Jamahl Kersey February 23, 2016 No Comments

The Difference Between Self Defense and Assault in California

There are many areas of California law that can be difficult to understand. One such area is the question of self-defense vs assault. If you’ve been accused of or charged with assault or battery, but you believe you were defending yourself, you need to know the differences between these concepts and when each one applies.


In California, assault is a specific crime defined in the Penal Code. According to P.C. Section 240:

An assault is an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.

Assault is not the same crime as battery, which is defined as “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.” In other words, two things separate assault from battery:

  • The intent to commit a violent injury (rather than simply using force or violence), and;
  • The present ability to actually commit that injury.

Both assault and battery have several grades depending on the severity of the crime and the presence of aggravating circumstances. Aggravated assault, for instance, might be cited if you violently injured someone in order to commit a further felony (such as murder).

Different grades of assault and battery carry different punishments. The punishment can also change if you committed the assault or battery in a certain location (such as a school) or against a certain class of person (such as an off-duty police officer).

If you’ve been accused of assault or battery in California, you should immediately contact a California defense lawyer. It’s important to understand the specifics of your case and to take aggressive action to defend yourself as soon as possible.


If you’ve been accused of assault, battery, or other violent crimes, you may be able to claim self-defense. In California, there are several laws and statutes that apply to the concept of self-defense. In general, however, for the concept of self-defense to apply, the person claiming this defense must:

  • Have had some reasonable fear of imminent injury to themselves or another person;
  • Have believed that the use of force would prevent this injury, and;
  • Have defended themselves in proportion to the perceived threat.

In other words, you can only claim self-defense when your actions were taken to defend yourself physically from an immediate (not a future) threat.

The level of justified self-defense is proportional to the level of the threat perceived. Under California law, homicide is justifiable if you reasonably believe you were in danger of being killed or gravely injured. Less severe threats do not justify homicide, but they can be a defense against a charge of assault or battery.

California law also contains a Castle Doctrine, which governs self-defense actions taken against an invader in your own home. California’s Castle Doctrine reads:

Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury within his or her residence shall be presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household when that force is used against another person, not a member of the family or household, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence and the person using the force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred.

In short, this means that any person defending against a stranger who invaded their home is reasonably assumed to be in fear of their life. This allows the justification of homicide or other less severe forms of self-defense.

It’s also important to remember that the burden of proof does not lie on you when you are claiming self-defense. If you believe your actions were justified, it’s up to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were not.

There are also other factors a judge or jury may consider when weighing your self-defense claim. These factors can include:

  • Previous threats made against you by the other party;
  • Whether the other party previously injured or harmed you;
  • Whether you reasonably associated someone with another person who threatened you.

If you aren’t sure whether your actions constitute self-defense in California, feel free to contact us today.