact), not merely the attempt to apply force.
Generally speaking, when a person commits battery, they often also commit assault. For example, a man and woman are arguing over a parking spot at the supermarket, and the woman slaps the man across his face. The act of slapping would constitute assault, and the actual striking of his face would constitute battery. Thus, she could be charged with assault and battery.
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Common Charges Related to Assault
There are a variety of charges that often tie into assault cases, including:
- Assault with a deadly weapon– California Penal Code Section 245
- Battery– California Penal Code Section 242
- Aggravated battery– California Penal Code Section 243(d)
- Domestic battery– California Penal Code Section 243(e)(1)
- Sexual battery– California Penal Code Section 243
- Battery on a police officer– California Penal Code Sections 243(b) and 243(c)
Common Defenses to Assault and Battery
Defense attorneys will always explore a variety of strategies to undermine the prosecution’s case. Some common defenses to assault charges include:
- Accident: The defense may be able to show that the actions were accidental, and the defendant lacked the necessary intent for a conviction.
- Self-defense: Battery can be justified if the alleged offender had a reasonable fear of bodily harm or death.
- Defense of others: Battery can also be justified if it was necessary to protect others.
- Consent: If the victim consented to the touching, the defendant cannot be held responsible for assault.
At the Law Offices of Justin E. Sterling, we will go over all the details in your case and identify all the weaknesses in the prosecution’s argument. We may also uncover flaws in the investigation that could lead to certain evidence being thrown out. Oftentimes, we are able to get charges reduced or dismissed altogether, depending on the circumstances.