Battery:
California Penal Code Section 242

Under Penal Code 242 PC, California law defines battery as “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.” The offense can be charged even if the victim does not suffer an injury or any pain. All that is required is that the defendant touched the person in an offensive way.

Battery is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of up to 6 months in county jail and a fine of up to $2000.00.

But if a California battery does in fact result in a serious injury, then you may be charged instead with the separate but related crime of battery causing serious bodily injury, Penal Code 243(d) PC.

California’s criminal “assault & battery” laws

The legal definition of battery in California is as follows:

  1. You touched someone else,
  2. Willfully,
  3. 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 of their hand.12

Willfully

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

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

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.

The difference between assault and battery

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.”

The following chart summarizes the differences between assault, battery, and several other related offenses:

What are the penalties for Penal Code 242 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.

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).

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.

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:

  1. You reasonably believed that you or someone else was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury or being touched unlawfully;
  2. You reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger; and
  3. 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—are not enough to justify 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 Reve Bautista23:

“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

  1. “reasonable,” and
  2. not excessive under the circumstances.25

Note: The crimes below are described as “related” because they’re frequently charged with CPC 242 and/or have common elements that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • PC 243(d) battery causing serious bodily injury
    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, Penal Code 242(d) PC—also known as “aggravated battery.”.
  • PC 243(b) and 243(c)(2) battery on a peace officer
    California battery carries harsher penalties if it is committed against certain classes of persons, under Penal Code sections 243(b) and 243(c)(2).
  • PC 243(e)(1) domestic battery
    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 your spouse or former spouse.
  • PC 243.4 sexual battery
    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.
  • PC 368 elder abuse
    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.

Call us for help

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 KN Trial Attorneys.