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Defenses to Assault Charges In California

By November 19, 2019 No Comments

“Assault” under California Penal Code § 240 is defined as an action that may inflict physical harm or unwanted touching on someone else. Thus, someone may be charged with assault for merely attempting a battery, defined as the actual infliction of force or violence on someone else under California Penal Code § 242. An experienced criminal defense attorney may determine if any viable legal defenses apply to any set of facts where an individual is accused of the crime of assault.

Like a conviction for a domestic violence crime, a conviction for an assault crime may carry the stigma that the guilty party is a violent individual. After all, an assault charge means the prosecutors believe a willful attempt was made by the defendant to hurt another person.

Yet, under California Penal Code § 240, a defendant may be convicted of assault for behavior that was anything but violent. Also, even a simple assault in California may result in a sentence of up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000. Thus, it is especially important to raise and assert any viable defenses to a charge of assault.

The following are possible defenses to an assault charge. It is important to note that words alone, regardless of the extent of the insult, are insufficient to justify an assault.

*Inability to inflict force or violence

One of the elements of assault in California is that the defendant must have the ability to inflict force on the victim to be guilty of assault.

*Self-defense/defense of others

The legal defense of self-defense/defense of others applies if all the following are true:

  1. A reasonable belief that you or someone else was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury or being touched unlawfully;
  2. A reasonable belief that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against the danger; and
  3. No more force was used than was reasonably necessary to defend against the danger.

Self-defense/defense of others may only be successfully raised if a reasonable belief exists that someone was in danger of an unlawful touching or physical injury. Mere words are not enough.

*Defense of property

This may be a defense if the defendant reasonably believed there was an immediate threat of harm to property, and the reasonable amount of force necessary was used to defend the property.

*Lack of required intent/action not willful

If an individual does not “willfully” attempt to use force against another person, then PC § 240 does not apply. Actions may be accidental or misinterpreted by the alleged “victim.”

*False accusation

PC § 240 does not require that the alleged victim suffer an actual injury. Thus, it is not an unexpected occurrence when a person falsely accuses someone of committing assault.


This may be a viable defense in situations such as sporting matches where an offensive touching occurs, but the perpetrator believes the victim consented.

John Patrick Dolan’s forty years of experience as a California criminal defense attorney has helped his clients obtain the best resolution possible in a criminal matter. John Patrick Dolan has handled everything from traffic tickets to death penalty murder cases. Mr. Dolan is a recognized California State Bar Certified Specialist in Criminal Law and a seasoned courtroom advocate. Call us today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.

Defenses to Assault Charges In California

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