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What is assault?

Under Section 240 of the California Penal Code, an assault is a crime that involves an attempt to commit a violent injury on another person. When the assault is committed against a public officer or employee, the assault to be penalized (with enhanced penalties) must have been committed while the public officers or employees were engaged in the performance of their duties or, it must have been committed in retaliation for an act done by them in the performance of their duties.

What is the difference between an assault and battery?

An assault is an unlawful attempt to inflict violent injury on another person while battery is any willful and unlawful use of force or violence against another person. It may be said that an assault by itself may not produce the violent injury as the accused person merely attempted to inflict the injury. In battery, force that is willful or unlawful was used to inflict injury and an injury resulted. Thus, these two crimes are often charged simultaneously as “assault and battery”.

It is important to note that both the attempt and the resulting infliction of bodily injury are both punished under the law. An injury is any physical injury requiring professional medical treatment. A serious bodily injury is a serious impairment of the physical condition and may result in loss of consciousness, a concussion, a bone fracture, protracted loss or impairment of function of any body organ, a wound requiring extensive suturing, or any injury that causes serious disfigurement.

Under this concept, then, sexual intercourse may be penalized as an assault or a battery when there is an attempt to inflict violent injury or when the sexual intercourse causes the infliction of a serious bodily injury. This may happen when the victim’s vagina or rectum is injured or when the victim is a child and bones are broken because the child was sexually abused.

What is the difference between an assault and an attempt to kill?

How is assault punished?

Generally, an assault is punished with a fine not exceeding $1000 or with imprisonment not exceeding 6 months in county jail or both the fine and the imprisonment. There is an enhanced or higher penalty for assaults against public officers or employees who are engaged in performing public functions or duties. Assaults of certain private citizens who are called to perform civic duties may also be penalized with higher fines and longer prison terms.

Under 241.4, an assault committed against peace officers who are engaged in the performance of their police duties for a school district is penalized with a similar fine and term of imprisonment. One example of the duties performed by these peace officers may be the enforcement of truancy laws (checking up why kids skip school or making sure kids go to school).

Why is there an enhanced or higher penalty for assaults on public officers or employees?

It is a measure of protection for them as they go about enforcing the laws of the state of California. It also shows their authority to enforce the laws dutifully. If there is no such special protection against assaulting public officers or employees, then no one will want to serve as public officers or employees and the result may be anarchy or lawlessness in public places. This is the rationale behind the enhanced or higher penalties imposed on assaults on public officers or employees.

Even private persons who are called upon to perform civic duties such as serving on a jury is protected from an assault when they have already been selected to try a case and has been sworn in. An assault committed against private citizens serving as jurors or alternate jurors carries with it a higher penalty under Section 241.7.

Against whom is assault committed?

Assault may be committed against any person. An assault committed against one’s child, spouse or partner falls under domestic violence (this is discussed in a separate article here). There are assaults against public officers or employees who are specifically punished under Section 241.

Who are these public officers or employees?

An assault against the following public officers and employees are committed when an attempt to commit violent injury on them is committed while they are engaged in performing their functions:

  • Parking control officer (when they are issuing a ticket or when they are towing a vehicle, for example)
  • Peace officer (when responding to an emergency)
  • A firefighter, emergency medical technician, mobile intensive care paramedic, lifeguard, process server, traffic officer, code enforcement officer, animal control officer, or search and rescue member, physician or nurse (when they are rendering emergency medical care outside a hospital)

An assault on these public officers or employees is penalized with a fine not to exceed $2000 dollars and imprisonment in county jail not to exceed 6 months.

An assault against the following public employees are punished with imprisonment in county jail not to exceed one year or a fine not to exceed $2000 or both the fine and the imprisonment:

  • Under Section 241.1, an assault against a custodial officer (prison guard or prison employee)
  • Under 241.5, an assault against a highway worker who performs maintenance, repair or construction of a state highway or local street
  • Under 241.6, an assault against a school employee who is engaged in performing their duties or when the assault is in retaliation for an act performed by them as part of their duties. The assault may be committed on or off campus, at any time within the school day, before or after.
  • Under 241.8, an assault against any member of the United States Armed Forces because of their service in the United States Armed Forces. Note that this type of assault must have been committed with a bias against the member of the United States Armed forces and the bias was the motivating factor behind the assault. This may happen when people are protesting against war or war policies.

What happens when an assault is a committee in a public park or a school?

The penalty for an assault committed in a public park or school is higher under Section 241.2. It is penalized with a fine not exceeding $2000 and imprisonment in county jail not exceeding one year. If the assault is committed by a minor child, the assault may be required to undergo counseling.

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