Battery, as a crime, is a progressive form of assault in which force or violence is used against a person. Without legal help from a law firm such as ours (LA Criminal Defense Attorney), your battery charges may attract long prison/jail sentences or hefty fines. Our firm assists clients like you from the Los Angeles area seeking justice when accused of crimes such as a battery, assault, and violent crimes. We structured this article into sections that can help you understand various types, punitive measures and legal defenses of battery crimes.
What is a Battery Crime Under California Laws?
In California, battery (also referred to as simple battery) is an act of willfully and unlawfully using violence or force on someone else. Most people refer battery to an act that involves severe beatings. However, Penal Code 242 of the California laws highlights that it’s a crime to willfully use violence or force on a person even when the victim doesn’t experience injury or pain. The fact that you touched the victim makes you a suspect of a battery crime.
If the battery offense results in severe bodily injury, you may be convicted of a “battery causing severe bodily injury” offense as stipulated in Penal Code 243(d). Battery and assault are entirely different in structure. While battery entails using force or violence on a person, assault involves attempting to use force or violence on a person. Penal Code 240 is California's assault law.
What Elements Constitute a Simple Battery Crime?
Penal Code 242 points out that a battery crime involves touching someone else willfully and in an offensive or harmful manner. You'll only have a battery criminal conviction if the prosecutor succeeds in proving various elements of this crime. They're as follows:
Touching Someone Else
For battery allegations to be valid, there must be proof that you made physical contact with an alleged victim. You don’t necessarily have to inflict injury on the person. Touching, in this context, can transpire through the clothing of the alleged victim or through an object that you used to touch an alleged victim.
California prosecutors may build your case using allegations that you touched an item intimately connected to the body of an alleged victim. The item doesn’t have to be an actual part of the person’s body. For instance, you may be accused of using force to knock an object on someone else’s hand.
You have high chances of being prosecuted for a battery crime if the prosecutors prove that you acted willfully. The term "willfully," in this case, implies that you were conscious about your actions. Acting willfully doesn't mean that you intended to break the law, gain an advantage or hurt the alleged victim.
Acting in an Offensive or Harmful Manner
The fact that you touched someone else on purpose doesn’t make you a suspect in a battery crime. You must have acted in a harmful or offensive way for your offense to be considered as a battery. Your charges will be based on the fact that your actions were disrespectful, rude, violent or out of anger.
Acting Against Someone Else’s Will
Prosecutors use this element to prove battery crimes such as a sexual battery. In this case, you'll be accused of touching the other party without seeking their consent. For the other party to consent to the act, they must act voluntarily and freely with full knowledge of the act they're consenting. You may have charges for an offense such as sexual battery against you if you sought the victim's consent by deceiving them that you wanted to conduct a professional service.
Common Types of Battery Crimes in California
Battery crimes in California vary with the type of injury an alleged victim suffers. They also differ with the alleged victims. Common battery crimes include battery resulting in severe bodily injury, battery on a peace officer, domestic battery and sexual battery as discussed below:
Battery Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury
Penal Code 243(d) considers any battery crime that results in severe bodily injury as aggravated battery. Willfully touching someone else in a harmful or offensive way can make you a suspect of a battery crime. For the offense to qualify as aggravated battery, the alleged victim must have suffered severe bodily injury due to your actions.
California aggravated battery law (PC 243(d)) considers “serious bodily injury” as a key element in an aggravated battery crime. The phrase “severe bodily injury” can be defined as any severe impairment of someone else’s physical condition. Serious physical injuries may include concussions, loss of consciousness, bone fractures, impaired body part, loss of a body part or wounds that require extensive suturing. The alleged victim doesn’t have to acquire any form of treatment for the physical injury for your offense to qualify as aggravated battery.
Battery on a Police or Peace Officer
Penal Codes 243(b) and 243(c) give the definitions for a battery crime committed against a peace or police officer. According to these laws, it’s unlawful to offensively or harmfully touch a peace officer or protected official while the officer is performing his/her assigned duties. Just like a simple battery, your conviction will be based on the fact that you committed the crime willfully.
The protected officials defined under Penal Codes 243(b) and 243(c) include custodial officers, paramedics, emergency medical technicians and workers of a probation department. Others include process servers and medical practitioners providing emergency care. The peace/police officers covered by these laws include highway patrol officers, officers working in the sheriff's departments, police officers, harbor/port police and transit police.
You must have reasonably known that the peace officer or protected official was performing his/her duties at the time of the crime to be charged with a PC 243(b) or PC 243(c) offense. A California jury will determine whether the alleged victim announced their status to you or drove a clearly marked car (such as an ambulance or police car). The jury will also establish whether the officer or protected individual had a uniform at the time of the crime to prosecute you.
