California Penal Code Section 242: Battery Charges
Simple Battery: Legal Considerations
To establish an act of battery under Section 242 of the Penal Code, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the perpetrator willfully and unlawfully touched another person in a harmful or offensive manner.
Touching is required for battery, but even the slightest unwanted touching of a person can be sufficient. The touching does not have to cause the other person actual pain or injury of any kind. The touching does not have to occur directly; causing an object or someone else to touch the person or something they are touching can be enough. For example, using your purse to hit someone else could count as a battery, even if your hands never touch the other person. The act must be willful, meaning it was done intentionally or on purpose. An involuntary act is insufficient. However, you do not need to intend to batter another person; you only need to intend to do the action that led to the touching. For example, if you purposely swing your purse at someone in anger, and you hit them with it, even if you did not mean to actually hit them, that can constitute a battery.
Punishment For Battery If Convicted:
The exact punishment for battery will vary widely with the severity of the crime and the defendant’s past criminal record. Location of the incident, who the victim is, who the perpetrator is, any preexisting relationship between the victim or perpetrator, and any injury suffered are all important factors to consider in analyzing the potential consequences of the crime. However, even the least serious battery conviction is classified as a violent crime and can lead to rejection by potential employers, college admissions departments, and apartment landlords.
Simple battery under Section 242 is a misdemeanor and is punishable by a maximum fine of $2,000 and/or a maximum of six months in the county jail.
However, if a simple battery is committed on school property, in a park, on the grounds of a hospital, or on any mode of public transportation, then the maximum imprisonment in county jail doubles to one year.
Defenses To Accusations Of Battery:
There are several commonly used defenses to a charge of battery, including:
- Defense of self or others: Using appropriate levels of force to defend yourself or other people against injury and/or criminal activities cannot be considered battery.
- Accidental touching: If the contact was not willful, then it is not battery even if injury resulted.
- Parental discipline: If a parent or guardian uses reasonable disciplinary methods on their child, it is not battery. If, however, excessive force was used, it is possible for a child abuse charge (PC 273d) to be filed.
- Legal contact: If a law enforcement officer uses proper force in the course of performing his duties, it is legal and, therefore, not battery.
- Mistaken identity: Many times, a batterer attacks in a dimly lit location and quickly flees. This can lead to victims accusing those they wrongly believe to be the perpetrator.
Note: It is not a valid defense against battery to argue that a verbal provocation led to the incident. Unless the defendant was under an immediate threat of being injured by the other person, his touching that person in a harmful way can still be charged as a crime.
Battery Against Specific Victims (On a Spouse, Cohabitant, or other Intimate)
Domestic Battery under Section 243€(1) of the Penal Code is defined as any willful and unlawful touching of a person with whom someone shares an intimate relationship. This can be a person with whom the perpetrator currently has or previously had a dating relationship, a spouse, a fiancé, a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend, a former spouse or cohabitant, or the mother/father of the perpetrator’s child. Like in other types of battery, even the slightest touching can be enough if done in a rude or offensive way, and the victim does not need to suffer any actual injury. For example, if someone slaps their romantic partner in the face during a verbal altercation, that qualifies under the statute as domestic battery.
Punishment for Domestic Types of Battery:
Domestic Battery is always a misdemeanor and is punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000. If probation is granted, and there is no jail time, then the court will require the defendant to complete at least a one year counseling program, and the defendant may be required to reimburse the victim for any reasonable costs that have incurred as a result of this crim, including costs of counseling. It is also possible that the defendant may be required to pay money in support of a battered women’s shelter.
Note: If the defendant has a prior conviction for domestic violence under Penal Code sections 243(e)(1) or 273.5, then a minimum of 48 hours imprisonment is required by law, although the court does retain some discretion not to impose that if there is good cause.
