Typically, the law says that an assault has occurred when an individual attempts to or actually strikes another person. Assault may also have occurred when an individual threatens to harm another person or makes the victim believe that he or she is in danger of physical attack. For a person to be charged with battery in California, a victim would have to be struck or otherwise physically attacked.
Although there is no need for physical contact to take place for an assault to occur, words alone usually will not constitute an assault. There must be an action or the legitimate threat of an action that puts the victim in danger or under the impression that they may be in danger. In other words, if a reasonable person fears for his or her safety, the criminal act has occurred.
The law stipulates that an individual only has to have a general intent to hurt or scare someone to constitute an assault charge. Therefore, simply threatening to hurt someone is enough for an assault charge even if the person making the threat had no intention of following through with the threat. The rules that establish intent are in place to ensure that an individual cannot assault a person by accident.
A person who is charged with assault or any other criminal charge may wish to talk to a criminal defense attorney, who will attempt to create a strategy that may lead to a plea bargain or dismissal of the charge. For instance, it may be possible to argue that someone charged with assault had no intent to hurt anyone. Plea bargains may allow someone who is charged with a first offense to avoid jail or other penalties related to the charge.