San Diego Criminal Attorney, the top-rated criminal defense law firm in the San Diego area, employs a team of highly skilled attorneys who possess years of experience handling battery cases of all kinds.
Under California law, specifically Penal Code Section 242, battery is defined as the willful use of harmful or offensive force against another person. According to the legal definition, while battery cases sometimes do involve an injury that was caused by physical force, you don’t necessarily have to cause your victim physical injury to be found guilty of battery in a court of law. Any form of force or violence, involving direct or indirect contact, used against another person in an unlawful and offensive manner is considered battery under Penal Code Section 242 of California law.
- John and Tim get into an argument about the football game, and John shoves Tim in an aggressive manner, causing him to bump into the wall and sustain minor bruising.
The pushing of another person constitutes battery under Section 242 since it involves the unlawful use of force, even if the shoving did not cause a major physical injury.
- Kate and Mary live in an apartment complex together, but they do not get along and frequently engage in arguments. After getting into a verbal disagreement, Kate spits on Mary.
Even the seemingly less serious act of spitting on another person counts as battery under California law, since spitting counts as an unwanted and offensive use of force.
- Jane, upset with her friend Jason, throws a small rock at him, hitting him in the back of his shoulder.
While Jane did not directly touch Jason using a part of her body, the fact that she inflicted unlawful physical violence on Jason with a physical object means she can be charged with battery.
There are two main crimes or practice areas with which battery can often be confused: assault and aggravated battery, also known as battery causing significant bodily injury.
- Assault: Defined under Penal Code 240, assault or simple assault can be charged when a person makes an unlawful attempt to inflict a violent injury upon another person. Lawyers often describe assault as an attempt or effort by a perpetrator to commit battery that does not necessarily result in actual battery. The main difference between assault and battery is that the crime of battery must involve the real use of unlawful force against another person, while assault includes actions that involve just the attempt to inflict unlawful violence on someone else.
- Aggravated Battery: Defined under Penal Code 243(d), aggravated battery is a more serious form of battery, which is charged when it can be proven that you caused serious bodily harm to another person. Serious bodily harm is defined as the significant impairment of a physical condition, which can include broken or dislocated bones, concussions, gunshot wounds, stab wounds, or other serious injuries. The main difference between battery and aggravated battery therefore is the level of injury sustained by the victim as result of the battery.
- Battery Committed Against Peace Officers: According to Penal Codes 243(b) and 243(c)(2), if you commit battery against certain specified classes of protected persons, harsher penalties can be applied. People that fall under this category of protected persons includes: custodial officers, police officers, firefighters, custody assistants, lifeguards, paramedics, security officers, process servers, probation department employees, doctors or nurses providing medical care, search and rescue employees, animal control employees, traffic officers, and parking law officers. In order to be charged with this crime, it has to be proven that you were aware or reasonably should have been aware that your victim was one of the types of special employees listed above, and that the victim was engaged in the legal performance of the duties of their job at the time when the battery was committed.
- Domestic Battery: Under Penal Code 243(e)(1), you can be charged with domestic battery if you inflict violence upon someone with whom it can be legally proven you have or had an intimate relationship. An intimate relationship under California law is specified as someone who is your spouse or was formerly your spouse, your cohabitant or was formerly your cohabitant, your fiancé or ex-fiancé, a person with which you currently or formerly had a dating relationship, or the mother or father of your child. Penal Code 243(e)(1) is charged in less severe domestic battery cases, if serious bodily injury or a traumatic condition is inflicted, then Section 243(d) or Section 273.5 can be applied.
- Sexual Battery: Under Penal Code 243.4, sexual battery can be charged if you willfully touch someone’s intimate parts without their consent, which are defined as a person’s sexual organ, groin, anus, buttocks, or the breast of a female. To be charged with sexual battery, it must be proven that you touched the person’s intimate parts without their permission for the purpose of giving yourself sexual gratification, to arouse yourself, or to harass or abuse your victim.
For the prosecutor to prove you are guilty of battery, they must provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt in three main areas.
- Contacting/Touching Another Person: This aspect of proof confuses some people, as touching does not necessarily indicate that the accused party touched the victim directly with their body. As shown in the examples above, spitting on somebody or using an item to strike another person both count as battery under California law. The touching does not necessarily need to be direct physical contact, it only needs to be proven that the touching constituted the unwanted and unlawful use of force by one person against another. Throwing something seemingly harmless at another person, such as a pen or pencil, can count as battery under California law. Also, for a person to be found guilty of battery, the touching does not need to be severe, or necessarily particularly violent in any way. Pushing someone in an angry manner, even if the pushing does not cause them to sustain an injury of any kind, still counts as battery according to Section 242.
- Willful Action: To be charged with battery, it must be proven that you willfully took the action that resulted in battery against another person by bringing force upon them in an unlawful manner. For an action of battery to be considered willful, it does not necessarily have to be proven that you intended to hurt the person charging you with battery, break the law with your action, and/or gain any sort of advantage through your actions. It must only be proven that you willingly and knowingly took the action that caused the victim to suffer battery.
Example: Pat meant to throw a plastic bottle near a friend Tim while in the midst of an argument to scare him, but accidentally hit him in the head with the bottle. While Pat did not intend to hurt Tim, Pat did willingly take the action that caused Tim to suffer an injury, meaning he could be charged with battery in this scenario.
- Action is Harmful or Offensive: The final aspect of proof for a charge of battery is that the battery-causing action must be considered harmful or offensive. For the action to be considered offensive/harmful, the direct or indirect touching must be committed in a rude, angry, violent, or generally disrespectful fashion, as see in the examples above. So, this means that unwanted touching is not necessarily considered battery, if the unwanted touching is neither offensive nor harmful.
