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What Constitutes a Deadly Weapon in California Assaults?

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on July 15, 2023

The crime of assault is a misdemeanor under California law. However, assault with a deadly weapon is considered a felony under California Penal Code § 245. Because the penalties for felonies are more severe than misdemeanors, understanding what qualifies as a “deadly weapon” is vital to mounting an effective criminal defense strategy.

Deadly Weapon Defined

Pursuant to California Penal Code § 245, “any person who commits an assault upon the person of another with a deadly weapon or instrument other than a firearm shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years…”

Under California Law, the definition of “deadly weapon” includes firearms and “any object, instrument, or weapon that is inherently deadly or one that is used in such a way that it is capable of causing and likely to cause death or great bodily injury.”

Importantly, Section 245 also criminalizes an assault “by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury…” Therefore, the criminal statute for assault with a deadly weapon has a broad scope covering a variety of objects and actions.

To successfully charge someone with assault with a deadly weapon, a prosecutor must establish the following elements:

  • Lethality of the object: The object has the actual or apparent ability to inflict significant harm or death;
  • Intended use of the object: The object’s inherent design or modification for use as a weapon; and
  • Circumstances surrounding the object’s use: Whether the defendant wielded the object as a weapon in a threatening manner and the proximity of the object to the victim.

Objects Considered Deadly Weapons

Several objects qualify as deadly weapons under California law, including the following conventional and unconventional weapons:

  • Firearms and ammunition
  • Knives, daggers, or switchblades
  • Blunt objects (e.g., baseball bats, crowbars)
  • Improvised weapons (e.g., broken bottles, glass shards)
  • Tools or instruments capable of inflicting serious injury
  • Vehicles used intentionally as weapons

Notably, the crime of assault with a deadly weapon need not involve purely physical threats. Threatening gestures or actions that create fear of imminent harm may qualify as assault, such as:

  • Statements or verbal threats combined with intimidating behavior, and
  • Use of animals, such as trained attack dogs, as weapons

Factors Considered by the Courts

When determining whether an individual is guilty of assault with a deadly weapon, the court may consider the circumstances surrounding the alleged assault, including:

  • The objective potential of the weapon to cause harm.
  • The subjective perception of the victim that they were under threat.
  • The defendant intended to use the object as a weapon.
  • Any other facts that support or refute the classification of the weapon as deadly.

Defense Strategies in Weapon-Related Assault Cases

Given the severe penalties attached to a weapon-related assault conviction, it is imperative to mount an effective defense strategy that attacks the elements of the crime and contests the alleged facts put forth by the prosecution.

Chief among the defense strategies in weapon-related assault cases is to challenge the classification of an object as a deadly weapon by contesting its inherent design or modification, presenting evidence of its lack of potential for harm, and disputing the prosecution’s interpretation of its use.

Furthermore, a defendant can plead self-defense to mitigate charges involving weapon-related assault if they can establish that they had a reasonable belief of imminent life-threatening harm and demonstrate that proportional force was used in response to that threat.

Finally, an effective defense strategy may be available if the search and seizure of the alleged weapon failed to meet the requirements of the Fourth Amendment, leading to the suppression of evidence and weakening the prosecution’s case.

Reach out to an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

Understanding the nuances and challenges of weapon-related assault charges requires the knowledge of a proven criminal defense attorney. Due to the broad scope of what qualifies as a deadly weapon in an assault case, handling such complexities necessitates professional legal assistance.

The experienced Los Angeles violent crime defense attorneys at Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP can provide you with a comprehensive evaluation of your case, investigate facts, gather evidence, and build a strong, custom defense strategy that fits your unique circumstances. Call us at (213) 688-0460 to schedule a free initial consultation. Let’s see how we can help.

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Posted in: Violent Crime