Is someone accusing you of battery? Do you suspect you will be formally charged soon? Did the incident result in serious harm to another person? If so, you may have to take part in legal proceedings to determine whether you are guilty of a battery crime resulting in serious bodily harm.
The terms “battery” and “serious bodily injury” both sound ominous, and rightfully so: among crimes causing physical injury to others, battery causing serious bodily injury is one of the most severe crimes in California. The crime of battery causing serious bodily injury can be tricky to understand fully, owing particularly to the question of what constitutes serious injury to a person’s body.
Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer is a legal team of experienced attorneys and legal professional who are experts in defending people against charges of battery. We have defended and protected numerous cases across the greater Los Angeles area, and we know the ins and outs of a battery accusation.
We put together this guide to understanding battery in California, including the specific crime of battery that results in serious bodily injury. Please know that this information is intended as educational only. This article is not intended as legal advice; only a lawyer with specific knowledge of your case can provide an understanding of your rights and responsibility and can help you navigate your legal decisions.
Understanding the Basics of Battery
The State of California recognizes three types of battery:
- Battery, also known as simple battery
- Battery upon a peace officer
- Battery that causes serious bodily injury
All three types begin with the concept of simple battery, which California Penal Code section 242 defines as one person willfully using force or violence in an illegal manner against another person.
Under this definition, battery can include a physical altercation resulting in some injuries, but it does not have to: basic battery, also known as simple battery, can be as small of an action such as shoving a person, spitting on a person, or even throwing a small object, like a rock, picture frame, cup, etc., at a small person.
Simple battery, as it is casually known, is then elevated to a more severe crime based on any of the following situations:
- The alleged victim
- The physical injury the victim sustained
- The criminal history of the alleged batterer
In this guide, we are focusing on the crime known as battery causing serious bodily injury.
Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury
California Penal Code section 243 (d) makes illegal the specific crime of battery that results in seriously bodily injury. The crime is based upon the tenets of simple battery: an illegal but willful use of force or violence by one person onto the other person.
But when this forceful or violent action results in serious harm to the victim’s body, the crime of simple batter is elevated to the more severe serious bodily injury.
Under California state law, this crime can be tried and prosecuted as either a misdemeanor crime or a felony crime. The prosecuting team (the victim’s lawyer) decides at the onset whether to pursue misdemeanor or felony charges, typically based on the alleged batterer’s criminal history as well as the extend of the bodily injury to the alleged victim. If a court or jury determines you are guilty of the crime of battery that resulted in serious bodily injury, you will be punished and sentence according to whether your case was tried as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Defining Serious Bodily Injury
At first listen, bodily injury sounds like it could be anything: a paper cut, a bruise from walking into a table, or a skinned knee from falling down. In a case of battery causing serious bodily injury, this caliber of injuries likely aren’t enough to make the case valid.
Instead, serious bodily injury is any injury that results in needing medical help or losing the function, whether short- or longer-term, of a normal bodily function that was otherwise intact prior to the incident.
The California law that makes this battery illegal defines “serious bodily injury” as a significant or serious impairment of a physical condition. Examples of this include a concussion or a loss of consciousness, a bone break or fracture, any wound that requires significant suturing, a short- or long-term loss of a bodily member (arm, leg, hand, etc.) or organ (heart, liver, lung, etc.), and significant or serious disfigurement.
Importantly, the law does not state exactly when bodily injury becomes “serious”. In some cases, it is clear: one person broke an arm bone of another person. In other cases, however, determining “serious” is less clear: are 10 stitches to the back of the head significant enough to count as serious bodily injury? Either way, it is up to the prosecuting lawyer (the lawyer representing the alleged victim) to argue this point beyond a reasonable doubt.
Battery and Assault: Different Crimes
Battery is not the same thing as assault, though they can frequently go hand in hand. We often hear the term “assault and battery” because they are related, though it is possible for a person to be charged with or guilty of one crime without the other.
In California, assault is the intent to perform an action that is illegal and would inflicted harm or offense upon another person if the action actually occurred. Contrast assault with battery, wherein battery is the actual performance of an action, beyond just the intent to act, that is illegal and does inflict harm or offense upon another person.
Whereas battery requires some physical contact (either direct or via an object) between two people, assault only requires an intent to make illegal, unwanted physical contact. It is possible for a person to be charged and guilty of assault without battery, for instance, though it is rarer for a person to be convicted of battery without also being convicted of assault.
When Battery Is More Than Battery
As stated earlier in this article, battery can be elevated to more severe crimes depending on a few factors, such as who was subject to the crime, the severity of the crime, and the criminal history of the alleged batterer.
While battery is comprised of three distinct crimes (simple battery, that against a police officer, and that resulting in serious bodily harm), some crimes that appear at first to be battery are actually wholly other crimes.
For instance, battery committed within a special relationship is often elevated to domestic abuse or domestic battery, which comes with stiffer penalties and punishments. These special relationships can include husband and wife, spouses, and partners (registered or unregistered), current or former girlfriends and boyfriends, current or former fiancés, parent/child relationships, family relatives, and even roommates, tenants, and those sharing living spaces. That means should you commit battery against someone you have such a special relationship with, a charge of battery is likely invalid and another charged crime is more appropriate.
