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Is punching someone a felony under California law?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jun 20, 2019 | 0 Comments

tight fist clenched

Punching a person is a battery under California law (per Penal Code 242) and it could be charged as a felony if the defendant:

  1. punched a public servant, as in a police officer, firefighter, or EMT, or
  2. punched a person and it caused great bodily injury.

In both of the above scenarios, the battery is charged as a wobbler offense, which means the crime gets charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony at the prosecutor's discretion.

Please note that a “simple battery” under California criminal law is defined as:

  • any willful or unlawful use of force or violence, and
  • the force is committed on someone else.

Also note that a person accused of battery can raise a legal defense to try and challenge the accusation. Two common defenses include that the defendant:

  1. acted in self-defense, and
  2. did not act willfully.

What is simple battery under Penal Code 242?

The legal definition of “simple battery” in California is as follows:

  • a person touched someone else,
  • the touching was done willfully, and
  • it was done in a harmful or offensive manner.

Note that a “touching” means that a defendant makes some type of physical contact with another person. It is not necessary that an injury results from the contact. In fact, the slightest touching can be a battery.

Harmful or offensive” means a touching that is

  • violent,
  • rude,
  • angry, or
  • disrespectful.

Simple battery is charged as a misdemeanor. The crime is punishable by:

  • misdemeanor (summary) probation,
  • up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $2,000.

What is battery on a peace officer under Penal Codes 243b and 243c2?

One of the ways in which battery can be charged as a felony is if it was committed on a peace officer or similar public servant, per PC 243b and 243c2.

The specific classes of people protected by the crime of “battery on a peace officer” are people in the following occupations, engaged in the performance of their duties:

  • police officer,
  • firefighter,
  • EMT or paramedic,
  • lifeguard,
  • security officer,
  • process server,
  • traffic officer,
  • animal control officer, or
  • a doctor or nurse providing emergency medical care.

A violation of these statutes is a wobbler, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the offense is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year.

If charged as a felony, the crime is punishable by imprisonment in the California state prison for:

  • 16 months,
  • two years, or
  • three years.

What is battery causing great bodily injury under Penal Code 242d?

The second way (of two ways) in which battery can be charged as a felony is if a defendant commits a battery on a person and he causes a serious injury in doing so. Per PC 242d, this offense is known as battery causing great bodily injury, or “aggravated battery.”

Aggravated battery is a wobbler under California law, which means it may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

The maximum misdemeanor sentence for this offense is up to one year in county jail.

If the crime is charged as a California felony, battery causing serious bodily injury can lead to imprisonment in the State prison for:

  • two years,
  • three years, or
  • four years.

Are there legal defenses to battery charges?

A person accused of battery in California can raise a legal defense to try and challenge the accusation. A good legal defense can work to reduce or even dismiss a charge.

Two common legal defenses to a battery charge include:

  1. the defendant acted in self-defense, and
  2. the accused did not act willfully.

Note that with regards to a defense involving self-defense, it can work provided that:

  • the defendant reasonably believed that he or someone else was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury or being touched unlawfully,
  • he reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger, and
  • he used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.

As to a defense of not acting willfully, it might be the case that a defendant committed a harmful touching on accident.

What is the difference between assault and battery?

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, and
  • Penal Code 242 battery is the actual infliction of force or violence on someone else.

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.”

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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