How Is "Battery" Defined in California?
Under California Penal Code Section 242, "battery" is defined as willfully and unlawfully making physical contact with another person in a way that a reasonable person would know is likely to cause offense of bodily harm.
While the phrase "assault and battery" quickly rolls off our tongues and seems like an unbreakable unity, in reality, battery is a distinct crime (in California) from assault. Assault is, in effect, an attempted battery, the use of force or fear in attempting to commit an act likely to be offensive or cause physical injury or death. Battery occurs when the attempt "succeeds."
To prove the allegation of battery in court, the prosecution must establish the following elements of the crime:
- The defendant did, in fact, unlawfully touch someone against that person's will.
- This touching was done "willfully."
- The touching was done in a way that was offensive or that was likely to cause bodily injury.
- The defendant knew his/her act was likely to offend or cause injury/death, or reasonably should have known it.
- The defendant was not acting in self-defense, in defense of others, or administering reasonable discipline to a child.
Note that any physical contact at all, even the barest touch, can technically count as battery. Even if only the clothes were touched, it can still be battery. And if you touch a bicycle someone is riding or certain other objects "closely connected" to the person, that also can be battery. And note that there is no requirement for the touch to actually cause pain or injury.
Also note that you cannot use the victim's provocation via "fighting words" as a defense. Unless the defendant was responding to an imminent threat of being battered himself, and responded in proper measure, being provoked will not be an adequate defense.
"Willful" touching does not mean that you intended to break the law or intended to harm another person, but simply that you did the act itself intentionally (not on accident).
Since police, other professionals, and ordinary people in certain unusual situations can legally apply physical force to another person, the law specifies that battery must be done "unlawfully." And any unlawful application of force is legally defined in California as "force or violence."
Next note that it is not a defense to argue you acted recklessly but had not intention to touch or harm anyone. Such recklessness would still allow you to be charged and convicted of battery.
Possible Penalties for Battery in California
Simple battery (versus a repeat or aggravated battery offense) is a misdemeanor under PC 242. It is punishable by:
- Up to 6 months in county jail.
- Informal probation.
- Fines of up to $2,000.
- Community service.
- Mandatory completion of "Batterer's Class" and/or anger management or other forms of counseling.
If the act of battery causes serious bodily harm, it is "aggravated battery" (PC 243d) and can be a misdemeanor or felony. As a misdemeanor, aggravated battery is punishable by:
- Up to 12 months in county jail.
- Informal probation.
- A fine of up to $2,000.
- Community service.
- Completion of Batterer's Class and possibly other counseling programs.
If aggravated battery is charged as a felony, it is punishable by:
- 2 to 4 years in state prison.
- Fines of up to $10,000.
- A "strike" on your criminal record under California's Three Strikes Law. Strikes serve to increase future penalties if you are convicted of serious crimes in the future.
- Loss of your right to buy a firearm or to own or have a firearm in your possession.
While the penalties vary greatly based on the nature of the incident, any battery conviction is a violent crime on your criminal record, which may make it difficult to get a good job, get an apartment lease, or get accepted on a college or grad school application.
How Is "Aggravated Battery" Defined?
We mentioned already the basic definition of PC 243d (aggravated battery), which is that it is an act of battery that results in significant bodily injury to the victim. But there is much more involved in understanding this charge.
Aggravated battery is also called "battery with serious bodily injury." It can be a misdemeanor or felony based on the severity of the injury inflicted and other factors.
But how is "serious" bodily injury defined? It is all a matter of degree of harm, and it can be a bit vague to define. But generally, things like broken/fractured bones, severe concussions, a wound serious enough to require stitches, or the victim losing consciousness would qualify.
And besides "serious" bodily injury, there is also "great bodily injury." "Great" bodily injury is considered more severe than "serious" bodily injury and would carry even greater penalties than PC 243d and be covered under PC 12022.7. However, there is not exact definition given of "great" versus "serious" versus relatively minor bodily injury. It is a matter of case law, the tendencies of the judge/jury, and of the argumentative skills of the defense versus the prosecuting attorney.
Common Defenses Against the Charge of Battery
At Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys, we have been defending against battery charges in Long Beach and Southern California for many years, and we have handled all manner of battery cases. We know how to build a solid defense to a variety of case-types, and we always "custom build" each defense on the facts of the individual case.
