Penal Code 243e1 PC – Domestic Battery in California

Updated



Penal Code 243e1 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of domestic battery, which is battery upon an intimate partner. A battery consists of any willful and unlawful use of force or violence on someone else. An intimate partner includes a spouse or former spouse, a fiancé, a dating partner, or a co-parent. A violation of this section is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in county jail.

Domestic battery is a crime of domestic violence in California. Note, however, that 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 cohabitant273.5 PC is a more serious domestic violence law that requires that the victim actually suffer some form of physical injury. 273.5 is a wobbler that can be filed as 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].”

Examples

  • 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 in an engagement relationship slapping her fiancé across the face

Defenses

A defendant can raise a legal defense to dispute a domestic battery charge. Some defenses include the defendant showing that:

Penalties

A violation of this statute is a misdemeanor. This is opposed to an infraction or a felony.

The crime is punishable by:

  • custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $2,000.

A judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.

Our California criminal defense lawyers, and skilled law firm, will highlight the following in this article:

child sitting with two parents fighting in the background as an example of domestic battery in California.
California law defines domestic battery as any willful and unlawful touching of an intimate partner.

1. How does California law define domestic battery?

A prosecutor must prove the following "elements of the crime" to convict a person of a domestic battery charge:

  1. the defendant willfully touched someone in a harmful or offensive manner (which constitutes the offense of simple battery),
  2. the person was an intimate partner of the defendant's, and
  3. 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:

  • “willfully,”
  • a “harmful or offensive touching,” and
  • an “intimate partner.”

1.1. Willfully

For purposes of California Penal Code 243e1, “willfully” means a defendant acted:

  • on purpose, or
  • willingly.2

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

Under 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 touching:

  • hurt the alleged victim, or
  • caused physical injury to the alleged victim.4

Note that the slightest touching can be enough to commit a domestic battery if it is done in a rude or angry way.5

Example: Steve and Becky are in an engagement relationship. They are arguing outside of a San Diego nightclub. Steve is an ex college football player and Becky is much smaller in size.

She is so upset with Steve that she pushes him. Given his size, though, he barely moves and is not injured in any way.

Here, Becky could be charged with domestic battery. Although Steve was barely 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 resultingly 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 battery. While he did not touch Carol directly, he did so indirectly by causing the guest to fall into her. David can also be charged with the crime even if Carol was not injured, not physically 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 cohabitating or 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 simultaneously 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
attorney and client in jail; Penal Code 243e1 can lead to a sentence of up to 1 year in county jail.
Fortunately, there are legal defenses to domestic battery charges.

2. What are the best legal defense strategies?

Defense lawyers can use several legal strategies to contest domestic battery charges. These include showing that:

  1. the accused acted in self-defense.
  2. the defendant did not commit a willful act.
  3. the defendant was falsely accused.

2.1. Self-defense

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 domestic battery if he/she willfully touched a partner. This means it is always a defense for an accused to say that any force or contact with the accused happened by accident.

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 hits him causing serious bodily injury.

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, while the touching was done indirectly, Joe never purposely meant to come into physical contact with Peter.

2.3. Falsely accused

Unfortunately, people get wrongly arrested for domestic battery every day. Often, the arrest is based on false allegations initiated out of:

  • anger,
  • 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.

man being led to a jail cell
A violation of this crime can result in a fine and/or jail time

3. What are the penalties for a 243e1 PC conviction?

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 will result in negative immigration consequences.

A violation of this statute is considered a domestic violence crime and a “crime of violence.”13

This means any conviction under the law will result in a non-citizen defendant being either:

It can also lead to a person being denied the right to naturalize or become a citizen of the United States.

For further discussion, please see our article on how domestic violence charges affect immigration and deportation.

5. Can a conviction be expunged from a person's record?

A person can get a conviction under these laws expunged from his or her criminal record.

This is true provided that the defendant successfully completed:

  1. his/her jail term, or
  2. 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 PC 243e1 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 battery cases, the accuser decides that he/she does not want to “press charges” after speaking to authorities about an incident of domestic battery. Accusers may even recant their previous statements to the police, and claim now that the incident never actually 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 typically 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?

There are three crimes related to domestic battery. These are:

  1. corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant – PC 273.5,
  2. aggravated battery – PC 243d, and
  3. 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 willfully inflict corporal injury on a:

  • spouse, or
  • cohabitant.

“Corporal injury” means any physical injury, whether serious or minor.

Unlike domestic battery, a “victim” must actually 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 commits this offense by:

  1. touching or striking another person in a harmful or offensive manner, and
  2. 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.

The section applies to the physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation of anyone 65 years of age or older. Using force against an elderly intimate partner could result in both domestic violence and elder abuse charges.

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Legal References:

  1. Penal Code 243e1: "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. If probation is granted, or the execution or imposition of the sentence is suspended, it shall be a condition thereof that the defendant participate in, for no less than one year, and successfully complete, a batterer's treatment program, as described in Section 1203.097, or if none is available, another appropriate counseling program designated by the court. However, this provision shall not be construed as requiring a city, a county, or a city and county to provide a new program or higher level of service as contemplated by Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution." 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.

  2. CALCRIM No. 841. See also People v. Lara (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 102; and, People v. Ibarra (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 1174.

  3. See same.

  4. CALCRIM No. 841. See also People v. Francis A. (2019) 40 Cal. App. 5th 399.

  5. CALCRIM No. 841. See also In re B.L. (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 1142.

  6. CALCRIM No. 841. See also People v. Dealba (2015) 242 Cal.App. 4th 1142.

  7. California Penal Code 243e1 PC.

  8. People v. Holifield (1988) 205 Cal.App.3d 993. See also People v. Ballard (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 311.

  9. California Penal Code 243f10 PC.

  10. CALCRIM No. 3470 - Right to Self-Defense or Defense of Another. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition). See also People v. Humphrey (1996) 13 Cal.4th 1073.

  11. California Penal Code 243e1 PC.

  12. See same.

  13. Mascardo v. Ashcroft (2003) 71 Fed. Appx. 715.

  14. See same. See also Alvarado v. Gonzales (2006) 2006 WL 1049742.

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