A Guide to First-Time Assault and Battery Charges California

  • Post last modified:November 7, 2023

Understanding Laws, Penalties, and Defenses Related to Assault or Battery Charges

If you are charged with a crime, understanding that charge and what penalties you might face is important. It’s also critical to know how California laws impact your case, whether you’re facing assault and battery charges or being accused of criminal threats or another crime.

Luckily, you don’t have to have that knowledge and understanding yourself. When you work with an experienced criminal defense attorney, they can provide guidance and information to help you make more educated decisions about your defense. They can also ensure you know critical details, such as the difference between assault and battery.

What Is Assault and Battery?

In California, assault and battery is not a single crime. These are two different charges—each falling under its own section of California’s penal code.

What Is Assault?

An assault charge doesn’t necessarily require you to harm or even touch another person. Under California law, assault is technically any unlawful attempt to violently injure another person—as long as there is an ability to follow through at the time.

For example, threats someone makes via a phone conversation wouldn’t be assault, because they don’t have a present ability to follow through on those threats. However, if a person threatens someone in person, and the other individual has a reasonable fear for their person or life because of the threat, the situation might result in assault charges.

What Is Battery?

Battery refers to actual violence or force used upon another person. This force has to be willful, meaning the person intends to commit violence against another.

Consider two examples. In the first, two friends are playing table tennis. One person loses his grip on the paddle and it flies across the table, striking the other person in the face. This accident would be unlikely to result in a battery charge, because there was no willful intent.

However, imagine the same scenario, but the friends argue about something during the game. One person becomes angry and throws the paddle at the other person or strikes them with it. This could result in a battery charge, because force was used willfully against another person.

What Are the Potential Penalties for Assault or Battery in California?

The penalties you might face for assault or battery charges depend on the circumstances of the incident.

If there are no mitigating circumstances and the charge is for a simple assault, the consequences of a conviction can include a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail, or both. If the assault is committed against certain types of individuals, the maximum fine or jail time may be higher. That includes when an assault is committed against:

  • Parking control officers
  • First responders
  • Animal control officers
  • Nurses
  • Lifeguards
  • Process servers
  • Custodial officers
  • Peace officers
  • Highway workers
  • School employees
  • Jurors
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces

The same is true when assaults occur on school grounds or the property of a public transportation provider.
The potential consequences for a simple battery conviction are a fine of up to $2,000, up to six months in jail, or both. As with assault charges, the penalties can be more severe depending on who the battery was committed against.

However, some battery charges are more serious than others. Sexual battery, for example, can result in penalties of up to four years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The consequences for assault and battery charges can also become more severe in cases where aggravated assault or battery has occurred. For example, if a deadly weapon is used during the assault, it becomes a more serious charge carrying more severe potential penalties.

Are There Possible Defenses Against Assault or Battery Charges?

Yes, there are many potential strategies that might be used to defend someone against assault and battery charges. The exact details of each case help determine which defense strategy is best. Some options include:

  • Claiming an act of defense. If you believed that your life or person was in danger—or the life or person of someone you know was in danger—you may be able to claim self-defense or defense of others. It may even be possible to claim that you were defending your property.
  • Mistaken identity. In some cases, individuals don’t get a good look at the person who assaults or commits violence against them. They or someone else might identify you as the person who committed the crime, or law enforcement may believe that investigations lead them to you. If you can present evidence that you weren’t at the location in question at the time the crime occurred, you may have a strong mistaken identity defense.
  • Lack of intent or ability to inflict harm. If you can demonstrate that you didn’t have any intent or the ability to harm another person, you may have a defense against assault charges. For example, you might work to show that a reasonable person would not have feared for themselves in the circumstances in question because you clearly had no ability to cause harm.

These are just a few defense strategies that can work in assault and battery cases. However, there are many other options. By talking to an experienced criminal defense lawyer, you can understand what options you have and make proactive decisions in your case. If you’re facing assault or battery charges, time is not on your side. Reach out to the Law Offices of Jerry Nicholson by calling 562-205-8499 today to find out how we can help you protect your rights and defend your freedom.