Under Penal Code 242 PC, California law defines the crime of battery as “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.” Simple battery is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and fines of up to $1000.00.
You can be guilty of battery even if the victim does not suffer an injury or any actual pain. All that is required is that you touch the person in an offensive way.
But if a California battery does in fact result in a significant injury, then you could be charged instead with the more serious crime of battery causing serious bodily injury, Penal Code 243(d) PC.
Assault vs battery in California
People often use the phrase “assault & battery.” But, in fact, California assault and California battery are two distinct crimes. 1 2
California assault law, Penal Code 240 PC, defines an assault as an attempt to use force or violence on someone else.3 Battery, on the other hand, is the actual use of force or violence on someone else.4
The following are examples of situations where California battery charges may be filed:
- A woman pushes the man who just cut in front of her in line at the grocery store;
- A man throws a rock at another man who has just insulted him; the rock hits that man in the back; and
- A waitress spits on a restaurant patron who has been treating her disrespectfully.
Penalties for assault and battery
California Penal Code 242 PC simple battery is a misdemeanor in California law.5
The penalties for California battery in most cases include a fine of
- up to two thousand dollars ($2,000) and/or
- up to six (6) months in county jail.6
But if you commit a battery against a police officer, firefighter, EMT, or certain other kinds of public servants—and that person suffers any kind of injury—then you may be charged with the more serious crime of battery on a peace/police officer. This offense is a wobbler in California law—which means it may be charged as
- a misdemeanor or
- a felony.7
Many people are shocked when they are hit with California battery charges after a minor altercation in which no one was hurt—or hurt badly.
A California criminal defense attorney can help. There are several powerful legal defenses you can use to fight these charges. These include:
- You acted in self-defense or defense of someone else;
- You did not act willfully; and
- You were acting within your rights to reasonably discipline your child (in cases where you are charged with battery on your child).
In order to help you better understand California battery law, our criminal defense attorneys will address the following:
- 1. What is the legal definition of battery in California?
- 2. What are the penalties for Penal Code 242 PC?
- 3. What are the most common legal defenses?
- 4. What crimes are related to battery?
- 5. Can the victim of assault and battery file a civil lawsuit?
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 in California is as follows:
- You touched someone else,
- In a harmful or offensive manner.8
If the prosecutor cannot prove all of these elements of the crime, then you are not guilty of PC 242 battery.9
Let’s look more closely at the key terms of the definition of battery in order to better understand their meaning.
Touched someone else
The legal definition of battery merely requires that you make physical contact with another person—not that you cause any injury to him or her. In fact, the slightest touching can be a battery.10
Example: Sara gets into a fight with Julie, her young son’s teacher, over her son’s behavior in class. After Julie says something particularly offensive about Sara’s son, Sara spits in her face.
Sara may be guilty of battery for spitting at Julie. This is the kind of “touching” that can qualify as a battery.
A battery also occurs even if the touching takes place
- through the victim’s clothing, and/or
- indirectly, by means of an object that the defendant uses to touch the “victim.”11
Example: Phil is a college student. At a drunken party, he uses a permanent marker to write a derogatory term on the back of a female acquaintance—who is a bit drunk and doesn’t notice what he is doing until he is almost done.
Phil’s actions may qualify as a battery, since he touched the acquaintance in an offensive manner—albeit through her clothes and with a marker.
California courts have also held that you can commit battery by an offensive touching of something intimately connected with a person’s body that is not actually a part of their body. An example would be forcefully knocking an object out of their hand or kicking a bicycle they are riding.12
To be guilty of California battery, you must have touched another person “willfully.”13
“Willfully” means that you acted willingly or on purpose. It does not necessarily mean that you intended to
- break the law,
- hurt someone else, or
- gain any advantage.14
In other words, you don’t need to have intended to commit battery in order to be guilty of battery—but you do need to have intended to perform the motion that caused the battery.
Example: Rick and Joan are business partners. They get into an argument over a business decision at their office, and both of them lose their tempers. Rick picks up a stapler and throws it. It accidentally hits Joan in the head.
Rick did not intend to hit Joan with the stapler. But he did intend to throw it, an action which created the risk that it would hit her. So he may be guilty of Penal Code 242 battery.