Defenses to a Charge of Battery Includes:
- Self-defense or defense of others
- The touching was accidental
Distinction between Penal Code Sections 243(e)(1) and 273.5:
In California, there are main two types of domestic violence crimes that you can be charged with: Domestic Battery under Section 243(e)(1) of the Penal Code, or Corporal Injury to a Spouse or Cohabitant under Section 273.5 of the Penal Code. Domestic battery, like other types of battery, only requires a harmful or offensive touching- actual injury to a person is not required. Penal Code 273.5, on the other hand, does require that the victim suffer some type of bodily injury. A domestic battery charge under Penal Code 243(e)(1) is always a misdemeanor, whereas a domestic violence charge under Penal Code 273.5 can be classified either as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances of the case and level of injury.
Battery on an Elder or Dependent Adult
Battery on an elderly person or a dependent adult falls into its own specialized section of the Penal Code.
An elder is someone who is at least 65 years old.
A dependent adult is someone who is between 18 and 64 years old and has physical or mental limitations that restrict his or her ability to conduct normal activities or to protect his or her rights. This can be someone who has physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, or someone whose mental abilities have decreased due to age or illness. People who are inpatients in a medical facility, a psychiatric health facility, or chemical dependency recovery facility are also considered dependent adults.
Battery on an elder or dependent adult can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case and the egregiousness of the offense.
For a misdemeanor charge, Section 368 of the Penal Code requires the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The defendant negligently or willfully subjected an elder/dependent adult to unjustifiable physical or mental suffering.
- The conduct occurred under circumstances that may endanger the life or health of the elder/dependent adult
- The defendant knew or should have known the victim was classified as an elder or a dependent adult.
For a felony, Section 368 of the Penal Code requires:
- The defendant willfully or negligently subjected an elderly person to physical pain or mental suffering that was unjustified.
- The defendant’s conduct occurred under circumstances likely to produce great bodily injury or death
- Defendant knew or should have known the victim was an elder/dependent adult.
Note: When negligence is involved, it must be the level of criminal negligence.
The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony charge has to do with the degree of the effect of the defendant’s actions on the victim; where the conduct occurred under circumstances that are likely to endanger the life or health of the victim, then the case is more likely to be a misdemeanor, whereas a felony would require that the circumstances are more serious, and are likely to produce great bodily injury or death of the victim.
There are multiple ways in which a person can be found criminally liable under this statute. Obviously, if someone actively, directly inflicts unjustifiable pain or mental suffering on the victim, that qualifies under the statute. This is where the main overlap with battery occurs. A person can also be criminally liable if they were negligent and allowed the victim’s health to deteriorate to an excessive and preventable degree. For example, if a dependent person’s caretaker neglects to tend to the victim’s hygiene or help them change position frequently, and the victim suffers bedsores as a result, that caregiver could be held criminally liable under the statute. Additionally, if the defendant had a duty to protect the elder or dependent adult, for example through a contractual obligation or by a special relationship that exists between the defendant and the victim, then the defendant may be criminally liable under the statute even if he or she did not personally and willfully inflict any unjustifiable suffering on the victim. Simply failing to protect the elder or dependent adult from a third person can be sufficient for criminal liability in certain situations.
Punishment for Elder Abuse or Battery:
A misdemeanor conviction under Section 368 of the Penal Code is punishable by a maximum fine of $6,000 (or $10,000 for a subsequent offense) and/or a maximum of one year in jail. The defendant may also be required to attend counseling programs and pay restitution to the victim.
If charged as a felony, the defendant can be sentenced to up to four years in prison, with an additional three to five years in prison if the victim suffered great bodily injury or died as a result of the abuse.
This is not considered a violent or serious offense as defined in California's Three Strikes Law; however, if the prosecution proves a serious bodily injury enhancement under PC 12022.7, the crime of elder abuse may be considered a strike, which can have greater consequences if the defendant is ever charged with a future crime.
There are also collateral consequences of conviction of this offense, including loss of a professional or occupational license, and severe immigration consequences.
