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Penal Code 240 PC California Assault Law

By Spodek Law Group | July 13, 2021

Penal Code 240 PC of California law defines the crime of assault as “an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.” The offense may be a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1000.00. Even though the phrase “assault & battery” often refers to the same crime, it’s actually two different crimes. The first one is the unlawful use of force or violence against another person.


  • Two teenagers throw rocks at their neighbor while she is gardening in her yard.
  • A man swings at a stranger over a parking space, but the latter ducks and avoids getting hit.
  • After a man propositions a woman  at a bar in a way she finds offensive, she throws the glass containing her drink at him;


A simple assault on the 240 PC is a misdemeanor under California law. A felony assault is charged in more serious cases, which we will discuss in section 4 below. 

 In most cases, California penalties for assault include fines of up to one thousand U.S. dollars ($1,000) and/or county jail for up to six (6) months.

Legal defenses

PC 240 allows prosecutors to charge people with assault even if they weren’t hurt by their actions. This is especially dangerous for people who have no criminal history.

California criminal defense lawyers can help. You can use a variety of strong legal defenses to counter these allegations. These include:

  • You did not act willfully or with the required intention; and
  • You were falsely accused.
  • You didn’t actually had the ability to inflict force/violence on the other person;
  • You acted in self-defense or defense of someone else;

California criminal defense lawyers can help. You can use a variety of strong legal defenses to counter these allegations. These include:

  1. How is the crime of simple assault defined in the California Penal Code?
  2. What are the consequences on conviction of 240 PC?
  3. How can a skilled attorney defend against these charges in court?
  4. Are there other crimes customarily charged in connectiion with assault?
  5. Can an assault victim also file a civil case?

If, after reading this article, you would like further information, we invite you to contact us at Spodek Law Group.

1. How is the crime of simple assault defined in the California Penal Code?

240 PC of California Penal Code, California’s assault law, sets out the legal definition of California assault.

The “elements” of the crime of assault—that is, the facts that the district attorney needs to demonstrate in order for you to be guilty of this offense—are as follows:

  1. You committed an act that, by its nature, would probably result immediately in the application of force to someone else;
  2. You committed that act willfully;
  3. When you committed the act in question, you have been conscious of facts that would lead an individual to believe that the act would directly and likely result in the application of force to that person; and
  4. When you committed the act in question, you had the present capacity to apply force to that person.

Let’s study a bit more deeply into these elements of the crime of assault to better understand their meaning.

The term “Application of force”

The definition of “application of force” stands to mean, any harmful or offensive touching. The slightest touching will count if it is done in a discourteous, or offensive manner.

A California assault can be initiated even if the victim did not suffer any sort of injury.

A California assault can occur even if the touching involved did not or could not cause any sort of injury. It doesn’t need to be direct either—it can be done indirectly by causing an object to touch the “victim.”

Additionally, note the fact that, you don’t need to have succeeded in applying force to another person to prove that you did it. All that is necessary is that you took some action that would likely have resulted in force being applied to them.

Acting “Willfully”

You act “willfully” when you do something willingly or on purpose. You do not need to have intended to harm anyone else, disobey the law or, win any advantage.

Example: Kelvin makes an attempt to become a member of his collegiate fraternity. Kelvin is supposed to sneak up on Professor Johnston, pin him down, and tickle him as part of his college’s entrance process. Kelvin did it one day in class while Professor Johsnton was teaching.

But to Kelvin’s surprise, a student in the class called the campus police. They contacted the local law enforcement agency and Kelvin was arrested for the attack. 

 Kelvin had no intention of hurting Professor Johnston or breaking the law. But because tickling can be considered an “offensive assault” and he deliberately scratched Professor Bloom, he can still be accused and be charged of attacking under the PC 240.

Being aware that the act might lead to the application of force

It is important to remember that, in order to be considered a victim of assault in California, you don’t need to have intended to use force against the victim.

Example: Manolo and Jason are in competition for the same woman. When Manolo and his son go to Jason’s house, he comes outside with a gun.

Jason then fires his gun at Manolo’s truck, which is located on the other side of the door. Manolo’s son is getting into the car as Jason is firing.