Example: After a tough day at the office, Rick’s boss gives Rick a gentle pat on the back. While Rick may not have wanted the touching, this action most likely does not constitute battery, as Rick’s boss did not touch Rick in an angry, violent, rude, or disrespectful manner. Not all unwanted touching counts as battery, only if it is harmful/offensive according to the outlined criteria.
- Self Defense: You can claim that you only acted in self-defense as a method to fight a charge of battery. For self-defense to be considered justified, you must prove that you had a reasonable belief that you had no choice but to employ measures of self-defense to protect yourself or another person from immediate bodily harm, and that you used no more violence/force than was absolutely necessary to stop harm from being inflicted upon yourself or upon another person. If you continued to employ physical force after you subdued the threat, kept chasing after the person who attacked you after the threat had been dealt with and you were no longer in danger, or used a disproportionate amount of force to respond to the threat (i.e., responded to a slap by stabbing somebody), then a claim of self-defense will not be considered justified.
Example of Justified Self-Defense: Bob and Joe play in a recreational basketball league together. Bob is having a bad game, and takes out his frustration by angrily shoving Joe. Right before attempting to shove Joe again, Joe shoves Bob back with equal strength, and Bob falls down and injures his head. This would be considered lawful self-defense, even though Bob injured his head, because Joe responded to Joe’s aggression with a proportionate response to protect himself from imminent harm to his person.
- No Willful Intent: If you believe you did not take willful action in the battery the accuser is claiming, you can fight the charge by arguing a lack of willful intent. This defense can not be used when arguing that you did not intend to harm the person (see the bottle-throwing example above), it can only be employed when arguing that you had no willful intent whatsoever, that the harm you brought upon the accuser was completely and totally accidental. This defense can only be used when the harm you wrought upon another can reasonably be explained as not your fault in any sense.
Example: Pam and Stacey are at a concert. An unknown person in the crowd shoves Pam from behind, causing her to bump into Stacey and knock her over. Stacey suffers a concussion as a result of this fall. Here, if Stacey tries to bring a charge of battery against Pam, Pam can make a legitimate argument for lack of willful intent, as she clearly did not take any willful action, and only brought harm to Stacey by no fault of her own whatsoever.
- Mutual Consent: You can fight a charge of battery by arguing that the accuser gave you his/her consent to commit battery against them. For example, you can argue that the accuser gave you full permission to hit them in the head, say in a situation of mutually agreed combat. You need to provide some sort of proof that the accuser agreed to be subject to battery, whether it be recorded communication or a witness account.
Example: As the result of a bet, Dave gives Randy permission to slap him in the face. Randy can provide a transcript of an email exchange proving this fact to fight a potential charge of battery.
- Right of Parents to Discipline Their Children: Parents in California reserve the legal right to use physical force to discipline their children. Physical discipline is not considered unlawful battery if the force used is reasonable, and is not considered excessive under the particular circumstances. Discipline of a child can become unlawful child abuse under PC 273(d) if the disciplinary action is considered cruel corporal punishment or causes an injury involving a traumatic condition (wound or significant bodily injury caused by the application of direct physical force).
Example of Lawful Discipline: If Kathy, a mother, grabs and not particularly roughly yanks her son’s arm in the car to prevent him from opening the car door in a moving vehicle, this would be considered reasonable and lawful discipline.
Example of Unlawful Discipline: If Jeremy, a father, roughly hits his daughter across the face because she received a bad grade on a test, this would be considered unlawful discipline and would almost certainly constitute child abuse.
- Conviction under Section 242 (simple battery): You only can be charged with a misdemeanor for simple battery. The possible penalties include: summary probation; up to 6 months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000.
- Conviction under Sections 243(b) and 243(c)(2) (battery involving a peace officer): You can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. If charged with a misdemeanor, because the battery did not result in injury, you face up to one year in county jail. If charged with a felony, as a result of causing the peace officer a serious injury, you face a jail sentence of either 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years, depending on the severity of the injury.
- Conviction under Section 243(e)(1) (domestic battery): You can only be charged with a misdemeanor for domestic battery, as it does not involve serious injury. You face up to 1 year in county jail, a fine of up to $2000, as well as summary probation involving an enrollment in a minimum one-year batterer’s counseling program.
- Conviction under Section 243.4 (sexual battery): You can be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor, dependent on the severity of the violation, for instance depending on if the battery was or wasn’t repeated. If charged with a misdemeanor, you face a term in county jail of either 6 months or one year depending on the particular circumstances of the case. If charged with a felony, you face a prison sentence of either 2 years, 3 years, or 4 years depending on the severity of the battery. If you’re convicted of either a misdemeanor or a felony for sexual battery, you are legally required to register as an official sex offender.
- Conviction under Section 243(d) (aggravated battery): You can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the specific circumstances of the unlawful action and your criminal record. If charged with a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in county jail. If charged with a felony, you face up to 2 years, 3 years, or 4 years in state prison and the possibility of probation. The length of your sentence will depend on the severity of the bodily injuries you inflicted, the type of weapon you used to cause the injury whether it be a blunt instrument or a firearm, and the extent of your individual criminal history.
Still have questions after reading this informative guide? Don’t hesitate to call 619-880-5474 to speak with one of the highly qualified specialists at San Diego Criminal Attorney today about your battery case. We will provide you with a free case evaluation and consultation, commitment not required.
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