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Assault in CA: Time Limits to Report (2024 SOL Explained)

In California, the statute of limitations for assault depends on the severity of the charge. For simple assault, the statute of limitations is 1 year from the date of the offense, whereas with aggravated assault, the statute of limitations can extend up to 3 years.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt
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How is the Crime of Assault Defined in California?

According to Milligan Beswick Levine & Knox, assault is legally described by Section 240 of the California Penal Code, which defines it as the unlawful attempt, along with a current capability, to inflict violent injury on another person [1].

California Penal Code 240 (Part 1, Title 8, Chapter 9, Section 240) states: “An assault is an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.

This code encompasses numerous scenarios and forms of assault, each potentially resulting in varying penalties such as fines and imprisonment. Assault is frequently linked with battery because it typically precedes it. While assault involves the attempt to cause physical harm, battery refers to the actual execution of physical harm.

What is Simple Assault?

California Penal Code § 240 PC defines the legal boundaries of what constitutes an assault, commonly known as “simple assault“.

The law specifies three critical elements:

  • Intention: The individual must have intended to commit violence.
  • Capability: At the time, the individual must have had the ability to inflict injury.
  • Act: There must have been an action likely to result in the use of force against another person.

This law aims to address and penalize the initial attempt to harm another before it escalates to actual physical contact, which would legally be categorized as battery under Penal Code § 242 – Agency Stated.

The Difference Between Simple Assault and Aggravated Assault

According to Sitkoff, under California Penal Code statute 240, a Simple Assault is defined as an unlawful attempt, with the present ability, to cause violent injury to another person [2]. This offense does not necessitate physical contact or actual injury and is usually charged as a misdemeanor. However, under California Penal Code 245 – Aggravated Assault, the charges can escalate to a felony if the assault involves a deadly weapon, firearm, or other means likely to result in significant bodily injury.

As with misdemeanor Assault, Aggravated Assault does not require physical contact with another nor does it require injuries to the alleged victim. However, that is where the similarities between felony Aggravated Assault and misdemeanor Simple Assault end, as the punishments and consequences you face if convicted of Aggravated Assault are substantially more punitive than its misdemeanor counterpart.

Understanding Assault and Statute of Limitations in California

In California, assault charges can be filed if an individual unlawfully attempts to cause injury or threatens harm in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to fear imminent injury. This type of offense, when no actual physical force is applied, is classified as simple assault under state law. The accused must have had the immediate capability to apply force at the time of the alleged assault for the charges to be valid.

The statute of limitations is a critical factor in assault cases, as well as in all criminal proceedings. This legal principle sets a deadline for prosecutors to initiate criminal charges following the occurrence of the alleged crime.

Should the prosecution delay beyond this period, the accused may have the right to have the charges dismissed. Statutes of limitations are established to encourage timely and efficient prosecution and to safeguard individuals from the disadvantages of facing charges after considerable time has elapsed, potentially hindering a fair defense.

Overview of California’s Assault Statute of Limitations

In California, simple assault is typically classified as a misdemeanor. However, the presence of certain aggravating factors can elevate the charge to a felony. For simple assault, the statute of limitations is one year, but this extends to three years for aggravated assault.

Factors that can aggravate an assault charge include:

  • Utilizing a deadly weapon
  • Using a firearm
  • Assault resulting in or likely to result in significant bodily harm
  • Assault against a peace officer or police officer

Data from the Public Policy Institute of California reveals that in 2021, aggravated assaults made up 67% of all recorded violent crimes in the state. These charges are often treated as “wobblers,” meaning they can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the specifics of the case.

The statute of limitations typically starts on the date the crime is committed. However, there’s an exception known as the “discovery rule.” This rule allows the statute of limitations to begin when the crime is actually discovered.

For instance, if an assault occurred on July 1, 2021, but wasn’t known to police until September 1, 2022, the discovery rule would allow charges to be filed until September 1, 2023.

How to File Assault Charges in California

Reporting an assault in California can be done efficiently by either calling 911 or reaching out to your local police department directly. Once contacted, law enforcement will send an officer to gather your account of the incident and any observations from witnesses.

The officer will then compile these accounts into a formal police report back at their office and initiate an investigation into the alleged assailant. As the complainant, you are entitled to request a copy of this report once it is completed.

Should you decide to take legal action beyond the criminal charges, such as filing a civil lawsuit against the alleged assailant, it is advisable to hire an attorney. A qualified attorney will be able to assess your police and medical records, provide legal guidance, and represent your interests in court, whether in front of a judge or jury.

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