When you hear the term battery, you may think of one person causing severe injury to another person, perhaps hitting them so hard to bloody their face or break a bone. Or, you may think of “battery” and automatically think of the word “assault”, too.
Actually, it may surprise you to learn that battery in California is often a less severe physical crime than we think. Battery may involve people who don’t know each other at all or people who are familiar but don’t know each other well. Battery, when considered “simple battery”, refers more to an unwanted contact between two people than an actual bloody fight or significant personal injury. Other types of battery are valid in California, as well, and these can be elevated crimes depending on the severity of the battery’s result, your criminal history, and the victim.
Are you accused of battery? Are you worried someone may bring formal charges of battery against you? The State of California recognizes a few types of battery, and a charge of battery alone is the least severe of the three types, which means a conviction and a punishment of simple battery may be less than you imagine or expect.
Luckily, at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we’re here to guide you through this process. We have helped clients across Los Angeles to fight criminal claims against them. We put together this guide to simple battery in California to help you understand battery in a legal sense, what it is and also what it is not, and ways to defend yourself from a battery charge.
Importantly, all this information is educational in nature only. Do not read this article and attempt to use this information in your own defense. Only a lawyer with specific knowledge of your case should counsel you on your legal rights and potential legal actions.
How Does California Treat the Crime of Battery?
Battery is made illegal by Penal Code 242, which defines battery as the willful and illegal use of force or violence by one person upon another person. This type of battery is also known informally as “simple battery” in order to distinguish it from other types of battery in California. It is often considered a “lighter” offense with less harsh punishments compared to other battery types.
While we often think as battery as a bloody brawl between two people, which battery can be, it can also be much subtler. For instance, battery occurs whenever one person touches another person in an offensive way, even if that touch did not cause the victim specific injury or pain at all.
This touch is important to distinguish because touching within battery can include spitting, shoving, pushing, throwing a rock or other smaller object, touching a person through their clothes (typically in a non-sexual way), and more. Previous rulings in California court cases also establish that touching can apply to non-skin contact, such as touching another person’s hair or forcefully removing or knocking an object from the person’s hands.
Importantly, if the bloody brawl resulted in real injury to a person – lacerations requiring stitching, broken or fractured bones, even unconsciousness – then the crime in question may not be simple battery; it could be a more severe form of battery that California recognizes as battery that caused serious bodily harm.
Examples of Battery in California
Now that we understand how battery is not necessarily a significant injury to another person, let’s look at some examples of simple battery in California to get a better idea:
- A woman waiting in line to buy concert tickets pushes the man who just cut in line in front of her.
- A man throws a rock at an adult, hitting the person in the arm.
- A bus driver spits on a passenger who is being disrespectful.
- An employee gets mad at a nearby colleague and throws a phone at the person.
Are Assault and Battery The Same Thing?
No. Although assault and battery seem to go together, they are in fact separate crimes, and one crime may occur without the other crime.
As defined per California Penal Code Section 240, assault refers to the mere intent and attempt, not to the actual action, of wanting to use force or violence against another person in an illegal, unwanted manner.
For instance, two evenly matched men, similar in size and strength, may be having a verbal argument and one man may take a swing at the other man with his arm. The act of taking the swing is the assault, particularly if the swing does not contact the other man. If the swing actually lands and injures the other man’s face, this specific contact is battery.
A good rule of thumb is that the intent and failed attempt to use force against a person is assault, but the intent and “successful” action to use force is battery.
Are There Other Types of Battery?
Yes. California recognizes other types of battery. In addition to this general type of battery, more specific types include battery on a peace office and battery causing serious bodily injury.
Battery causing serious bodily injury aligns with our common view of battery: that scene of a bloody brawl.
Importantly, simple battery or battery that causes serious bodily injury are often charged and prosecuted as different crimes, depending on the people involved, such as domestic partners or relationships.
By contrast, battery on a peace officer does not imply a more severe contact but is instead aggravated because of the victim – for instance, if you shove or push, spit on, or throw an object at a police officer, an EMT or paramedic, a firefighter, or other specific types of public servants, you can be charged with battery on a peace officer. This is considered a “wobbler” crime in California laws, which means that the crime can be tried as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the situation.
What Battery Is Not
The definition of simple battery as the illegal use of force towards another person seems pretty open-ended, which means a lot of situations sound like they may fall within battery. But, there are many situations that may appear to be simple battery on the surface, but upon further investigation may not qualify as a crime at all or may qualify as an entirely different crime.
The following sections outline some instances that may seem to be battery but are not, for various reasons:
While battery can include many types of touching or contact between two people, it does require some element of harm or offense. So, for instance, if a neighbor heard upon the death of your mother, the neighbor may hug you. Though you did not want the hug, it was not intended to be offense, violent, disrespectful, or rude, so it may not qualify as battery under California law.
Battery Within Domestic Relationships
Furthermore, some forms of battery are elevated or considered a crime other than battery depending on who is involved. For instance, if we take an example from above and change the people involve to those in a special relationship, the crime may no longer be considered battery but may be elevated to a crime of domestic violence.
Let’s take a look:
- A wife waiting in line to buy concert tickets pushes her husband because of something he said.
- A girlfriend throws a rock at her boyfriend, unprompted, which hit him in the arm.
- A parent spits on a child who is being disrespectful.
Some special relationships that are included in this are spouses (including husbands and wives and domestic partners, whether registered or unregistered), current girlfriends or boyfriends, current fiancés, former girlfriends or boyfriends, former fiancés, children, family members, and people who live in the same residence, including roommates, landlords, and tenants.
