November 7, 2016 By Paul Wallin


Self-Defense in Assault Cases in California

Assault is a common crime, but one that is often misunderstood. An assault does not require that any person be physically touched. Rather, it involves you doing a willful act that could result in physical force being applied to another.

For example, if you throw a punch at someone and miss, you could be charged with assault. But, what if you only took a swing in self-defense? Can you use that as a defense to the charge against you?

The answer is yes. In California, if you are accused of any violent crime, you cannot be convicted if it can be proven that you were acting reasonably under the circumstances to protect yourself. So how does this defense work?

Definition of Assault in California

First, we need to define assault. Under California Penal Code Section 240, an assault occurs when you:

  • Did something that was likely to result in the use of force against someone else;
  • Did so willfully;
  • Were aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that this act would directly and probably result in force being applied to the other person; and
  • Had the ability to apply force to the other person.

So, if you threw a punch and missed, your act was to swing your arm in the direction of another. You made a decision to move your arm in that manner, so it was willful. You knew that when you threw the punch, you would cause force to be applied to the person if you connected, and you demonstrated the ability to apply this force at the time you threw the punch.

Self-Defense to Assault Charges

Let’s rewind time to the moment just before you threw the punch. The other person ran toward you with his arm drawn back and his fist clenched. Seeing this, you threw the punch because you believed that the other person was about to strike you.

If you are charged with assault based on this incident, your attorney can raise the defense that you did so only to defend yourself. To do that successfully, your lawyer must show:

  • It was reasonable for you to believe that you were in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury;
  • It was reasonable for you to believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger; AND
  • You used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger1

Notice the reasonable belief is not your reasonable belief, but rather what a reasonable person in your circumstance would have believed. This means the jury is asked to determine whether it was reasonable for any person in your position to act the same way. Self-defense can include the use of a weapon if it was reasonably necessary to defend yourself against violent force.

It must also be reasonable for you to have believed the threat was imminent. If your attacker yells, “One of these days, I’m going to knock you out!” the threat is not imminent. If your attacker comes toward you angrily, the threat is imminent and you are entitled to defend yourself, so long as you do not use more force than necessary.

In California, self-defense is a “stand-your-ground” law, which means you do not have to show that you could have fled from the danger instead of defending yourself.

Proving that you were acting in self-defense can be complicated, which is why it is critical to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are facing assault charges.

Contact the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Right Away

Assault is a serious crime in California. It is critical that you have an experienced attorney helping you to convince the jury that you acted out of necessity to defend yourself. At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled attorneys have been successfully defending clients in assault cases for more than 40 years. We can help you now.

With offices in Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside, West Covina, Torrance and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.

Contact our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.

1.See CALCRIM 3470 – Right to Self-Defense or Defense of Another (Non-Homicide). href=”#ref1″>↩

AUTHOR: Paul Wallin

Paul Wallin is one of the most highly respected attorneys in Southern California. His vast experience, zealous advocacy for his clients and extensive knowledge of many areas of the law make Mr. Wallin a premiere Southern California attorney. Mr. Wallin founded Wallin & Klarich in 1981. As the senior partner of Wallin & Klarich, Mr. Wallin has been successfully representing clients for more than 30 years. Clients come to him for help in matters involving assault and battery, drug crimes, juvenile crimes, theft, manslaughter, sex offenses, murder, violent crimes, misdemeanors and felonies. Mr. Wallin also helps clients with family law matters such as divorce and child custody.

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