Assault Defined under Penal Code 240

California Assault Laws at a Glance

Accused of an assault crime?  Call 916-546-8052 for a free consultation.

Under California law, the crime of assault occurs when you do something that is likely to result in the application of force to another person.  No violent or forceful act upon another person must occur to be charged with assault, only that you attempted to commit the act and had the ability to do so.

Penal Code 240 is a misdemeanor and typically charged with the assault does not cause significant injury to the victim.

The Difference Between Assault and Battery

Assault under Penal Code 240 only requires the threat of force, while battery (Penal code section 242) requires that the act actually make contact.  To put it simpler, a battery is often a completed assault.

For more information on Penal Code Section 242 (“Battery”) please click here

How is PC 240, “Simple Assault” Proven in Court?

In order for the District Attorney’s Office to prove that a defendant is guilty of a violation of Penal Code 240, simple assault, they must prove:

  1. That you acted willfully in a way that would be likely to result in the application of force to a person,
  2. That you had the awareness that your act would be likely to result in the application of force,
  3. That you had the ability to act in a way that would be likely to result in the application of force.

Willful act

Under California Law a willful act is an intentional act, it is not an act that is an accident.  It does not mean that you intended to injure the victim, or intended to commit a crime.

Application of Force

California Law states that a slight touching, no matter how slight, is enough for the application of force.   The “touching” does not need to cause any pain to the victim. And remember, under PC 240 no actual contact must occur, only that you have the intent and ability to cause an injury.  For example, if a punch is thrown, but the target is missed, PC 240 may still be charged by the District Attorney’s Office.


Penal Code section 240, simple assault, requires that you knew or should have known that your actions would harm another person.  If you, or a “reasonable person”, could not expect your action to harm another, you cannot be convicted of a violation of Penal Code 240, simple assault.  Purely accidental acts do not apply under California Law, however intentional acts that are likely to produce harm do apply.


The possible penalties, if convicted of a violation of Penal Code 240 are:

  1. Up to 6 months in jail
  2. Up to a $1000 in fines plus penalties and assessments (upwards of $3500.00 in some counties)
  3. Informal Probation
  4. Batterer’s treatment program as ordered by the court

Not all these penalties need be enforced.  Many defendants’ walk into court and accept the first offer the District Attorney’s Office gives.  A defendant should ALWAYS consult counsel before taking any plea deal.  A skilled attorney will be able to negotiate a plea deal when appropriate.


Not all cases end with the Defendant taking a plea deal.  There are specific defenses to a charge of PC 240, simple assault.  They are:

The Inability to Carry Out the Assault

Penal Code section 240 requires that a defendant must have the “present ability” to commit the act to which he is being charged.

For example, if a person says they will run someone over with their car, but they have no car, they do not have the ability to carry out the assault (although other crimes, such as Penal Code 422, Criminal Threats,  may be charged).

Self Defense

Under California Law, if a person has a reasonable fear of imminent danger, they may act in self-defense, as long as their actions are reasonable.

For example, if being attacked, a person may defend themself using reasonable force.

If you believe you have been wrongfully charged and acted in self-defense, contact us directly at 915-542-8052 for a free consultation.

 Lack of Intent

If you did not have the willful intent to commit the crime of “assault,” then you are not guilty of violating California Penal Code Section 240.  As we discussed above,  if a person says they will run someone over with their car, but they have no car, they don’t have the intent to commit the crime, despite wanted to cause fear in the victim.

Many times individuals are charged in cases where there are no witnesses or little evidence against them.  Often a person is charged based on the statements of a single person, and that person may have a vendetta or an agenda against the defendant.

If you have any questions about your pending assault charges, please contact us directly at 916-546-8052 for a free consultation.

Penal Code 245 assault with a deadly weapon

Penal Code 245, “aggravated assault,” or “assault with a deadly weapon” as it’s commonly known will be filed if:

  1. You use a deadly weapon or other instrument capable of producing great bodily injury and/or
  2. The victim is seriously injured.

Assault with a deadly weapon is a felony charge and carries with it significant penalties including time in California state prison.

Contact Us

If you or your loved one has been arrested for any assault charge, do not hesitate to call us at 916-546-8052 immediately to discuss your case.  Protect your rights and get the best possible outcome available.  Our firm handles these cases all over California, including in Sacramento, Yolo, Placer, El Dorado, Sutter, San Joaquin, and Nevada Counties.