Domestic battery is among the most common domestic violence crimes reported in California. Under Penal Code 243(e), unlawful and willful touching that’s offensive can qualify as a domestic crime when committed against:
Your current or former cohabitant
Your current or former spouse
Your current or former fiance
Your child’s mother or father
A person you have or used to date
You'll still be prosecuted for this offense even if the alleged victim didn't suffer any injuries. Prosecutors will indict you for using violence or force against the alleged victim. They also need to prove that you and the other party have or had some form of intimate relationship.
Sexual battery (commonly referred to as sexual assault) is defined as the act of touching someone else’s intimate part for purposes of sexual arousal, abuse or gratification under Penal Code 243.4. The act must have also been committed against the will of the alleged will for it to qualify as sexual assault. Unlike rape (a crime punishable under Penal Code 261), sexual battery doesn't entail engaging in actual sexual intercourse or penetration with a person. You may be accused of this offense even if the alleged victim is currently in a sexual relationship with you.
You may face a sexual assault charge if you unlawfully restrained someone else to touch his/her intimate parts. The unlawful restraint, which may take the form of words, authority or acts, must be against the will of the alleged victim. Aiding and abetting a sexual battery crime can make you guilty o the same offense just like the culprit. For this case, the prosecutors will have to prove that you knew that the culprit acted unlawfully and that you helped or attempted to help the culprit commission the sexual assault.
How Does Sexual Battery Differ From Rape?
Penal Code 261 is California's official rape law, which defines rape as an act of engaging in non-consensual sexual intercourse with someone else using fraud, force or threats. For a crime to qualify as rape, there should be proof of sexual intercourse. All rape cases are treated as felonies with penalties including a state prison sentence (up to 8 years). The state prison sentence may be increased if the rape victim suffers severe bodily injury.
What are the Potential Penalties for a Battery Offense in California?
A simple battery crime that doesn't result in any severe bodily injury is considered a misdemeanor in California. A battery offense qualifies as a misdemeanor when it isn't committed against a protected person or a law enforcement officer. Potential penalties for the misdemeanor include summary probation, a fine (not more than $2,000) and up to six months locked up in a county jail.
Penalties for Aggravated Battery
Penal Code 243(d) considers any form of battery that leads to serious bodily injury as a wobbler. California prosecutors may choose to pursue your case as a felony or misdemeanor if it qualifies as a wobbler. Your criminal record and facts surrounding the case may determine whether you’ll face a felony or misdemeanor conviction.
A misdemeanor aggravated battery crime is punishable by summary (misdemeanor) probation, county jail sentence (not exceeding one year) and a fine (not exceeding $1,000). For a felony aggravated battery crime, you may face formal (felony) probation, a county jail sentence (ranging from two to four years) or fines (not more than $10,000). In addition to these felony penalties, you’ll be legally disqualified from purchasing or owning a firearm within California.
Penalties for Battery on a Protected Person or Peace Officer
Simple battery on a peace officer or other protected persons is considered as a misdemeanor under Penal Code 243(b). In this case, the offense doesn’t have to lead in any form of bodily injury. Punitive measures that apply to this offense include summary probation, a one-year jail sentence (in county jail) and fines (not more than $2,000).
A battery crime that leads to a peace officer or protected individual suffering injuries is considered as a felony under Penal Code 243(c). In this context, the term “injury” shouldn’t necessarily imply that the alleged victim sought expert medical treatment for you to be prosecuted. Penalties that apply to a felony battery crime committed against a peace officer or a protected person include felony probation and fines (not higher than $10,000). As a convicted felon, you may also be sentenced to sixteen months, two years or three years in one of the California county jails in and enroll in the California realignment program.
Penalties for Domestic Battery
A domestic battery offense qualifies as a misdemeanor with punitive measures including a county jail sentence (up to one year), payment of fines (a maximum of $2,000) or misdemeanor probation. You may be granted probation (also referred to as a suspended sentence) instead of serving the county jail sentence. For a domestic battery offense, the probation will include completing at least one year attending a batterer’s treatment program and settling any expenses the victim incurred due to your actions.
If you're a non-citizen, a conviction for a domestic battery may present various immigration consequences. In California, domestic battery is among the crimes that meet the criteria of deportable offenses. You may be summoned to a deportation hearing after being convicted for this crime.
Penalties for Sexual Battery
Sexual assault that involves touching someone else’s intimate organ without consent for sexual abuse, arousal or gratification is a misdemeanor Under PC 243.4. A misdemeanor sexual assault doesn’t involve aggravating factors such as injuries. Punishments for this offense include county jail sentence (up to six months) and fines (ranging from $2,000 to $3,000).
