Penal Code 220 is the California statute that defines the crime of assault with intent to commit a felony. A person violates this section by assaulting another person with the intent to commit one of the following additional crimes:
- mayhem (Penal Code 203 PC),
- rape (Penal Code 261 PC),
- statutory rape (Penal Code 261.5 PC),
- spousal rape (Penal Code 262 PC),
- rape in concert with someone else (Penal Code 264.1 PC),
- sodomy (Penal Code 286 PC),
- oral copulation by force or fear (Penal Code 288a PC),
- lewd acts with a child under 14 (Penal Code 288b1 PC), or
- forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object (Penal Code 289 PC).1
To prove this charge at trial, a prosecutor must establish that the defendant:
- willfully applied force to the victim,
- should have been aware of the force applied to the victim,
- had the ability to apply that force to the victim, and
- was intentionally committing one of the crimes listed above. 2
1. What does it mean to assault someone?
An assault is an application of force to someone else. That contact has to be harmful or offensive to a reasonable person.
The slightest contact is sufficient for an assault. It does not need to be painful or harmful. Offensive contact is enough.
The contact does not have to be direct. Using another object to create the contact can be assault. Making contact with the other person's clothing can amount to assault.
Examples of assault include:
- Punching someone,
- Shoving a third party into the assault victim,
- Grabbing the victim by the shirt and pulling them to the ground,
- Tripping the victim so they stumbled into the path of an oncoming vehicle, and
- Dropping something onto the victim from above.
2. What is assault with intent to commit mayhem?
Most violations of Penal Code 220 involve an intent to commit a serious sex crime. Penal Code 220 can also be violated by intending to commit mayhem. Mayhem is the crime of unlawfully and maliciously:
- depriving someone of a body part,
- disabling or disfiguring someone else's body part or rendering it useless,
- cutting or disabling some else's tongue,
- putting out someone's eye, or
- slitting their nose, ear, or lip.
3. What are some examples?
- Beating another person while raping her,3 and
- Punching someone into submission in order to cut off one of their fingers.
4. Are there related offenses?
Charges of assault with intent to commit a felony often come with other charges for related offenses. These include:
- Assault (California Penal Code 240 PC) and battery (California Penal Code 242 PC). These offenses prohibit using unlawful force.
- False imprisonment (California Penal Code 236 PC). This law forbids unlawfully depriving someone of their liberty. Tying someone up or locking them in a room can lead to false imprisonment charges.
- Possession of a deadly weapon with intent to assault (California Penal Code 17500 PC). Having a deadly weapon during the assault would add this criminal charge.
5. Are there defenses to the crime?
There are legal defenses to an accusation under California Penal Code 220. People accused of assaulting someone with the intent to commit a crime can argue that:
- the crime of assault was not committed,
- they were acting in self-defense, and
- the contact was accidental or unintentional.
The crime of assault has to be committed, not just attempted. If the assault was attempted but failed, there can be no liability. 4 A conviction under this section can happen if the felony was attempted but not completed, but the assault happened.
6. Is abandonment a defense?
Abandoning an attempt to commit a sex crime is not a defense to PC 220. Once an assault has been committed, merely entertaining the idea of committing a sex crime completes the offense. Abandoning that intent does not take it back.
Example: A man pulls a 14-year-old into his house and holds her down so he can have intercourse with her. Rather than raping her, though, he ejaculates on her stomach.4
7. What are the penalties?
Typically, the penalties for a violation of Penal Code 220 a range of two, four or six years in jail or prison.
If the victim was under 18 and the intended felony was a sex crime, the jail or prison term is a range of five, seven or nine years.
Defendants who were committing first-degree burglary face higher penalties. If they assault someone with the intent to commit a sex crime during the burglary, they face life in prison.
- California Penal Code 220
(a) (1) Except as provided in subdivision (b), any person who assaults another with intent to commit mayhem, rape, sodomy, oral copulation, or any violation of Section 264.1, 288, or 289 shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or six years.
(2) Except as provided in subdivision (b), any person who assaults another person under 18 years of age with the intent to commit rape, sodomy, oral copulation, or any violation of Section 264.1, 288, or 289 shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for five, seven, or nine years.
(b) Any person who, in the commission of a burglary of the first degree, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 460, assaults another with intent to commit rape, sodomy, oral copulation, or any violation of Section 264.1, 288, or 289 shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life with the possibility of parole.
People v. Trotter, Supra.