In a harmful or offensive manner
A touching is only a battery if it is done in a harmful or offensive manner.15
This means, for example, touching that is
- angry, or
Example: Garth and Rita are co-workers. Rita strongly dislikes Garth. One day, Rita receives the news that she has been laid off, and she cries about this in the middle of the office. Her co-workers gather to comfort her, and Garth gives her a hug.
Even though the hug from Garth is probably unwelcome to Rita, it is most likely not a battery—as it was not a harmful or offensive touching.
Note that harmful touching can be legal as long as there is consent, such as during a boxing match.
The difference between assault and battery is confusing to many people, especially since we often use the phrase “assault & battery,” which suggests that they are the same thing.
California assault and California battery are, in reality, completely different offenses. The difference is that:
- Penal Code 240 assault is an action that may inflict physical harm or unwanted touching on someone else (this applies to more complicated variations on the crime of assault like assault with caustic chemicals), and
- Penal Code 242 battery is the actual infliction of force or violence on someone else.16
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.”
See our related article on assault with a deadly weapon (Penal Code 245(a)(1) PC).
Simple battery under California Penal Code section 242—that is, battery that does not cause a serious injury, and is not committed against a law enforcement officer or other protected person—is a misdemeanor.17
The potential penalties include:
- Misdemeanor (summary) probation;
- Up to six (6) months in county jail; and/or
- A fine of up to two thousand dollars ($2,000).18
Depending on the case, the judge may also order community service or counseling (such as anger management).
The best way to fight battery charges in California is with the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney who has experience with California battery law. S/he knows how to assert the following—and other—legal defenses to help beat these charges:
You acted in self-defense or defense of someone else
The legal defense of self-defense/defense of others applies to California battery charges (and other offenses as well) 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.19
Example: Tom has had a bad relationship with the manager of his apartment building, Jim, for a long time. 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 then slips on the wet pavement and falls, badly injuring his head.
Even though all Jim did was poke Tom in the chest, Tom may still be able to defend against battery charges with the legal defense of self-defense. Jim was touching him unlawfully, and pushing Jim was a reasonable response to that touching.20
However, words alone—no matter how offensive—cannot justifiably provoke a battery. You can only claim self-defense/defense of others if you reasonably believed someone was in danger of an unlawful touching or physical injury.21
You did not act willfully
Even though you don’t need to have intended to harm someone, you do need to have acted “willfully” in order to be guilty of Penal Code 242 battery.22 So if the battery was a complete accident, you may be able to argue accident as a legal defense.
According to Oakland criminal defense lawyer Neil Shouse23:
“Let’s say you inadvertently shove someone in a crowd. Or you unintentionally hit them with an object you are carrying. Offended ‘victims’ in this situation sometimes cry battery—but you should not be guilty of that offense if you didn’t act intentionally.”
Parental right to discipline a child
Battery charges are sometimes brought against parents in connection with charges for Penal Code 273(d) California child abuse.
In battery cases involving acts of parents against their children, the alleged “battery” is frequently a lawful attempt to discipline the child. Like child abuse charges, battery charges can be defended against by showing that you were acting within your rights to discipline your child.24
Parents are allowed to use physical force to discipline their child, as long as the force is
- “reasonable,” and
- not excessive under the circumstances.25
California offenses that are closely related to PC 242 battery include:
If you commit a battery—and you actually inflict a serious injury on the victim—then you will face the tougher penalties that go along with battery causing serious bodily injury, also known as “aggravated battery.”
The definition of “serious bodily injury” is distinct from the better-known legal definition of “great bodily injury/harm.” A serious bodily injury is any serious impairment of physical condition—such as a broken bone or concussion.26
Aggravated battery is a wobbler in California law, which means it may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.27
The maximum misdemeanor sentence for this offense is up to one (1) year in county jail.28
And if it is charged as a California felony, battery causing serious bodily injury can lead to a prison term of
- two (2),
- three (3), or
- four (4) years.29
As a felony, aggravated battery also serves as a strike which can increase your sentence in future convictions.
California battery carries harsher penalties if it is committed against certain classes of persons, under Penal Code sections 243(b) and 243(c)(2).30
The specific classes of individuals protected by the crime of “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.31
If the prosecution can prove that you knew or reasonably should have known that you were committing battery against such a person, then the sentence for a battery not causing any injury increases to a maximum of one (1) year in county jail.32
And if you injure a person in one of these protected categories through battery, then the crime becomes a wobbler, with a potential felony jail sentence of
- sixteen (16) months,
- two (2) years or
- three (3) years.33
Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC domestic battery is another subset of the California crime of battery that is defined by the class of victim.