A sexual assault conviction can attract summary probation, which takes up to five years to complete. Summary probation requirements, in this case, include community service, completing a program aimed at helping individuals with sexual compulsion/abuse issues or completing an education program for batterers. The probation conditions may also mandate you to register as a sex offender (tier one) for at least ten years.
Sexual battery charges may attract felony penalties if the victim is subjected to aggravating factors such as injuries or unlawful restraint. The same applies if the victim is disabled, incapacitated or institutionalized. Penalties for felony sexual battery include felony probation, a maximum fine of $10,000 and registration as a sex offender (tier three) for life. You may also serve a state prison sentence (that ranges from two to four years) and an additional three to a five-year state prison sentence if the victim suffers severe bodily injury.
Can the Alleged Victim Sue for Damages in California?
The California Constitution gives battery victims the right to be financially compensated for damages including lost wages and medical bills. You don't have to be found guilty of a battery crime for the victim to have this lawsuit filed against you. The other party will proceed with the suit even when a jury trial finds you "not guilty" of a battery offense.
The plaintiff (in the civil trial) should have a lawyer prove that you did the touching with the intent of offending or harming them. You may be required to pay damages if the plaintiff didn't give you consent or was offended/injured by your conduct. The same applies if your conduct would have offended or harmed a reasonable individual in the situation of the plaintiff.
Which Legal Defenses Can Work in Your Favor When Facing a Battery Charge?
Having a criminal defense lawyer fight for your innocence can guarantee favorable outcomes. You should share any insights or details of the alleged battery offense with your legal counsel. The lawyer may develop legal defenses in your favor using the following arguments:
Acting in Self-defense or Someone Else’s Defense
Acting in self-defense or someone else's defense is a convenient way of getting yourself or someone else from imminent danger. The other party may press battery charges against you for acting this way. One way to fight these charges is by arguing that you believed that using force could help prevent yourself or another person from suffering bodily injury.
Parental Right for Disciplining a Child
You have the parental right to use disciplinary measures to punish your child as long as the measures are reasonable and not excessive. Battery charges may be brought against you in connection with child abuse charges under Penal Code 273(d). Your lawyer can defend you by asserting that you were lawfully attempting to discipline your child.
Your Actions Were Accidental
Penal Code 242 only considers a crime of battery as one committed as a result of willful and unlawful actions. This law wouldn't apply to your battery charges if your actions were accidental. For instance, if you accidentally hit someone with your elbow when trying to move in a crowded area, such an act can't be considered as a battery.
The Injuries Were Less Severe
Your lawyer can refer to Penal Code 243(d) to argue that the injuries suffered by the alleged victim were less severe. Such an argument can work in your favor if your lawyer conducts a private investigation on the actual injuries the other party suffered. Some battery cases usually involve plaintiffs seeking unnecessary treatment or complaining about unrealistic pain for the verdict to favor them. Your attorney can take evidence obtained from a private investigation for your charges to be reduced to a simple battery (under PC 242) or dismissed entirely.
The Alleged Victim Wasn’t Performing Official Duties
This defense can work if you’re being accused of committing battery against a peace officer or a protected individual. Your case can only be prosecuted under Penal Codes 243(b) and 243(c) if you committed the battery offense while a public official was working (performing official duties). Activities such as illegal racial profiling, unlawful search/seizure, police brutality and unlawfully detaining/arresting someone doesn’t qualify as official duties. Your attorney can suggest that the alleged victim was engaging in one of these activities to have your battery charges dropped or reduced.
Your lawyer can suggest that the alleged victim made false accusations out of jealousy, desire for revenge or anger. False allegations are common in battery crimes such as sexual battery and domestic battery. A proficient criminal defense will use the right facts/evidence to prove that these allegations are false. Once the court gets hold of the truth, you may have your charges reduced or dropped.
Battery crimes such as sexual battery and domestic battery require some form of evidence to prove that you’re guilty. At times, the prosecution team may have insufficient evidence to charge you for these offenses. Without the facts/evidence, your case may be dismissed since no material or facts link you to the crime. Your lawyer can use such a situation to get you a fair deal without the case proceeding to trial.
To be prosecuted for any battery crime, you must have touched an alleged victim without seeking their permission. Your charges can be dismissed if your lawyer proves that the touching was consensual. "Consent" is one of the elements of a crime that are difficult to prove. Your attorney may introduce witnesses or video/audio recording to prove that you were given consent to touch the other party.
If you are being charged with a crime feel free to contact our Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer for a free consultation.