The statute that punishes simple battery in California is Penal Code Section 242 PC. Under PC 242, it is illegal to willfully use force or violence against another person, even if it does not cause injury or pain. Even minor contact could lead to battery charges if your victim considers it offensive.

A conviction for a PC 242 violation carries severe penalties, including probation, jail time, fines, and even court-ordered anger management classes. Because of these consequences, you should seek legal counsel if you face these charges.

A skilled criminal lawyer can fight for your rights and help build a strong defense strategy. Our attorneys at Monterey Criminal Attorney stand ready to support you during this difficult time. Call our office today to learn how we can help.

Defining Simple Battery Under California Penal Code Section 242 PC

California Penal Code Section 242 defines simple battery as the intentional and unlawful use of force or violence against someone else. While the above definition seems straightforward, it can be challenging to determine what actions constitute a battery offense.

You might not even realize that your actions were forceful or intentionally harmful. Importantly, under PC 242, your acts do not need to cause physical harm to the plaintiff. Even actions like spitting on someone or throwing something at them with harmful intent could be considered battery.

For a clearer understanding of a simple battery offense, below are the essential terms in its definition:

Touched Someone Else

For the court to consider your action battery under California law, you only need to make unwanted physical contact with another person. Note that causing injury is not a must requirement under the law; even minimal, non-harmful contact could qualify.

For example, Juliet argues with Romeo, her gardener, about uncut bushes. During the argument, Juliet spits on her gardener’s face. If Romeo reports the incident, Juliet could face battery charges because spitting on someone is a type of offensive physical contact, or "touching,” that is considered battery.

California law also considers it battery if you touch someone through their clothing or indirectly using an object.

For example, Ken, a university student, sneaks up behind his lecturer and scribbles an offensive phrase on the lecturer's coat. The lecturer notices the writing after the class bursts into laughter. Here, Ken’s act could be considered battery because he unlawfully “touched” the lecturer using an object.

The courts have also ruled that battery could occur if you intentionally and offensively make contact with an object someone else is holding or closely using, even if it is not technically part of the victim's body. For example, forcefully knocking a phone out of the plaintiff’s hand or kicking a bicycle they're riding.

Deliberately or Willfully

According to California law, the court finds you guilty of a PC 242 violation if the prosecution can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you acted wilfully.

The prosecution should demonstrate that your actions were deliberate. Note that to face a battery charge, you are not required to have the intent to cause harm, only the intent to make the physical contact that resulted in harm.

Therefore, you face charges even if you did not intentionally break the law, hurt someone, or gain an advantage.

For example, Jane and John run a grocery store. While calculating the day’s profit before closing, they have a disagreement that escalates into a heated argument. Jane picks up a pestle and tosses it out of anger. The pestle accidentally hits John in the chest.

In the above case, Jane never intended to harm John with the pestle. However, she intended to toss the pestle in the air. Jane’s act creates a risk that the pestle will hit John’s chest. Jane could be guilty of a PC 242 violation if arrested and charged.

In an Offensive or harmful Manner

Per California regulations, even minor instances of unwanted physical contact can constitute a battery offense.

The prosecutor does not need to prove that your touching caused a physical injury to the victim. The court can find you guilty if a reasonable person considers your physical content harmful or offensive.

The types of touching considered battery under PC 242 include the following:

  • This includes spitting on another person.
  • Rude.
  • Anger could be evident if you shove or push someone.
  • For example, you may hurl an object at your victim or even trip them.

For example, Kellen and Mercy work for the same company but despise each other. The boss dismisses Kellen, after which she sobs on her desk while other workmates comfort her. During this moment, Mercy hugs them despite their strained relationship.

Even if Kellen finds Mercy’s hugging unwelcome, Mercy cannot face a battery charge. This is because the hug lacks harmful or offensive intent.

Another thing to note is that physical contact resulting in harm can be legal with consent. For example, when participants sustain injuries during a wrestling contest, the court cannot consider this battery.

Is Assault Different from Battery?

Both assault and battery involve unwanted physical contact. So, more often than not, people confuse the offenses and use them interchangeably. However, there are key distinctions between assault and battery crimes in California. These include:

  • Assault is an offense punishable under PC 240. You violate PC 240 if you threaten to cause bodily injury to someone. You will face charges even if you did not offensively touch the victim, but you instilled fear of imminent harm. For example, you could raise your fist in a threatening manner towards another person during an argument.
  • Under PC 242, battery involves the actual act of harmful or offensive touching. Examples include shoving, slapping, or spitting on someone else.

Think of assault as an attempted battery, and battery as a completed assault or physical contact.

Common Examples of a Simple Battery Offense

The following are some common examples of simple battery offenses under California Penal Code 242:

  • Pushing or shoving someone during an argument, even without intent to cause significant injury.
  • Spitting on someone.
  • Tripping someone, even if they don't fall or aren't injured.
  • Throwing an object at someone with the intent to hit them. Even if the object misses, throwing it with harmful intent could be enough to constitute battery.
  • Grabbing someone's arm aggressively, even if meant to momentarily restrain them.
  • Unwanted touching in a crowded setting: Intentional offensive touching that can't be justified by the crowded nature of the environment (like a concert or bar) could lead to charges.