Jason did not mean to injure the two men, and he was only trying to scare them. Because he was aware that one of them might get injured, he was guilty of assault. (In reality, Penal Code 245(a) (1) assault with a deadly weapon).

The distinction between assault and battery?

How assault differs from battery confuses many people, especially since we often use the term “assault and battery”, which shows that they are the same. 

 In California, assault and battery are actually completely different crimes. The main difference is: 

  • Penal Code 240 Assault is an act that can cause physical harm or unnecessary contact to other people, while,
  • Penal Code 242 Battery is actual force or violence exerted on other people. 

2. What are the consequences on conviction of 240 PC?

California Penal Code PC 240 assault is a misdemeanor. The potential consequences include up to six (6) months in county jail, a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000) and/or misdemeanor (summary) probation

Assault on a law enforcement officer or emergency personnel

In California, the penalty for an attack is more severe if the victim is a member of a given profession.

If the assault victim fits into one of these groups, and you knew or should have known, the maximum county jail sentence is increased to one year, and the maximum fine is increased to two thousand dollars ($2,000).

If the victim is a parking control officer performing his or her responsibilities, the maximum fine for assault climbs to $2,000 for obvious reasons, a common potential target of assault!

3. How can a skilled attorney defend against these charges in court?

To overcome California assault charges, you and your criminal defense attorney may be able to use some or all of the following legal defenses:

You did not have the ability to inflict force or violence

One element of a California assault charge is that the offender must be able to use force against the “victim.” If s/he lacked the skill, he or she is not guilty of assault.

You were acting in self-defense/defense of others

When all of the following are true, the legal defense of self-defense/protection of others applies to assault accusations (and other offenses as well):

    1. You reasonably believed that you or someone else was in imminent danger of bodily harm or being unlawfully touched; 
    2. You reasonably believed that immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger; and 
    3. You used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.

Nonetheless, even if the statements are offensive, they are insufficient to constitute an assault. You can only seek for self-defense/defense for others if you have cause to believe that someone is at danger of being touched illegally or suffering bodily injury.

You were not acting willfully or with the required intent

You will not be charged with assault PC 240 if you did not “willfully” try to use force against others.

Perhaps your acts were unintentional, or the consequence of a misunderstanding – or the purported “victim’s” misunderstanding. If this is the case, you and your criminal defense lawyer can ensure that the prosecutor and jury are aware of all the facts.

In the event that you were falsely accused

Given that, under article 240 of the Criminal Code, the accused victim is not required to experience physical harm, it is easy for one person to falsely accuse another of assaulting them out of anger, envy, or a desire for vengeance.

An experienced California criminal defense attorney has dealt with similar situations before and knows how to gather evidence and interview witnesses to get to the truth.

4. Are there other crimes customarily charged in connection with assault?

Charges for California assault may be pursued in addition to or instead of charges for other relevant California offenses, such as:

California PC 242 California battery/battery causing serious bodily injury

California PC 245(a) (1) assault with a deadly weapon

California PC 415 disturbing the peace

California PC 217.1(a) assault on a public official

California PC 244 assault with caustic chemicals

California VC 23110 throwing an object at a motor vehicle

5. Can assault victims file a civil lawsuit?

Victims of assault in California have the right to sue the offenders and seek compensation for their medical bills and lost wages. The defendant does not need to be found guilty or even charged with a crime in a criminal trial. Even if someone is deemed to be “innocent,” they can still be prosecuted and lose their case.

This is due to the fact that the civil assault accusation does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil proceedings, the criterion is “preponderance of the evidence.” The jury believes that the defendant is “more likely” to assault the plaintiff, and this is the benefit of the evidence.

 To obtain damages, the plaintiff must pass a large amount of evidence to prove: 

  1. The defendant has a duty of care to the plaintiff; 
  2. The defendant violated the obligation due to negligence, reckless or deliberate wrongdoing; and
  3. Due to breach of contract, the plaintiff suffered a loss.

The defense for civil assault charges is the same as the defense for criminal assault charges. 

Call us for your free legal consultation today

If you have any questions about the Penal Code Law 240 PC assault, or if you want to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, please feel free to contact us at Spodek Law Group. 

 We have local criminal law offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco Bay Area, and several nearby and surrounding cities. 

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