In the state of California – and specifically in Orange County, CA – the crime of battery consists of any unlawful use of violence or force that is willfully inflicted on another person. California Penal Code 242 can be applied in such a way that, even if you did not inflict pain or injury on the other person, you could still be guilty of the crime of battery. Simply touching someone in an offensive way can constitute battery. It is important to understand the multiple ways that the law can be interpreted when it comes to battery and to know where appropriate legal help can be obtained. Orange County Criminal Attorney is ready to assist you and be sure that you understand your rights and are fully protected by the law.
The Difference in Assault and Battery
It is common to hear people use the term “assault and battery” when speaking of criminal charges. In California, assault and battery are two separate crimes.
Assault is detailed in California Penal Code 240, where it is specified as the attempt to use violence or force on another person. The key word in defining assault is the term attempt. Battery takes the action a step further and is characterized as the actual use of violence or force against another person.
There is a third crime related to these, known as battery causing serious bodily injury. This type of battery is defined in California Penal Code 243(d). The distinctions between each of these charges are important, as they carry varying penalties. Let’s take a deeper look at some detailed definitions of the various terms involved in the crime of battery, and what must be proven in court if you are to be convicted of this crime.
Key Terms in the Crime of Battery
There are three elements in the definition of battery that must be proven by a prosecutor if you are to be convicted of a charge of battery.
- It must be proved that you touched someone else,
- That you did so willfully,
- And that you did so in an offensive or harmful manner.
If a prosecutor cannot show that the charge against you contains all three of these elements, you cannot be convicted of the crime of battery in the state of California.
Touched Someone Else
This legal definition only requires that you be in physical contact with another person. It is not a requirement that your touch actually causes any physical injury or harm to the other person. For example, a person who became angry and spits in the face of another person could be accused of battery, according to the statute.
Battery can occur, according to the law, if touching takes place through another person’s clothing or through the use of an inanimate object that is used to touch another person.
This very important distinction in California law means that you had to have touched the other person on purpose or with willful intent. An unintentional brush or contact would not qualify. However, even if you did not intend to cause harm, break a law, or gain an advantage – your will to touch the other person is part of the charge of battery.
Without a doubt, there are situations that involve accidental contact between persons that sometimes appear to escalate to the level of battery. However, California courts have consistently demonstrated that the willful intent is a factor that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Offensive or Harmful Manner
The third element that must be present for battery to be proven is that any touching was done in a manner that was rude, violent, angry, or disrespectful. These are terms that indicate the touching was done in an offensive or harmful manner.
Penalties for Battery Under California Law
If you are convicted of battery under Penal Code 242 for the charge of simple battery, your penalties could include:
- Summary probation (also known as misdemeanor probation)
- Jail time up to six months
- A fine assessment of up to $2,000
Summary probation usually lasts for between one and three years, though the term can be set as high as five years. The probation means that you will have to comply with conditions set by the court – such as paying restitution, attending counseling, and/or performing community service.
For other charges that are closely related to battery, the penalties vary and can be a good bit stricter; it is important to be sure you understand the differences and that you obtain the advice of a qualified battery criminal defense attorney.
Some of the offenses that are closely related to the crime of battery in California include:
- Battery causing serious bodily injury [PC 242(d)]
- Battery on a peace officer [PC 243(b) and 243(c)]
- Domestic battery [PC 243(e)(1)]
- Sexual battery (PC 243.4)
- Elder abuse (PC 368)
Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury
This form of battery results when the injury inflicted on another person causes serious bodily injury and is designated as aggravated battery. The test for serious bodily injury is an impairment which results from the injury; the most obvious results are concussions or broken bones.
The crime of aggravated battery is considered a wobbler under California law, which means it is sometimes charged as a misdemeanor and sometimes charged as a felony. If you are convicted of misdemeanor battery with serious bodily injury, the maximum sentence is one year in jail. If you are convicted of felony battery with serious bodily injury, the penalty can be up to four years in prison.
Battery on a Peace Officer
There are certain individuals that are protected under California law by the statute concerning battery on a peace officer. Violations of these codes carry harsher penalties. The following is a list of persons who are considered peace officers when they are actively performing the duties of their employment:
- Police or law enforcement officers
- Security officers
- Process servers
- Traffic officers
- Emergency medical technicians (EMT)
- Custody assistants
- Animal control officers
- Code enforcement officers
- Employees of probation departments
- Search and rescue team members
- Nurses or doctors providing emergency medical care
The penalty for battery against any of these persons, when you knew or reasonably should have known that you were committing battery, is up to one year in jail. If an injury to the person is involved, then the crime of battery can be judged as a felony and the jail sentence can be as high as three years.
