Battery causing serious bodily injury—also known as “aggravated battery”—is a form of California battery.1
Under California Penal Code 243 d PC, an aggravated battery occurs when:
- One person willfully touches another in a harmful or offensive manner; and
- The person who has been touched suffers a “serious bodily injury” as a result.2
Here are some examples of behavior that could lead to California “battery causing serious bodily injury” charges:
- A woman comes across a man who is attempting to break into her car to commit auto burglary. He grabs her and clamps his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming. She struggles to get free, and he holds her arm more tightly, causing her elbow to be dislocated.
- Two men get into a fight outside a sports game. One punches the other, breaking his nose. In this case, the injury can make punching someone a felony.
- Several high school girls are bullying a former friend of theirs. One of them sneaks up behind her while she is looking in the bathroom mirror and pushes her into the mirror. The glass shatters, and she ends up in the hospital receiving multiple stitches.
Misdemeanor battery causing serious injury is punishable by:
- Up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or
- A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000)4
For felony aggravated battery, the potential penalties include:
- Two (2), three (3) or four (4) years in county jail, and/or
- A fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000).5
If you are charged with PC 243(d) battery causing serious bodily injury, your first move should be to find a California criminal defense attorney who knows the law cold—and knows the best way to defend against these charges.
Some common legal defenses that can be helpful against aggravated battery charges include:
- You acted in self-defense or defense of others;6
- The so-called battery was actually an accident; and
- The injury wasn't actually “serious.”
In order to help you better understand California aggravated battery law, our California criminal defense attorneys will address the following:
- 1. What does it mean to commit a battery causing serious bodily injury?
- 2. What are the 243d PC penalties?
- 3. How can a person defend against a charge of aggravated battery?
- 4. What similar crimes could a person be charged with?
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
The legal definition of battery causing serious bodily injury in California is simple. In order for you to be guilty of this offense, the following must be true:
- You committed a California battery; and
- The battery caused a “serious bodily injury” in the victim.7
A California battery—which is, of course, one necessary element of the crime of aggravated battery—is defined as follows:
- You touched someone else,
- In a harmful or offensive manner.8
Let's take a better look at these terms to get a better sense of their meaning.
Touched someone else
The legal definition of aggravated battery only requires that you make physical contact with another person, including through his/her clothing. The slightest touching—if it causes an injury—can be aggravated battery.9
Example: Ben and Melissa are lawyers on opposing sides of a major case. They are arguing over an issue in the case while standing on the front steps of the court house.
Overcome with anger at Ben, Melissa shoves him lightly. This causes Ben to slip and fall down the steps, breaking his ankle.
Melissa did not touch Ben particularly forcefully—but because she touched him at all, and a serious injury resulted, she may be guilty of battery causing serious injury.
For purposes of Penal Code 243(d) PC, you touch someone “willfully” if you do so willingly or on purpose. You don't need to intend to
- break the law,
- gain any advantage, or
- hurt the other person.10
This is an important point about battery causing serious injury: you don't need to actually intend to injure the other person to be guilty of this offense. You only need to have intended to touch them in a harmful or offensive manner.
In a harmful or offensive manner
A touching can only be an aggravated battery if it is done in a harmful or offensive manner.11
This means, for example, touching that is
- angry, or
Example: After training at a CrossFit gym for a year, Paul is in extremely good shape and very strong. He and other members of his gym compete in a CrossFit competition and perform extremely well.
Paul, in a fit of excitement over their performance, picks up and hugs his teammate Irene, who is much smaller than he is. Paul doesn't realize his own strength—and his hug breaks several of Irene's ribs.
Paul willfully touched Irene and caused her an injury. But he probably cannot be convicted of battery causing serious bodily injury because a friendly hug is not a harmful or offensive touching.
Assault vs. battery
People are often confused about the difference between the crime of assault and the crime of battery—including battery causing serious bodily injury.
The difference is that:
- An assault is an action that may inflict physical harm or unwanted touching on someone else; and
- A battery, including Penal Code 243(d) aggravated battery, is the actual infliction of force or violence on someone else.12
An assault doesn't necessarily involve any actual physical contact, whereas a battery does. Put another way, an assault is like an “attempted battery,” and a battery is like a “completed assault.”