Common Examples of an Assault Offense

Examples of acts that constitute a simple assault offense, according to California Penal Code 240, are:

  • Raising a fist in a threatening manner. For example, raising it towards someone in a way that causes them to reasonably fear they are about to be struck, even if no contact occurs.
  • Attempting to hit someone but missing. For example, swinging at someone intending to hit them but ultimately missing.
  • Verbally threatening immediate harm. It could involve threatening to cause physical harm in a way that makes the other person reasonably fear they are in danger.
  • Throwing an object at someone with the intent to scare them. Even if the object doesn't hit the person, the act of throwing it to instill fear could be grounds for assault charges.

Possible Sentencing, Punishment, and Penalties Under PC 242

Per Penal Code 242, a simple battery offense is a misdemeanor if it does not result in physical harm and you do not commit it against the following:

  • A peace officer,
  • A police officer, or
  • Any protected person.

Upon a misdemeanor conviction, you could face punishment such as the following:

  • Summary or misdemeanor probation.
  • Facing a 6-month jail term or lower.
  • Being subject to a fine that does not exceed $2,000.
  • Taking anger management classes.
  • Being posted to community service.

The judge orders the above penalties, depending on the circumstances surrounding your case. You will need a criminal defense attorney to help you understand the potential consequences you might be facing and fight for the best possible outcome.

Common Legal Defenses to a Simple Battery Charge

As explained above, facing a simple battery charge can have severe consequences. However, several legal defenses may be available to help you fight the charges or reduce the potential penalties.

Below are examples of the legal defenses:

The Right to Discipline Your Child

Battery charges against parents can sometimes arise due to disciplining a child. Parents could also face child abuse charges under California Penal Code 273(d).

California law allows parents to use reasonable physical force when disciplining their kids. As long as the force is not excessive under the circumstances, the parent could argue in court that they were within their rights to discipline their child.

What the law considers "reasonable" can be subjective and depends on the specific situation or the child's age. California restricts excessive corporal punishment that results in physical injury.

You Had Consent

Sometimes, the plaintiff could have consented to your touch but decided to report it as offensive, resulting in your criminal charges.

To prove you had consent to touch the alleged victim, you need first to understand express and implied consent. Express consent involves a clear verbal or written agreement, while implied consent is assumed based on actions.

For example, hugging a friend could be considered implied consent after bumping into them on the streets. If the friend asks you to hug them, that is regarded as express consent.

Note that the plaintiff can withdraw consent at any moment. So, if someone else initially consents to physical contact and later changes their mind, continued contact could constitute a battery offense. Consent can also be invalidated if it is given under coercion or while the alleged victim is incapacitated. For example, they are under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

Your Actions Were Accidental

For the judge to find you guilty of a PC 242 violation, you must have acted deliberately, even if you did not intend to harm another person. So, if the alleged battery was unintentional, you could argue that your actions were accidental.

You will need a lawyer to help prove that your actions did not stem from willful intent to harm or offend the other person. You should also prove that you were not acting recklessly or carelessly in a way that would create a foreseeable risk of causing harm.

For example, Gerald is carrying a long metal pipe and meets a crowd marching on the street. He then squeezes between the crowd, and the pipe hits one person. The court could rule that Gerald’s actions do not constitute battery because they are neither deliberate nor negligent.

You Were Defending Yourself or Another Person

If you or someone else was in immediate danger of bodily harm or unwanted physical contact, you could argue that you acted in self-defense or defense of others.

In a battery case, you must prove you were defending yourself or another person. You will need a competent lawyer to help you demonstrate certain elements. These elements include:

  • You reasonably believed that you or another person faced an immediate threat of physical harm or unlawful/offensive touching.
  • The amount of force you used was the minimum you believed was necessary to protect yourself or the other person from danger.
  • The force you used was proportionate to the danger you or another person faced.

For example, you have a heated argument with your colleague at your workplace. The colleague ambushes you while you are walking home at night. They jump out of the shadows and lunge at you. You now believe that the person is about to attack you. You retaliate by pushing them away to defend yourself. Your colleague falls to the ground and sustains bruises on their arm.

You could mount a self-defense argument in court if you face battery charges. Your colleague instilled fear of imminent harm, and your act was a reasonable response to that danger.

The law states that offensive words are not considered a threat or battery. The defense of self-defense is only applicable if you have a reasonable belief that you face dangers of imminent bodily harm. 

Offenses Related to Simple Battery in California

You could face simple battery charges together with or in lieu of other related charges. Some of the related charges could attract harsher punishment. These include:

Elder Abuse, Penal Code 368

As defined under California Penal Code 368, elder abuse is the neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse, or financial exploitation of an adult 65 years of age or older or a dependent adult. Committing battery under PC 242 against an elder or dependent adult could lead to charges of elder abuse.

In California, you could face either misdemeanor elder abuse or felony elder abuse, depending on the severity of the harm you inflict on the elderly person. If found guilty, you could be subject to a jail term not exceeding:

  • Four years for a felony offense and
  • One year for a misdemeanor.

