California Penal Code 243e1 PC prohibits domestic battery, which is the use of force or violence against an intimate partner. Intimate partners include spouses or former spouses, fiancés, dating partners, or co-parents. The offense is a misdemeanor punishable by probation, fines, domestic violence classes, and up to one year in county jail.
Domestic battery is a domestic violence crime in California. However, a defendant can be convicted of the offense even without causing pain to or injuring the alleged victim. All that is required is the use of “force” or “violence” against the person. This is in contrast to Penal Code 273.5 PC, corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant. 273.5 PC is a more serious domestic violence law. It requires that the victim suffer some form of physical injury. 273.5 PC is a wobbler that can be a misdemeanor or a felony.
243e1 PC states that “when a battery is committed against a spouse, a person with whom the defendant is cohabiting, a person who is the parent of the defendant’s child, former spouse, fiancé, or fiancée, or a person with whom the defendant currently has, or has previously had, a dating or engagement relationship, the battery is [a misdemeanor].”
- a woman pushing her boyfriend during a fight
- a man, frustrated with his ex-wife, grabbing her by her shirt and ripping it
- a girl slapping her fiancé across the face
A defendant can raise a legal defense to dispute a domestic violence charge. Some defenses include the defendant showing that:
- he/she acted in self-defense,
- what happened was merely an accident, and/or
- the alleged victim is making a false accusation.
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $2,000.
But a judge may award a defendant with probation instead of jail.
Our California criminal defense lawyers will explain the following in this article:
- 1. How does California law define the crime of domestic battery under PC 243e1?
- 2. What are the best legal defense strategies?
- 3. Is domestic battery a felony in California??
- 4. What are the consequences for noncitizens?
- 5. How long does domestic violence stay on your record in California?
- 6. How will this affect gun rights?
- 7. What if the accuser wants to drop the charges?
- 8. Are there related offenses?
1. How does California law define the crime of domestic battery under PC 243e1?
A prosecutor must prove the following “elements of the crime” to convict a person of a domestic battery charge:
- the defendant willfully touched someone in a harmful or offensive manner (which is “simple battery”),
- the person was an intimate partner of the defendant’s, and
- the accused did not act in self-defense or in the defense of someone else.1
Questions often arise under this statute on the meaning of:
- a “harmful or offensive touching,” and
- an “intimate partner.”
“Willfully” means a defendant acted
- on purpose, or
It is not necessary that an accused intended to:
- break the law, or
- inflict injury on someone else.3
1.2. Harmful or offensive touching
With domestic battery charges, a prosecutor just has to show that the accused touched someone in a harmful or offensive way. A prosecutor does not have to show that the infliction of touch:
- hurt the alleged victim, or
- caused physical injury to the alleged victim.4
Note that the slightest touching can be enough to commit this offense if it is done in a rude or angry way.5
Example: Steve and Becky are engaged. They are arguing. She is so upset with Steve that she pushes him. Since he is bigger, he barely moves. And he has no injuries.
Here, Becky could be charged with domestic violence. Although Steve was not phased by Becky’s actions, she touched him in an angry and violent manner.
Note that an accused can even be guilty of domestic battery if he/she touched a partner indirectly. This means the defendant:
- touched another person or object, and
- that person or object touched the “victim.”6
Example: Carol and David are a married couple living in Orange County. They are at a dinner party and start a heated argument. David lunges at Carol, but never touches her. Rather, as he lunges, he comes into contact with another guest who then falls into Carol.
Here, David can be charged with California domestic violence. While he did not touch Carol directly, he caused the guest to fall into her. David can also be charged with the crime even if Carol sustained no great bodily injury, was not harmed, or experienced just slight physical contact.
1.3. Intimate partner
Intimate partners under this statute include:
- spouses or former spouses (i.e., “spousal battery”),
- persons living together,
- engaged persons (either currently or formerly engaged)
- the other parent of your child, and
- persons that are in a dating, sexual or intimate relationship (either currently dating or formerly dating).7
“Intimate partners” can be partners in either a:
- same-sex relationship, or
- heterosexual relationship.
Note that the term “cohabitants” means when:
- there are two unrelated persons living together for a substantial period of time, and
- as a result, there is some permanency of the relationship.8
Note too that a person may cohabit with two or more people during the same time frame.
The term “dating relationship” means frequent, intimate associations where there is an expectation of:
- affection, or
- sexual involvement independent of ﬁnancial considerations.9
2. What are the best legal defense strategies?
Defense lawyers can use several legal strategies to contest domestic battery cases. These include showing that:
- the accused acted in self-defense.
- the defendant did not commit a willful act.
- the defendant was falsely accused.
A defendant can try to challenge a charge under this statute by invoking the defense of self-defense / defense of others.
This defense will work if the accused:
- believed that he/she was in “imminent danger,”
- believed that force was necessary to stop the danger, and
- used an appropriate level of force in defense.10
2.2. No willful act
Recall that a person is only guilty of this offense if he/she touched a partner on purpose. This means it is always a defense for an accused to say that any force or contact with the accused happened by accident. For example:
Joe and Peter are a gay couple in Ventura. They get into an argument one evening and Joe grabs a piece of china and throws it at the wall in anger. While the object was not thrown at Peter, a shard from the china ricochets off the wall and injures him.
