If you review the police blotter in any Southern California city, regardless of its population or size, you’ll see a number of incidents labeled as “assault.” Several criminal offenses fall under the category of “assault” under California law. What many people don’t realize is you don’t actually have to hurt or injure a person in order to face assault charges in California. That said, there are a number of different types of assault charges one can potentially face. The severity of assault charges you could face often depends on a number of factors including the circumstances of the incident, whether any injuries were sustained, the defendant’s prior criminal history and whether a weapon was used during the incident.
Assault Versus Aggravated Assault
“Simple assault” or assault is a willful attempt or threat to inflict injury upon the person another. This means that the assault might be committed without actually touching striking or inflicting injury or bodily harm to someone. It is important to remember that a display or threat of force that would give the other person reason to fear or expect injury or bodily harm also constitutes assault. For example, if a person raises his or her fist at you as if to strike you, that could be viewed as assault even if he or she did not actually strike or injure you.
But, if a person used a “deadly weapon” while threatening injury, it would likely elevate the charge to an aggravated assault. A deadly weapon is defined as any instrument that could be potentially used to inflict a serious or fatal injury. Common examples of deadly weapons include guns and knives. However, a deadly weapon may also refer to an instrument that is not commonly used as a weapon such as a hammer, a baseball bat or even a vehicle. While a baseball bat is not normally considered a “deadly weapon,” a jury might find that it was being used as one, depending on the circumstances of the case.
Sometimes, a simple assault may become elevated to the level of an aggravated assault charge. This could happen in a case where the victim is a peace officer such as a police officer or a firefighter. In some cases, assault on a pregnant woman might be elevated to an aggravated assault.
What Makes Aggravated Assault Different?
Assault or simple assault is when a person has clear intent to commit an assault against another person. Aggravated assault refers to a situation in which a person attempted to inflict serious injury without regard for the life or well-being of the victim. A simple assault charge may be elevated to aggravated assault if a deadly weapon such as a firearm was used during the incident. Also, if an assault occurred during the commission of another crime such as rape, robbery or attempted murder, then, it will be considered as an aggravated assault.
What Are the Penalties?
Aggravated assault could be considered as a “wobbler” offense, which means they could be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony, which is a more serious charge with potentially devastating consequences and penalties. However, the penalties in a misdemeanor involving simple assault could be milder compared to a misdemeanor aggravated assault case. Under California law, simple assault is almost always charged as a misdemeanor and is punishable in most cases with a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to six months in county jail.
However, when it comes to aggravated assault, the potential for penalties is much higher. A misdemeanor conviction could result in fines as high as $10,000, confiscation of weapons, up to one year in jail, probation, restitution, community service and court-mandated anger management classes. If you have been convicted of felony aggravated assault, you may be looking at all these penalties and a longer prison sentence.
In addition, a felony aggravated assault conviction also counts as a strike under California Three Strikes Law. This is essentially a law that significantly increases prison time for individuals convicted of a felony if they have had prior convictions for two or more violent crimes or felonies. If a person gets three strikes, he or she could end up receiving a life sentence.
What Are the Legal Defenses?
It is important to remember that you can be charged with and convicted of assault even if no one was actually hurt by your behavior. As a result, a number of people who have no prior criminal record or who never thought they were engaging in illegal activity tend to face these types of charges. There are several powerful legal defenses you can use to fight assault charges in California. Here are some of the most commonly used defenses in assault cases:
- You committed the act in your own defense or in the process of defending someone else.
- You did not have the ability to inflict force on the other person.
- You did not commit the act with intent.
- You were wrongfully accused.
- There was mistaken identity involved.
In aggravated assault cases, the legal defenses are similar. Your criminal defense attorney may be able to argue that did not have the ability to inflict great bodily injury on the alleged victim. For example, if you were charged with a crime in which a gun was involved, but wasn’t loaded, you may be able to establish that you were not capable of inflicting significant injury because the weapon was not loaded.
Self-defense once again is a good defense in aggravated assault cases. You may also be able to prove a case of mistaken identity by showing that you were not at the scene where the incident occurred. An experienced California assault defense lawyer will be able to compile evidence in your case and present a solid defense strategy that will pave the way to you getting acquitted or at the very least, getting the charges reduced.
If you or a loved one has been accused of simple assault or aggravated assault in California, it is important that you do not take these charges lightly. A conviction on either charge could leave you with long-term consequences and significant penalties. Please contact an experienced California criminal defense lawyer who will fight for your rights, help you defend the charges and avoid the potentially devastating consequences.