You have the right to defend yourself if facing charges. Examples of legal defenses you could use are:

  • Your actions were not wilful.
  • You acted in self-defense.
  • False accusations.

Sexual Battery, Penal Code 243.4

The majority confuses sexual battery with simple battery, aggravated battery, and domestic battery. However, these are entirely distinct offenses.

Under Penal Code 243.4, sexual battery is the unwanted touching of someone else's intimate parts for sexual gratification, arousal, or abuse. A PC 243.4 violation is a wobbler. So, you could face a misdemeanor or felony offense, depending on the circumstances.

If the court finds you guilty of a misdemeanor sexual battery, you could face the following penalties:

  • A jail sentence of up to 6 months. The court could increase your jail sentence to not more than one year if there is an aggravating factor. The prosecution has the jurisdiction to charge you with a sexual battery misdemeanor if aggravating factors exist.
  • A misdemeanor probation. Probation could involve undergoing a batterer’s education program or one that helps those with compulsion or sexual abuse issues.
  • A fine not exceeding $2000. The judge could raise the fine up to $30,000 if your victim was your employee.
  • You must register as a Tier I sex offender for ten years per California PC 290.

A felony sexual battery conviction involves the following punishment:

  • A prison term of two, three, or four years. The court could add an extra three to five years to your sentence if you inflicted serious bodily harm on your victim.
  • Felony probation.
  • A fine not exceeding $10000.
  • Registering as a Tier III sex offender for life.

Domestic Battery, Penal Code 243(e)(1)

California PC 243(e)(1) is the offense that punishes domestic battery. You commit this crime when you willfully use force or violence against an intimate partner, including:

  • Someone you cohabit with,
  • Someone share a child with.
  • A current spouse.
  • A former spouse.
  • Fiance.
  • Someone you are dating, whether in a same-sex or heterosexual relationship.

California considers domestic battery a misdemeanor. If found guilty, you are subject to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or a jail sentence not exceeding one year. The judge could post you on probation in place of jail. However, probation is applicable after you complete a batterer’s intervention program or a court-approved counseling program.

The court could also issue a restraining order preventing you from threatening, harassing, or harming your victim. Another consequence of a domestic battery conviction is facing a 10-year ban on gun possession per Penal Code 29805.

Working with a criminal lawyer can help you battle the allegations against you.

When the accusation is false, you can mount a defense and argue that these allegations were due to the plaintiff’s desire to avenge, jealousy, or anger.

Battery on a Peace Officer, Penal Codes 243(b) and 243(c)(2)

California treats battery committed against certain protected individuals more seriously. Penal Codes 243(b) and 243(c)(2) punish assault crimes against specific classes of people. These classes include people performing duties or serving in roles such as:

  • Nurses and doctors who offer emergency medical care.
  • Workers in the probation department.
  • Animal control officers.
  • Code enforcement officers.
  • Traffic officers.
  • Custody assistants.
  • Security officers.
  • Lifeguards.
  • Firefighters.
  • Custodial officers.
  • Peace officers.

If you knew, or should have known, you were committing battery against a protected person, the maximum sentence for non-injurious battery increases to one year in county jail.

However, if you cause an injury during a battery against a protected person, that makes the crime a "wobbler." If found guilty, the potential felony jail sentences include sixteen months, two years, or three years.

When An Assault and Battery Victim Can File a Civil Lawsuit

While criminal charges address the offense against the state, a separate civil lawsuit can be filed by the victim to seek compensation for losses and injuries arising from the assault or battery. Examples of damages the court could order you to pay the victim include:

  • Lost wages.
  • Medical bills.
  • Emotional distress.
  • Property damage.

Note that the victim can still file a civil lawsuit if you are acquitted in a criminal court. Also, the burden of proof in a civil lawsuit is lower than in criminal cases. 

In a civil case, the standard is a "preponderance of the evidence," meaning you need to convince the judge that it's more likely than not that the defendant committed the act and caused harm.

To demonstrate that you committed battery, the plaintiff must prove the following by a preponderance of the evidence:

  • You acted intending to cause harm or offense through physical contact.
  • Your contact occurred without the plaintiff's consent.
  • Your conduct resulted in harm or offense to the plaintiff.
  • A reasonable person in the victim’s situation would find the touching unwanted and offensive.

Find a Criminal Attorney Near Me

Facing simple battery charges can attract severe penalties such as fines, losing gun rights, and jail or prison sentences. You can also face extra charges for other related crimes, like domestic violence, elder abuse, or sexual battery. California law allows battery victims to file civil lawsuits, irrespective of whether they are convicted or acquitted in a criminal court. In a civil lawsuit, the victim can recover compensation for damages such as lost wages, property damage, or emotional distress.

If you face simple battery charges, consider talking to an experienced attorney. An attorney can advise you on your legal options, including the legal defense that could have your charges dropped or lowered.

Contact our law firm for a free consultation if you need legal counsel in the Monterey area. At ​​Monterey Criminal Attorney, our legal team has a strong track record of defending individuals accused of crimes. We will thoroughly review your case, explain your options, and work tirelessly to protect your future. Call us at 831-574-1791.