If battery is committed against any of the following people, the charge may be changed to domestic battery:
- A spouse or former spouse
- A person you cohabit with (or that you formerly cohabited with)
- A fiancé (or fiancée) or former fiancé (or former fiancée)
- Any person with whom you have or have had a dating relationship
- The mother or father of your child
Domestic battery is charged as a misdemeanor but carries a fine of up to $2,000 and a jail sentence of as much as one year. You may also be required to enroll in a treatment program for batterers for at least one year.
This charge is a separate and distinct crime from the other forms of battery already discussed (domestic battery, simple battery, or aggravated battery). Sexual battery may be charged when the touching of another person’s intimate part is involved for the purpose of arousal, abuse, or sexual gratification.
Depending upon the circumstances, sexual battery may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor charge results in a jail sentence of up to one year; a felony charge results in a prison sentence of up to four years.
The most significant additional penalty for the charge of sexual battery is the requirement to register a sexual offender under the California state requirement.
California maintains a law that makes it a crime to impose an unjustifiable amount of pain or emotional/mental suffering – either willfully or negligently – on a person who has reached the age of 65 or older. This charge may be proven in addition to battery and you can be penalized for both crimes, carrying jail time up to four years and a fine of as much as $6,000.
Legal Defenses for the Charge of Battery in California
Since the crime of battery has such a relatively low threshold for its infliction, many people are surprised when they receive notice that they are being charged with battery. As we have seen, the fact that nobody was seriously injured in a battery situation has very little to do with your guilt or innocence. This is where a qualified battery criminal defense attorney can help greatly. There are a number of legal defenses against the charge of battery that you may want to consider.
Acting in Self-Defense
If you are accused of battery but feel that you may have been acting in self-defense or in the defense of another person, this defense strategy may apply to you. There are several factors that you will need to be able to demonstrate:
- You must have had a reasonable belief that you or someone else was imminently in danger of suffering bodily injury or that you were about to be touched unlawfully.
- You must have had a reasonable belief that the immediate use of physical force was needed in order to defend against that danger.
- You did not use more force than was reasonably necessary in order to defend yourself or another person.
Your Actions Were Not Willful
One of the key constituents of battery, as defined in California law, is the willful intent to touch another person. If your touching of another person was accidental and can be shown to be such, you may be able to present a defense of accidental touching and were not an act of the will.
A Parent’s Right to Discipline a Child
California maintains a section of the law code designed to protect children from crimes such as battery, which is enforced under the terms of abandonment and neglect of children. One of the sections of that code, PC 273(d), defines actions of child abuse.
Sometimes parents find themselves accused of battery against their children when the battery that is alleged is more rightly seen as a legal attempt to provide discipline for the child (or children). In other words, parents do have a legal right to discipline their children and cannot be charged with battery for doing so.
In order to demonstrate that discipline should not be charged as battery, the following characteristics of the force applied must be shown:
- The force applied can be considered to be reasonable.
- The force applied was not excessive under the circumstances.
Situations Not Considered as Valid Defenses for Battery
There are at least two commons situations that cannot be used as a viable defense against a charge of battery in California. Voluntary intoxication can never be used as a defense against battery, even though the person who is intoxicated may have lost control of their judgment due to imbibing alcohol (or drugs). The will to act remains with the person who knowingly partakes of the alcohol, so subsequent decision-making processes cannot be excluded.
There could be an exception if a person either unknowingly or by force was made to consume an intoxicating substance.
The other situation that cannot be used as a defense to a charge of battery is a provocation or being incited by the words of another person. Even if a person uses language that is offensive or disgusting, replying with enough physical force to constitute battery cannot be excused and the retort can be considered a crime.
Find a Battery Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you have been charged with battery or any of its associated crimes in the Orange County, CA area, one of your best decisions may be to call a qualified battery criminal defense attorney. The office of Orange County Criminal Attorney can assist you in understanding the charges raised against you and can help you discuss and evaluate your options for raising a defense against the charges. You can call the office of Orange County Criminal Attorney at 714-831-1858.