Here are some of the most common defense strategies we use in winning battery cases:
- Lack of Intent: In order for a battery charge to stick, it must be shown that the defendant acted intentionally. The action can be done without knowledge of its illegality or intent to harm the other person and still be battery. But if the action itself was accidental, it is not battery. However, you cannot act with reckless disregard for the safety of others and escape the charge of battery if someone is hit or injured as a result.
- Self-defense: This is probably the most common defense in battery cases. You have a right to defend yourself if there is, or you reasonably believe there to be, an imminent threat of bodily harm. But you response must be proportional, only enough force being applied to neutralize the threat against your person.
- Defense of Others: The same "rules" apply to defense of others as to self-defense, except of course, your intention was to defend another person from imminent bodily injury instead of yourself.
- Consent: While it might seem ridiculous off-hand that anyone would "consent to being battered," the idea of the consent defense is that a person consented to allow someone else to act on them in a certain way, neither party expecting an injury to occur. This can apply to contact sports injuries or to doctors performing medical operations, for example. But the force used must have been reasonable and within the parameters of what was consented to.
- Parental Discipline: If you use reasonable force and measures to discipline your child, that is not battery, but you could still be accused of it. If one goes beyond reasonable forms of discipline, it could be battery or child abuse (PC 273d). But ordinary spanking or corporal punishment is not child abuse or battery. We understand how to defeat such charges and defend your parental rights.
- The Injury Was Not "Serious:" This defense is used against the charge of aggravated battery (battery with serious injury) to reduce it to a charge of simple battery only.
Other offenses that are similar to that of PC 242 (battery) that are often charged along with it or instead of it, or that could be a lesser charge used in a plea deal, include the following:
- Assault (PC 240)
As already mentioned above, assault is an attempted battery. It involves a willful, unlawful attempt to commit an act that would reasonably be expected to inflict physical harm or even death in the victim. It is a lesser charge than battery (PC 242), being a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. It is often possible to get a battery charge reduced to an assault charge when the prosecution's case is weak or if no actual physical harm resulted from the act of battery.
- Domestic Battery (PC 243.e1 or PC 273.5)
Domestic violence is when a violent crime is committed against a romantic partner, former romantic partner, or a child, cohabitant, or family member. As battery is a violent crime, when committed against a person in any of the above-mentioned categories, it is "domestic battery" and receives enhanced punishment compared to "ordinary" battery.
When there are no visible injuries caused domestic battery is a misdemeanor charged under PC 243.e1 and punishable by up to 12 months in county jail and up to a $2,000 fine. In more serious situations, domestic battery can be charged under PC 273.5 as either a misdemeanor or felony. As a misdemeanor, PC 273.5 is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a maximum fine of $6,000. If there is great bodily injury, PC 273.5 may be charged as a felony and be punishable by 2 to 4 years in state prison and will be a strike under California's Three Strikes Law.
- Assault With a Deadly Weapon (PC 245.a1)
If a "deadly weapon" or force sufficient to cause great bodily injury is used in an assault, it can be charged under PC 245.a1. A deadly weapon can be anything used in such a way as to potentially produce serious bodily injury, not just guns and knives.
PC 245.a1, as a misdemeanor, can get you up to a year in county jail; as a felony, it can be punished by 2 to 4 years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
- Sexual Battery (PC 243.4)
If one touches the sexual or intimate parts of another person without permission and uses force or fear to accomplish it, it can be charged as sexual battery under Penal Code Section 243.4. Depending on the circumstances of the case, PC 243.4 can be a misdemeanor or a felony.
As a misdemeanor, PC 243.4 is punishable by 6 to 12 months in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000. The fine can be $3,000 if an employer commits sexual battery against an employee.
As a felony, PC 243.4 is punishable by from 2 to 4 years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Contact Us Today For Help
At Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys, we have a long track record of winning all manner of California battery defense cases. We will know how to build you a solid defense and win the best possible outcome to your case, be that a dismissal, acquittal, or a reduced charge or sentence.
To learn more about battery defense or to avail yourself of a free legal consultation, do not hesitate to contact us at (562) 308-7807 24/7/365. Or, feel free to see us at our Long Beach, CA office.