A key element of the crime of battery causing serious bodily injury is, of course, the requirement that the victim suffers a “serious bodily injury.”13
A “serious bodily injury” is defined as any serious impairment of someone's physical condition.14 It is not necessary that the victim seek medical treatment for the injury.15
Physical injuries that are considered serious may include (but are not limited to):
- Loss of consciousness,
- Bone fractures,
- Protracted loss or impairment of a function of any body part or organ,
- Wounds requiring extensive suturing, and
- Serious disfigurement.16
But under California aggravated battery law, whether a given injury is actually a serious bodily injury is always a question for the jury to decide in each individual case.17
So it's not the case that an injury has to fall into one of the above categories to qualify as serious. And, even if an injury DOES fall into one of those categories, the jury won't necessarily determine that it is serious.18
Example: Ricky gets into a fight with his live-in girlfriend Cherise and punches her in the face. It turns out that the punch fractures a bone around her eye—but no damage is done to the eye itself, and the fracture heals without any medical treatment.
The jury finds Ricky guilty of battery causing serious bodily injury (as well as Penal Code 273.5 PC corporal injury on an intimate partner).
However, this outcome was not the only possible result. Given how minor Cherise's fracture was, they could have determined that she did not suffer serious bodily injury.19
Battery causing serious bodily injury under PC 243(d) is what is known as a “wobbler.” This means that the prosecutor can choose to file charges for this crime as a misdemeanor or as a felony.20
The decision as to how to file aggravated battery charges is left to the prosecutor's discretion. S/he may make the decision based on:
- The facts of the case, and
- The criminal history of the defendant.
When an aggravated battery is charged as a misdemeanor, the potential penalties include:
- Misdemeanor (summary) probation ;
- Up to one (1) year in county jail; and/or
- A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).21
And for felony battery causing serious bodily injury, the potential penalties are:
- Felony (formal) probation ;
- Two (2), three (3), or four (4) years in county jail; and/or
- A fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000).22
Plus, if you are convicted of aggravated battery as a felony, you will lose your right to own firearms in California. If you purchase, own, or possess a gun in California, you could be charged with a felony under California's “felon with a firearm” laws.23
You may face an additional criminal sentence for a felony (but not misdemeanor) aggravated battery if the jury determines that the victim suffered “great bodily injury.”24
“Great bodily injury” is distinct from “serious bodily injury.”25 “Great bodily injury” is defined as a significant or substantial physical injury.26
Generally speaking, “serious bodily injury” is a lesser standard than “great bodily injury”—not all cases of battery causing serious bodily injury will also be found to have caused great bodily injury.
If the jury in your case finds that the victim's injuries rose to the level of great bodily injury, then you will face an additional three (3) to six (6) years in prison, on top of your sentence under Penal Code 243(d).27
A conviction for battery causing serious injury looks terrible on anyone's record.
Many people are not aware that you can be convicted of this crime for only minor touching, where you didn't intend to injure the victim—and will assume that a conviction for this offense means you are a violent criminal.
Fortunately, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help. There are numerous legal defenses that you can deploy to help beat aggravated battery charges—or get them dismissed or reduced.
You acted in self-defense
The legal defense of self-defense/defense of others applies to California battery causing serious bodily injury charges when all of the following are true:
- You reasonably believed that you or someone else was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury or being touched unlawfully;
- You reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger; and
- You used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.28
Example: Tom has a bad relationship with the manager of his apartment building, Jim. One day Jim confronts him in the parking lot where he is washing his car. Jim pokes Tom in the chest.
Tom responds by pushing Jim. Jim slips on the wet pavement and falls. He hits his head and ends up with a concussion.
Even though all Jim did was poke Tom in the chest, Tom may still be able to defend against aggravated battery charges with the legal defense of self-defense. Jim was touching him unlawfully, and pushing Jim was a reasonable response to that touching.29
The so-called battery was actually an accident
The legal defense of accident can apply to PC 243(d) charges.
According to Pasadena criminal defense lawyer Neil Shouse:30
“It's true that you can be convicted of aggravated battery even if you didn't intend to injure the victim. But you can't be convicted if you didn't touch the victim willfully—that is, if the entire incident was an accident. Maybe you accidentally shoved someone in a crowd, or tripped and fell into them. In that case, you shouldn't be found guilty of this crime.”
The injury wasn't actually “serious”
As we discussed above, there's no hard-and-fast definition of “serious bodily injury” for purposes of Penal Code 243(d) PC. Instead, it's up to the jury to decide whether a particular injury rises to that level.31
Many battery victims are resentful. They may try to make their injury appear more serious than it actually was—for example, by seeking medical treatment they don't need, or complaining of pain they don't actually feel.
It's up to your criminal defense attorney to conduct an investigation that will reveal the true extent of the “victim's” injuries.
If there is substantial evidence that they don't rise to the level of “serious bodily injury,” then you may be able to convince the prosecutor to reduce the charges to Penal Code 242 simple battery.