Note: If someone is accused of elder abuse and the elder is his or her spouse, significant other, parent, grandparent, or roommate, prosecutors could charge you with elder abuse under California's domestic violence laws under 243e(1), which will increase the maximum penalties if convicted.
Defenses to Crimes Against an Elder or Dependent Adult Include:
- Insufficient evidence: Remember, the prosecution must prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is another reasonable explanation for the victim’s injuries or condition other than the defendant’s actions (such as illness, age, or accident) then the prosecution may not be able to meet their burden. This particular statute won’t apply if the victim is not one described in the statute.
- Mistaken identity: One common scenario is that the defendant was not the person actually responsible for the abuse but was accused simply because of his or her role as the primary caregiver.
- Self-defense or defense of others
Battery Committed on a Peace Officer:
Under Section 243(b) of the Penal Code, if the battery is inflicted upon a peace officer, custodial officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, lifeguard, security officer, custody assistant, process server, traffic officer, code enforcement officer, animal control officer, or search and rescue team member while they are engaged in the performance of their duties, and the person committing the battery knows or reasonably should know that the victim has this status, then the punishment is increased. A misdemeanor offense is punishable by a maximum of one year in jail (versus a simple battery on a victim not falling under these classifications is punishable by a maximum of 6 months in jail) and/or a maximum of a $2,000 fine.
If, however, there is injury as a result of the battery, then it can be charged as a felony and the defendant could be imprisoned in state prison for up to three years.
Importantly, if the battery is committed on a police officer in the performance of his/her duties, then the fine increases to a maximum of $10,000 and the defendant can be imprisoned in state prison for up to three years.
Battery on a School Employee:
Under Section 243.6, a battery against a school employee engaged in the performance of his/her duties, or in retaliation for an act performed in the course of those duties, on or off campus at any time, by a person who knows or reasonably should know that the victim is a school employee must be punished by a fine of not more than $2,000 or imprisonment in a county jail for not more than 1 year, or both.
Battery on Sports Officials:
Under 243.8(a), a battery on a referee, umpire, or anyone officiating an amateur or professional athletic contest is punishable by a maximum of a $2,000 fine and/or up to one year in jail.
Battery on Members of United States Armed Forces:
Under 243.10(a), a battery against a member of the United States Armed Forces committed because of the victim's service in the Armed Forces is punishable by a fine of not more than $2,000 or by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than 1 year, or both. (P.C. 241.8(a), 243.10(a).) “Because of” means that the bias must be the cause in fact of the assault or battery, whether or not other causes exist. When there are multiple concurrent motives, the bias must be a substantial factor in bringing about the assault or battery.
Battery on a Juror:
Under 243.7, a person who is a party to a civil or criminal action in which a jury has been selected and sworn who, during or after trial, batters a juror or an alternate juror on that case may face a maximum fine of $5,000 and/or up to one year in jail if the case is filed as a misdemeanor, or up to three years in prison for a felony.
Battery By Certain People
State prison inmate
Under Section 4501.5 of the Penal Code, a person confined in a state prison who commits a battery on a nonprisoner must be punished by a consecutive state prison term of 2, 3, or 4 years.
City or county jail inmate
Under Section 1170(h) of the Penal Code, a person confined in, sentenced to, or serving a sentence in a city or county jail, or in an industrial farm or road camp, who commits a battery on a nonprisoner is guilty of a public offense and is punishable by up to a year in jail.
Any juvenile confined to a detention facility who commits battery against a noninmate with a deadly weapon or instrument or by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury can be charged with a felony and may be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or six years.
Note: Battery by Gassing
Under Section 243.9(b) of the Penal Code, a person confined in a state prison or a local detention facility who commits a battery on a peace officer, including a state prison employee or local detention facility employee, by intentionally hitting the peace officer with bodily fluids is guilty of aggravated battery and must be punished by imprisonment in a county jail or by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years.
Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury:
If someone is seriously injured as a result of the willful and unlawful touching, then the consequences will likely be more severe. The prosecution will often charge the crime as a felony, instead of a misdemeanor like simple battery.
In order to prove battery with serious bodily injury under Section 243(d) of the Penal Code, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that 1) a person used force or violence on another 2) the use of force was willful and unlawful and 3) that the use of force inflicted serious bodily injury upon the other person.
“Serious bodily injury” can include broken bones, concussions, loss of consciousness, internal injuries to organs, or a wound that requires stitches or staples. It is not necessary that the victim required medical treatment in order to find that serious bodily injury was inflicted.
If the injuries will not cause permanent harm to the victim, then the prosecution could still file a misdemeanor charge, which is punishable by a maximum of one year in jail; however, more egregious injuries will lead to a felony charge, which could lead to two, three, or even four years in state prison. Stiches in a superficial wound that will heal completely will likely lead to misdemeanor charges; serious disfigurement or damage that will cause the victim to have ongoing pain and suffering will lead to felony charges.
Sexual Battery Charges
To establish an act of sexual battery under Section 243.4 of the Penal Code, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt 1) There was a touching of an intimate part of a person 2) that touching was against a person’s will and 3) the touching was done specifically for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse. The touching can be direct or through the clothing of a person; no skin to skin contact is required. The perpetrator’s touching of an intimate part of the victim’s body or causing the victim to touch an intimate part of the perpetrator’s body both qualify as sexual battery.
Punishment for sexual battery:
Sexual battery could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case.
Misdemeanor sexual battery is punishable by a maximum of six months in jail and/or a maximum fine of $2,000. However, if the perpetrator is the employer of the victim, then that fine increases to a maximum of $3,000.
The offense will be charged as a felony if the victim was unlawfully restrained, the victim was institutionalized or severely disabled, false representation was used in accomplishing the act, or there is direct skin-to-skin contact.
Felony sexual battery is punishable by up to two, three, or four years in state prison and/or a maximum $10,000 fine.
Defenses in sexual battery:
There are several defenses to the charge of sexual battery, including:
- The victim consented to the act.
- You did not touch an intimate part of the victim or cause the victim to touch your intimate part.
Intimate parts include the female breast, anus, groin, sexual organ or buttocks. Any other part outside of these regions is insufficient to sustain criminal liability for this offense.
- The touching was not done for the specific intent of sexual arousal, gratification or abuse.
This is a specific intent crime, meaning the touching must have been done for this very specific purpose. If someone accidentally touches a victim’s intimate part, or the victim misinterprets one’s actions where they really had no sexual intentions, then this charge cannot be sustained.
- For misdemeanor sexual battery only, it is a defense to claim that the defendant honestly and reasonably, but mistakenly, believed that the victim consented to engage in a sexual encounter.
*Note: Because sexual battery is a specific intent crime, it cannot be considered a lesser included offense of rape, which requires only general intent
Battery Defense Lawyer in Pasadena And Los Angeles County:
If you are in the unfortunate position of being accused or charged with committing battery or assault against another person, finding a dedicated criminal lawyer to be on your side should be your first step in getting help. Once a criminal case is filed, the prosecutors assume the charge is true and that the accused is guilty. Luckily, a defendant cannot be convicted solely because a prosecutor (or a police officer) believes he or she is guilty of a crime. A jury of one’s peers is the lawful decider of facts, and all must be unanimously convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of the accused’s guilt before a conviction can be returned.
Whether an accused person is innocent, or whether he or she made a poor judgement and needs a second chance, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help a defendant secure the best possible outcome in a case.
Attorney Ann Gottesman is a compassionate and dedicated criminal defense lawyer who represents clients in the Pasadena, Alhambra, and other Los Angeles County Courts. Call Ann at 626-710-4021 for a free consultation to discuss your criminal case. The call is completely confidential