Here, although Peter was injured, Joe can challenge any domestic battery charges that the State may bring. He can do so because he did not touch Peter on purpose. Further, Joe never meant to touch Peter.
2.3. Falsely accused
Unfortunately, people get wrongly arrested for domestic violence charges every day. Often, the arrest is based on false allegations initiated out of:
- jealousy, or
- a desire of revenge.
Emotional situations take place among intimate partners. And these emotions can lead to persons getting unjustly blamed for a crime.
3. Is domestic battery a felony in California?
A violation of California Penal Code Section 243e1 is a misdemeanor. The crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail (as opposed to state prison) for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of two thousand dollars.11
A judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.
If probation is granted, then the defendant must complete:
- a batterer’s intervention program (sometimes referred to as domestic violence classes or a batterer’s treatment program), or
- if one is not available, then another appropriate counseling program.12
Judges will also issue a protective order or domestic violence restraining order ordering the defendant not to harm, threaten or harass the alleged victim.
4. What are the consequences for noncitizens?
A conviction under PC 243e1 by itself should not result in negative immigration consequences.
A violation of this statute is not a “deportable crime of domestic violence” or a “crime of violence.”13
So a conviction should not result in a non-citizen defendant being either:
For further discussion, please see our article on how domestic violence charges affect immigration and deportation.
5. How long does domestic violence stay on your record in California?
A person can get a conviction under these laws expunged from his/her criminal record right away if the defendant completed:
- his/her jail term, or
- probation (whichever was imposed).
6. How will this affect gun rights?
A domestic battery conviction will have a negative impact on the defendant’s gun rights.
California law imposes a 10-year ban on owning or possessing a gun for a penal code 243 e1 conviction.
The specific law that imposes the ban is Penal Code 29805 PC. It forces the ban if a person is convicted of certain misdemeanor offenses.
Domestic battery is considered a “certain misdemeanor offense” under this statute.
7. What if the accuser wants to drop the charges?
In some domestic violence cases, the accuser decides that he/she does not want to “press charges.” Accusers may even recant their previous statements to the police, and claim now that the incident never happened.
In this situation, though, the prosecutor:
- can proceed with the criminal case, and
- continue with the charges against the defendant.
This is because the prosecutor will assume that the “victim” is dropping the charges only because he/she:
- is being threatened or coerced by the defendant, or
- has “made up” with the defendant and no longer wants to see him or her prosecuted.
8. Are there related offenses?
In conclusion, there are three crimes related to domestic battery. These are:
- corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant – PC 273.5,
- aggravated battery – PC 243d, and also
- elder abuse – PC 368.
8.1. Corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant – PC 273.5
California Penal Code 273.5 PC makes it a crime to inflict corporal injury on a:
- spouse, or
“Corporal injury” means any physical injury, whether serious or minor.
Unlike domestic battery, a “victim” must suffer some injury for a person to be guilty of this offense.
8.2. Aggravated battery – PC 243d
Penal Code 243d PC defines the crime of aggravated battery. The offense is also referred to as battery causing serious bodily injury.
A person violates California’s aggravated battery law by:
- touching or striking another person in a harmful or offensive manner, and
- by doing so, causing the person to suffer a serious bodily injury.
8.3. Elder abuse – PC 368
Penal Code 368 PC is the California statute that makes elder abuse a crime.
This applies to the physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or also financial exploitation of anyone 65 years of age or older. Using force against an elderly intimate partner could also lead to domestic violence charges.
For additional help…
In sum, do you want a free consultation to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney? Then we invite you to contact us at the law offices of the Shouse Law Group. We also offer a free case evaluation and we serve the entire State of California. This includes Los Angeles County, Riverside, and San Bernardino, and more. We fight to get your charges reduced or dismissed to keep your criminal history clear.
- California Penal Code 243 e1: “When a battery is committed against a spouse, a person with whom the defendant is cohabiting, a person who is the parent of the defendant’s child, former spouse, fiance, or fiancee, or a person with whom the defendant currently has, or has previously had, a dating or engagement relationship, the battery is punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.” See also CALCRIM No. 841 – Simple Battery: Against Spouse, Cohabitant, or Fellow Parent. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition). See also In re B.L. (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 1142. See also Penal Code 243 PC – penalties for battery.
- CALCRIM No. 841. See also People v. Lara (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 102; see also People v. Ibarra (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 1174.
- See same.
- See CALCRIM No. 841. See also People v. Francis A. (2019) 40 Cal. App. 5th 399.
- See also CALCRIM No. 841. See also In re B.L. (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 1142. See also People v. Rocha (1971) 3 Cal.3d 893. See also People v. Myers (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 328.
- See also CALCRIM No. 841. See also People v. Dealba (2015) 242 Cal.App. 4th 1142.
- See also PC 243e1. See also People v. Vega (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 706.
- People v. Holiﬁeld (1988) 205 Cal.App.3d 993. See also People v. Ballard (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 311. See also People v. Moore (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 1323.
- PC 243f10.
- CALCRIM No. 3470. See also People v. Humphrey (1996) 13 Cal.4th 1073.
- PC 243e1.
- See also PC 243e1.
- See also Ortega-Mendez v. Gonzales, (9th Cir. 2006) 450 P.3d 1010; see also U.S. v. Flores-Cordero, (9th Cir. 2013) 723 F.3d 1085.
- See same.