There are several offenses that are closely associated with Penal Code 243(d) battery causing serious bodily injury, because they tend to be charged either
- in lieu of, or
- along with,
If you commit a battery—but it does not result in a serious bodily injury—then you will be charged instead with simple battery under Penal Code 242 PC.32
Simple battery is a misdemeanor. The penalties in most cases include a fine of up to two thousand dollars ($2,000) and/or up to six (6) months in county jail.33
Because of this, it may make sense to try to get aggravated battery charges reduced to simple battery charges through a plea bargain.
California battery carries harsher penalties if it is knowingly committed against certain classes of persons, under Penal Code sections 243(b) and 243(c)(2).34
The specific classes of individuals protected by the crime of 243 PC “battery on a peace officer” are people in the following occupations, engaged in the performance of their duties:
- Peace officer (police or other law enforcement),
- Custodial officer,
- Emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic,
- Security officer,
- Custody assistant,
- Process server,
- Traffic officer,
- Code enforcement officer,
- Animal control officer,
- Search and rescue member,
- Employee of a probation department, or
- Doctor or nurse providing emergency medical care.35
For a simple battery against one of these persons, the crime is still a misdemeanor, although the potential county jail sentence increases to one (1) year.36
And if you injure a person in one of these protected categories through battery—regardless of whether the injury is “serious”— then the crime becomes a wobbler, with a potential felony jail sentence of sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or three (3) years.37
This means that the penalty for battery on a peace officer or protected individual causing any injury is still slightly lighter than the penalty for battery causing serious bodily injury.
Penal Code 273.5 PC corporal injury on an intimate partner is a common California domestic violence charge. You commit this offense if you willfully inflict bodily injury resulting in a traumatic condition on someone who is
- your current or former spouse,
- your current or former cohabitant, or
- the parent of your child.38
Like aggravated battery under Penal Code 243(d), Penal Code 273.5 is a wobbler, carrying a potential felony jail sentence of two (2), three (3) or four (4) years.39
But if you are charged with corporal injury on a spouse/intimate partner, it may be in your interest to get the charges reduced to Penal Code 243(d) PC battery causing serious bodily injury.
This is because—as a domestic violence offense—Penal Code 273.5 PC is a so-called “deportable crime” under federal immigration law.40 So a non-citizen convicted of this offense—even if s/he is here legally—may face deportation proceedings after a conviction.
Penal Code 368 PC - elder abuse law makes it a crime to willfully or negligently impose unjustifiable physical pain and/or mental suffering on a person who is 65 or older.41
If you are accused of committing a battery causing serious bodily injury against a victim who is 65 or older, you could be charged with both Penal Code 243(d) and Penal Code 368.
This offense is a wobbler, carrying a potential state prison sentence of two (2), three (3) or (4) years, and a fine of up to six thousand dollars ($6,000), if it is charged as a felony.42
Call us for help…
For questions about Penal Code 243(d) PC California battery causing serious bodily injury, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
For more information on the definition of “assault & battery” in Nevada, please visit our page on the definition of “assault & battery” in Nevada.
California Penal Code 243(d) PC – Battery [including aggravated battery]; punishment. (“(d) When a battery is committed against any person and serious bodily injury is inflicted on the person, the battery is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for two, three, or four years.”)
See also Penal Code 242 PC – Battery defined. (“A battery is any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.”)
Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) 925 – Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury (Pen. Code, §§ 242, 243(d)). (“The defendant is charged [in Count ] with battery causing serious bodily injury [in violation of Penal Code section 243(d)]. To prove that the defendant is guilty of this charge, the People must prove that: 1 The defendant willfully [and unlawfully] touched <insert name> in a harmful or offensive manner; [AND] 2 <insert name> suffered serious bodily injury as a result of the force used(;/.) <Give element 3 when instructing on self-defense, defense of another, or reasonable discipline.> [AND 3 The defendant did not act (in self-defense/ [or] in defense of someone else/ [or] while reasonably disciplining a child).]”)
Penal Code 243(d) PC – Battery [including aggravated battery]; punishment, endnote 1, above.
See also Penal Code 672
See CALCRIM 925 – Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury (Pen. Code, §§ 242, 243(d)), endnote 2, above.
Penal Code 243(d) PC – Battery; punishment, endnote 1, above.
Same. (“Making contact with another person, including through his or her clothing, is enough to commit a battery.”)
Same. (“Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage.”)
Same, endnote 2, above.
Compare Penal Code 240 PC – Assault defined, with Penal Code 242 PC – Battery defined, endnote 1, above.
Penal Code 243(d) PC – Battery [including aggravated battery]; punishment, endnote 1, above.
CALCRIM 925. (“[A serious bodily injury means a serious impairment of physical condition. Such an injury may include[, but is not limited to]: (loss of consciousness/ concussion/ bone fracture/ protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ/ a wound requiring extensive suturing/ [and] serious disfigurement).]”)