You commit this offense when you commit a battery against any of the following people:
- Your spouse or former spouse,
- Your cohabitant or former cohabitant,
- Your fiancé(e) or former fiancé(e),
- A person with whom you have or used to have a dating relationship, or
- The father or mother of your child.34
Domestic battery is a misdemeanor, carrying
- a fine of up to two thousand dollars ($2,000) and
- a potential county jail sentence of up to one (1) year.35
In addition, if you are granted probation for a domestic battery conviction, you will be required to enroll in a batterer’s treatment program lasting at least one year.36
Penal Code 243.4 PC sexual battery is a distinct crime from simple battery, aggravated battery or domestic battery. It consists of the touching of an “intimate part” of another person for purposes of sexual gratification, arousal or abuse.37
Depending on the circumstances, sexual battery can be a misdemeanor or a felony. It may be charged as a felony if, for example, the victim
- was unlawfully restrained or
- was an institutionalized person.38
Misdemeanor sexual battery carries a maximum county jail sentence of
- six (6) months or
- one (1) year,
depending on the circumstances.
Felony sexual battery carries a state prison sentence of
- two (2),
- three (3) or
- four (4) years.39
Finally, a conviction for either misdemeanor or felony PC 243.4 sexual battery subjects you to California’s sex offender registration requirement.40
Penal Code 368 PC, California’s 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 against a victim who is 65 or older, you could be charged with both Penal Code 242 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
Victims of battery have the right to sue the perpetrator for damages such as
- medical bills and
- lost wages.
It is not necessary that the defendant be found guilty in a criminal trial — or even charged with a crime. In fact, someone who has been found “not guilty” of battery in a jury trial can still be sued for damages and lose.
This is because civil trials do not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The plaintiff simply needs to prove a battery by a “preponderance of the evidence.”
A preponderance of the evidence means it is “more likely than not” that the defendant battered the plaintiff. It is a much lower standard of proof than that required in order to convict someone of a crime.
To prove liability for battery, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that:
- The defendant touched the plaintiff with the intent to harm or offend him or her;
- The plaintiff did not consent to the touching;
- The plaintiff was harmed or offended by the defendant’s conduct; and
- A reasonable person in the plaintiff’s situation would have been offended by the touching.43
Call us for help…
Having battery on your record could cause future employers and landlords to disqualify you, but a strong defense can keep your criminal record clear.
For questions about Penal Code 242 PC California battery, 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.
If you are a veteran, read our article about defending veterans with PTSD.n
Arrested in Colorado? See our article on Colorado battery laws | C.R.S. 18-3-206.
¿Habla español? Visite nuestro sitio Web en español sobre el delito de asalto y lesiones personales California.
- California Penal Code 242 PC – Battery defined. (“A battery is any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.”)
- CALCRIM 960.
- PC 240.
- PC 242.
- PC 243.
- Penal Code 243 PC – Battery; punishment.
- CALCRIM 960 (“The defendant is charged with battery [in violation of Penal Code section 242]. To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that: 1 The defendant willfully [and unlawfully] touched <insert name> in a harmful or offensive manner(;/.) <Give element 2 when instructing on self-defense, defense of another, or reasonable discipline.> [AND 2 The defendant did not act (in self-defense/ [or] in defense of someone else/ [or] while reasonably disciplining a child).]”)
- CALCRIM 960.
- Same (“The slightest touching can be enough to commit a battery if it is done in a rude or angry way. Making contact with another person, including through his or her clothing, is enough. The touching does not have to cause pain or injury of any kind. [The touching can be done indirectly by causing an object [or someone else] to touch the other person.]”)
- In re B.L., A144366, Aug. 31, 2015, California Court of Appeal 1st Appellate District, Division One.
- People v. Lara (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 102.
- CALCRIM 960.
- People v. Martinez (1970) 3 Cal.App.3d 886.
- PC 240.
- PC 243.
- CALCRIM 3470.
- Based on People v. Myers (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 328. See also People v. Rocha (1971) 3 Cal.3d 893.
- CALCRIM 960.
- People v. Whitehurst (1992) 9 Cal.App.4th 1045.
- CALJIC 4.80.
- CALCRIM 925.
- PC 243.
- PC 243.
- PC 243(e)(1).
- PC 243.4.
- PC 290.
- PC 368.
- CACI 1300.