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When Does Assault Become a Felony in California?


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A person being assaulted

Assault is a serious crime that may be either a misdemeanor or felony in California. When you get charged with assault you will want to fight the charges and try to prevent conviction. There are some factors that make assault a more severe crime. In some cases, assault occurs in conjunction with another crime, such as battery, or meets specific criteria to make the crime more serious. Therefore, sometimes, an assault may actually be a felony. There are ways to defend felony assault charges with help from a knowledgeable Ventura criminal defense attorney

What is Simple Assault?

California Penal Code 240 defines simple assault as “an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability to to commit a violent injury on the person of another.” This means that you tried to hurt another person and had the ability to do so. Simple assault is a misdemeanor charge. If you are convicted of simple assault you could receive a sentence of up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,000, as well as probation. Simple assault is a relatively minor charge, but it often accompanies additional charges, such as battery. 

Felony Assault Charges

There are some circumstances in which assault becomes a felony charge in California. You have most likely heard of the term “assault and battery.” This crime applies to assault with additional circumstances that make it more serious than simple assault. Some of these include:

Inflicting Serious Injury

Simple assault is typically a misdemeanor when no harm occurs to the intended victim. However, when the victim suffers an injury as the result of an assault, the crime of battery applies to the case. It is helpful to remember that the crime of simple assault does not involve touching the victim. Once the victim is hit or otherwise touched, the crime escalates. 

Assault with a Deadly Weapon

California Penal Code Section 245 makes it illegal to assault someone with use of a deadly weapon. A deadly weapon is generally a gun or knife, but can be almost any implement that might be used to inflict injury or death. The charge also encompasses any other means of force that is likely to inflict harm. Assault with a deadly weapon may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the specific circumstances of the situation.  

Assault on a Police Officer or Emergency Personnel

When assault occurs to a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, or other emergency personnel, the penalties for conviction increase. In addition to peace officers, this category also includes lifeguards, animal control officers, parking enforcement officers, process servers, doctors, and nurses. 

Assault on a Public Official

A simple assault on a public official may be either a misdemeanor or a felony. It is a crime that occurs when someone assaults a public official in order to prevent them from carrying out their responsibilities or as retaliation. Public officials are judges, state’s attorneys, public defenders, and any elected government officials. Government officials may be at the local, state, or federal level. 

Assault With Caustic Chemicals

Assault with caustic chemicals is assault that happens with the use of caustic substances that can burn, disfigure, or otherwise harm someone else. The crime is a felony and if convicted, you could face up to four years in state prison. 

Throwing Objects at a Motor Vehicle

California Vehicle Code 23110 makes it a crime to throw an object or substance onto any vehicle on a public street. While this crime is typically a misdemeanor, it can become a felony if the object or substance caused, or could have caused, serious harm or injury to another. For example, throwing a heavy brick at a car would likely be considered a felony. You may be charged even if the item did not hit a vehicle. 

Fighting Assault Charges

Assault charges can be complex and if you are convicted, you could face severe consequences. Penalties could include a jail sentence, probation, fines, and more. An experienced criminal defense attorney will review the details of your case. It is always best to try to reduce any potential felony charges to misdemeanor charges, or have the charges dropped completely when possible. There are options for successful legal defense in many instances. If you are facing assault charges, you need a strong defense team. Contact our attorneys at Strongest Defense at (805) 477-0070 to schedule a free initial consultation.