People v. Wade (2012) 204 Cal.App.4th 1142, 1149. (“We conclude that the plain language of section 243, subdivision (f)(4) [California's aggravated battery law] controls. That is, a loss of consciousness that constitutes a “serious impairment of physical condition” is a “serious bodily injury” without any showing that the injury required medical treatment.”)
Same, Bench Notes: Instructional Duty. (“Whether the complaining witness suffered a serious bodily injury is a question for the jury to determine.”)
People v. Taylor (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 11, 25 at n.4. (“The statutory definition of serious bodily injury lists bone fractures as one example of a "serious impairment of physical condition.”([California Penal Code] 243, subd. (f)(4) [battery causing serious bodily injury law]) Viewed in context, the reference to bone fractures does not mean "that every bone fracture is serious bodily injury but merely that it can be if it results in a serious impairment of physical condition."")
Based on the facts of the same.
Penal Code 243(d) PC – Battery [including aggravated battery]; punishment, endnote 1, above.
See endnote 4, above.
See endnote 5, above.
Penal Code 29800 PC – Specified convictions; narcotic addiction; restriction on firearm possession; punishment. (“(a)(1) Any person who has been convicted of a felony [including felony battery causing serious bodily injury] under the laws of the United States, the State of California, or any other state, government, or country, or of an offense enumerated in subdivision (a), (b), or (d) of Section 23515, or who is addicted to the use of any narcotic drug, and who owns, purchases, receives, or has in possession or under custody or control any firearm is guilty of a felony.”)
Penal Code 12022.7 PC -- Terms of imprisonment for persons inflicting great bodily injury while committing or attempting felony
See People v. Taylor, endnote 18, above, at 24. (“Although the terms “great bodily injury” and “serious bodily injury” have been described as being “essentially equivalent” (People v. Burroughs (1984) 35 Cal.3d 824, 831, 201 Cal.Rptr. 319, 678 P.2d 894) or having “substantially the same meaning” ( People v. Hawkins (1993) 15 Cal.App.4th 1373, 1375, 19 Cal.Rptr.2d 434, citing People v. Kent (1979) 96 Cal.App.3d 130, 136, 158 Cal.Rptr. 35), they have separate and distinct statutory definitions. Serious bodily injury [for purposes of aggravated battery law] is defined as “a serious impairment of physical condition, including, but not limited to, the following: loss of consciousness; concussion; bone fracture; protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ; a wound requiring extensive suturing; and serious disfigurement.” (§ 243, subd. (f)(4), italics added.) By contrast, great bodily injury is defined as “a significant or substantial physical injury.” (§ 12022.7, subd. (f).) Unlike serious bodily injury, the statutory definition of great bodily injury does not include a list of qualifying injuries and makes no specific reference to bone fractures.”)
Penal Code 12022.7 PC
CALCRIM 3470 - Right to Self-Defense or Defense of Another (Non-Homicide [with respect to acts involving California battery causing serious bodily injury]). ("The defendant acted in lawful (self-defense/ [or] defense of another) if:  The defendant reasonably believed that (he/she/ [or] someone else/ [or] <insert name of third party>) was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury [or was in imminent danger of being touched unlawfully];  The defendant reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger; AND  The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.")
Based on the facts of People v. Myers (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 328.
Our Pasadena criminal defense lawyers have conducted dozens of jury trials and juvenile adjudication hearings, defending everything from assault & battery (including aggravated battery) to California firearms cases to sex crimes and human trafficking.
See CALCRIM 925
Penal Code 242
Penal Code 243 PC – [Simple] Battery; punishment [compare to punishment for battery causing serious bodily injury]. (“(a) A battery is punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months, or by both the fine and imprisonment.”)
Penal Code 243 PC – Battery; punishment
See also Penal Code 243(d) PC – Battery [including aggravated battery]; punishment, endnote 1, above.
Penal Code 273.5 PC – Willful infliction of corporal injury; violation; punishment [contrast with aggravated battery law]. (“(a) Any person who willfully inflicts corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon a victim described in subdivision (b) is guilty of a felony, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of up to six thousand dollars ($6,000) or by both that fine and imprisonment.”).
Alvarado v. Gonzales (9th Cir. 2006) 2006 WL 1049742.
Penal Code 368 PC – Elder abuse. (“(b)(1) Any person who knows or reasonably should know that a person is an elder or dependent adult and who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any elder or dependent adult to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any elder or dependent adult, willfully causes or permits the person or health of the elder or dependent adult to be injured, or willfully causes or permits the elder or dependent adult to be placed in a situation in which his or her person or health is endangered, is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by a fine not to exceed six thousand dollars ($6,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years.”)