In these situations, what constitutes a simple battery outside of a special relationship is likely considered domestic violence under California law, which carries harsher penalties and consequences.
Sexual Intention or Sexual Touching
Another situation which may at first look like battery but is actually another crime can be any contact that is sexually motivated. If such unwanted, willful sexual contact takes place, the law may consider it a sex crime, which could include sexual abuse or sexual assault. If the crime takes place within a special relationship, it may carry a domestic element.
Proving A Battery Charge
A battery charge is often approached from a criminal standpoint: the alleged victim may push charges against the alleged batterer and seek criminal justice. In a criminal proceeding, it is the responsibility of the prosecuting team (the lawyer of the alleged victim) to prove the case, which is known as the burden of proof. This means that the prosecuting lawyer must prove the situation beyond an unreasonable doubt. Because of this, the goal of your defense lawyer is not to prove that you did not commit the crime, but to sow enough doubt that the jurors or court may determine you are not guilty of the crime.
In California, the prosecuting team must indicate the following three conditions beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That the alleged batterer applied illegal force
- That the alleged battered applied such force to another person
- That such force resulted in an offensive or harmful situation, or both
Importantly, there is another way for an alleged victim to pursue justice without pursuing a criminal case: the civil case. A victim of battery may opt to sue the alleged batterer in a civil court case, which may provide funds to cover medical bills or wages lost as a result of the incident. In civil cases involving simple battery, the prosecuting team does not need to establish that the crime occurred beyond a reasonable doubt, because the case is not pursuing a guilty crime charge and is instead pursuing a civil restitution of funds.
Common Ways to Defending Against A Battery Charge
Remember that being charged with battery is not the same as being found guilty (convicted) of battery. When you are charged with a crime, it simply initiates the formal legal process to determine whether you are guilty or not guilty of the crime(s) in question.
If you are recently charged with battery, or suspect you may soon be, you should find a lawyer who specializes in criminal defense. Speak with several lawyers to determine who may be the best fit for your situation, and consider things like the lawyer’s location, expertise, and fees. Once you find the right lawyer for you, your best move is to share all the details, honestly and truthfully, with your lawyer. The more specific information your lawyer can have regarding the accusations against you, the better your lawyer can build a strong defense.
Some common defense strategies your lawyer may consider include:
- Acting in self-defense. This may be a good option if you had reasonable belief that the other person may attempt to contact or inflict offense upon you, so you pre-emptively acted in order to avoid that.
- Acting to defend others. Similar to self-defense, you may also have the right to defend others if you had reason to believe that the other person was attempting to contact or inflict offense upon others in the vicinity.
- Acting without will or intent. Intent can be easy to argue depending on your case. This defense strategy attempts to show that you may have committed the action, but you did not intend to offend or harm the other person. For instance, perhaps the action in question was spitting on someone, but you may be able to show you were simply turning around to spit and did not even realize someone was standing there.
- Acting within your rights. This applies to rare cases when the battery was alleged to have been conducted upon your own child. In this case, you may be able to argue that you acted within your legal rights as parent in order to discipline your child with reason, such as by lightly spanking the child.
- This argument is more difficult to prove but calls into question the entire incident, which can become a “he said she said” situation. But, if more tangible options such as alibis, witnesses, and evidence support that the alleged crime didn’t occur, you may be able to prove your innocence.
Punishment for Battery Convictions
Generally speaking, the California legal system generally pursues simple battery charges as a misdemeanor crime, which is the less harsh option compared to a felony crime. If you are convicted of simple battery in California, you will have a misdemeanor crime on your record. Punishment for simple battery generally includes:
- Imprisonment for up to 6 months in a county jail (not a state prison)
- A fine of up to $2,000
- Misdemeanor probation, also known as summary probation
The good news is that a misdemeanor conviction carries significantly less harsh stigmas than a felony conviction. In felony convictions, you lose a lot of rights, such as the right to vote or the right to own legal firearms. Further, convicted felons have a difficult time obtaining or maintaining gainful employment as many companies opt to avoid hiring felons, no matter the specifics of their crimes.
What to Do If Accused of Battery
If you are charged with simple battery, or suspect you may be, you have options. First, remember that a charge is not a conviction – a charge simply initiates a legal process to explore and determine when you are guilty or not guilty of the crime another person charges you with.
Next, prepare yourself. Take notes on the situation or situations in question, trying to recall anything that occurred: date, time, location, who was involved, what happened, any potential witnesses. Write down or type up your feelings, emotions, and intentions.
Explore your options. With a charge of such a crime, you’ll likely want to retain a lawyer who can defend you against these charges, help you understand your legal rights, and help you navigate the legal system and the actions you may choose to pursue. Meet with more than one legal team to determine who is best for your case. Seek out a lawyer who specializes in criminal defense, especially in your California county, as your lawyer may be able to know how to plan for local judges who may adjudicate your case.
A good lawyer for you may specialize in battery defense. You’ll also want to consider the cost and the availability of the lawyer – you’ll want someone you are entirely confident with, so you can share all aspects of your situation truthfully, in order to get your best and most appropriate defense.
Contacting the Right Battery Attorney Near Me
If you’re unsure what to do next, contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer. Our team of lawyers and legal professionals mean you can rely on our experience, expertise, and professionalism. We have been helping clients across Los Angeles County to fight charges of battery, and we are ready to go to work for you. Get in touch with us today at 310-502-1314 and we can begin developing your defensive strategy.