What Is Battery? What Are the Defenses? Punishment?

Battery, Penal Code § 242 (simple battery) or § 243(d) (battery causing serious bodily injury)), is a willful and unlawful touching in a harmful or offensive manner.  The defendant is not guilty of battery if the touching is in self-defense, to defend another or in reasonably disciplining a child.

Willfully means willingly or on purpose.  It is not required that defendant hurt someone else, cause pain or gain any advantage by the touching.  The touching can be through one’s clothes.  In other words, skin to skin contact is not required.  It also can be done indirectly by causing an object to touch another person.  The touching can be done in an angry or rude way.

A serious bodily injury is any type of serious impairment of one’s physical condition.  The jury decides this issue.  Jury instructions will guide the jury by telling it that a serious bodily injury includes a loss of consciousness, a concussion, a bone fracture, the protracted loss or impairment of the functioning of any body part or organ, a wound requiring extensive suturing and serious disfigurement (CALCRIM 925).  Serious bodily injury and great bodily injury are essentially equivalent.  People v. Burroughs (1984) 35 Cal.3d 824, 831 [201 Cal.Rptr. 319, 678 P.2d 894].

Battery can be a specially alleged crime when the victim is a nurse or medical doctor (Penal Code § 243(b) – (c)(1)) when the nurse or medical doctor is giving emergency medical care outside of a hospital, clinic or another type of health care facility.  For someone to be found guilty of this, defendant must know or reasonably should have known that the victim was performing his or her medical duties. 

When the victim is a peace officer (Penal Code § 243(b)) or (c)(2)), there is also a special jury instruction.  The unlawful, harmful or offensive touching must take place while the officer is performing his official duties of a peace officer and the defendant must know or reasonably should have known the victim was a peace officer at the time.  A peace officer includes not just a police officer, but can include others designated by the police to carry out such functions, like a Fish and Game Officer.

Self-defense is a defense to this charge.  More commonly, there is an issue of whether the peace officer is lawfully performing his duties.  When excessive or unreasonable force is applied, the officer is not lawfully performing his or her duties.  CALCRIM 2670 is the jury instruction used for a jury to determine if unreasonable or excessive force is being used.  Even if excessive or unreasonable force is used, the amount of force used in self-defense must be reasonable itself.
  
Battery can also be charged as sexual battery under Penal Code § 243.4(a) and (d).  To be guilty of this, the victim must be restrained and while the person is restrained, defendant touches an “intimate part” of the person’s body or causes the victim to touch his or her own “intimate part” against his or her will.  The touching must be against the person’s will and with the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification or sexual abuse.  An “intimate part” is a part of a female’s breast or the anus, groin, sexual organ or buttocks of anyone.  The touching can be through the clothing.
 
The defenses to such charges are that the victim consented to the touching, mistaken identity of the defendant (this may include an alibi), that there actually was no touching, or most commonly, that the touching was accidental.
 
The punishment for battery depends upon whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony and whether the defendant has a prior record or there are any sentencing enhancements that apply.  Depending upon the circumstances, especially if there is no injury and the defendant has no prior record, probation is very common.  The terms of probation normally include anger management classes, some court fees and fines, maybe some community service, Cal-Trans or community labor, a booking fee and restitution if there is some injury.

For more information about assault and battery, please click on the following articles:
  1. What Punishment Do I Face for Domestic Violence?
  2. Shooting Someone with a BB Gun Can Be Assault with a Deadly Weapon (Penal Code § 245(a)(1))
  3. May I Be a Sheriff with a Conviction for Battery (PC § 242)?
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