Proving Guilt: Battery and Serious Bodily Injury
In a battery crime case, it is the responsibility of the prosecuting lawyer (the lawyer of the alleged victim) to make the case that you are guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In order to make this argument, also known as the burden of proof, the prosecution team must attempt to establish the following conditions of your case to the court and jury:
- You applied illicit force or violence to the alleged victim
- You intended to apply such violence
- Your force or violence resulted in injury to the victim
- Such injury resulted in serious bodily injury, not minor scrapes or scratches
At first glance, your case may feel doomed to a guilty determination, but it is important to remember that these each of these conditions can be difficult to prove, especially if physical evidence is lacking.
Defending Against Charges of Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury
Your legal team will help you navigate the legal system as soon as a charge is filed against you and you retain a defense lawyer. It is the role and responsibility of your defense lawyer to develop the best legal defense strategies, with the goal of obtaining a not guilty decision in your case.
Your lawyer’s defense strategy will hinge on a number of factors, including the circumstances of your case, your honesty in sharing details, and external factors such as the presiding judge and the appointed jurors. Still, there are some common strategies to defend against the charge of battery resulting in serious bodily injury, including the following:
- You acted in self-defense. California law protects situations wherein a person acts pre-emptively to prevent someone from attacking his or her own body, if the person had a reason to believe the other was intending to do harm. Self-defense can be a strong defense strategy, particularly if evidence in your case supports that your alleged victim made you reasonably believe he or she was going to provoke and injure you first.
- You acted in defense of others. Similar to self-defense, California law also protects situations wherein a person acts pre-emptively to prevent someone from attacking another person in the vicinity, if the person had a reason to believe the other was intending to do harm.
- You did not have intent or the incident was accidental. This can be a strong argument if you did make contact with the person, resulting in serious bodily injury, but you can argue that you did not intend to injure them. For instance, perhaps you are significantly stronger than the alleged victim and you meant to hug them, but it resulted in a broken rib or significant wound. In this case, your intent was not to hurt the person.
- The alleged injury does not constitute serious bodily injury. Perhaps you had indeed committed a battery offense towards the alleged victim, such as shoving, pushing, or spitting on the person, but the resulting injury was minor and does not constitute “serious bodily injury”. In this case, your lawyer would seek to illustrate how the bodily injury was minor.
- You are innocent. Maybe your case is a situation of wrong place, wrong time. Or perhaps the alleged victim has a personal vendetta against you. Whatever the cause, perhaps you are purely innocent of the crime.
Punishments for Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury in California
If you are found guilty of the crime of battery that caused serious bodily injury, your punishment will be determined based on whether your crime was tried as a misdemeanor or felony. In California, this specific crime can be treated as either the less severe or more severe version, depending on the circumstances of the crime as well as your previous criminal history.
The punishment for a misdemeanor crime of battery resulting in serious bodily injury may include any combination of the following:
- Imprisonment in a county jail (different from a state prison), for up to 1 year
- Payment of a fine up to $1,000
- Misdemeanor probation (sometimes known as summary probation)
- Any of the above
The punishment for a felony crime of battery resulting in serious bodily injury may include any combination of the following:
- Imprisonment in a country jail (not a state prison) for 2, 3, or 4 years
- Payment of a fine up to $10,000
- Felony probation (sometimes known as formal probation)
It is clear that a felony crime is more severe, as evidenced by the increase imprisonment and fines associated with such a crime. Another important part to consider, however, is that even upon fulfillment of your felony sentence, a felony crime can loom large and have significant negative impact on your life. For instance, convicted felons are often required to disclose their criminal history, which makes it hard to obtain or maintain gainful employment, as employers hesitate or automatically avoid hiring such employees. Additionally, convicted felons lose rights they would otherwise have, such as the right to own and use legal firearms and the right to voice.
Tips for Fighting A Charge of Serious Bodily Injury Battery
Are you accused of battery? Does the situation warrant the elevated charge of serious bodily injury? If so, there are some steps you can take to make your case as strong as possible, aided of course by your lawyer.
- Record as many details as you can remember. If you know the incident(s) in question, begin by writing down or capturing on a computer or smart device as many details as you can remember. Include the date, time, place, circumstances, and anything that may have incited or instigated your alleged behavior. Be as detailed and specific as possible, even something that seems out of the realm of importance, such as the day’s weather or the clothing you or the other person were wearing, could help show your specific and accurate memory or otherwise bolster parts of your case.
- Collect any evidence. Recording these details may trigger something – perhaps you had a text exchange with a person about the incident, or perhaps someone was an eyewitness and they recorded or videotaped the incident on their smartphone or other device. Perhaps a shirt or article of clothing you wore had dirt stains or DNA on it that may support your case. As above, the more specific you can be, the more some small detail may aid in your defense.
- Retain a lawyer and share everything openly and honestly. Remember that your lawyer has your full interest in mind as well as your full privacy. That means you should share all details – start with your record of events, plus any additional information. If you’ve collected any evidence, share this with your attorney as well. The more information you can arm your defense team with, the stronger a defensive strategy they can build for your case.
- Know your rights. Though a charge like this serious injury battery can feel one-sided – as if you are already guilty – remember that is not the situation. Though you are accused, you do have significant rights and responsibilities. Your lawyer can help you understand them, and you may seek defense support groups in your area that have worked with people in similar situations.
- Talk with a licensed counselor or therapist. Dealing with such accusations as well as the specific details and work of a court case such as this can lead to feelings of frustration, confusion, and anger. Find an ally who can hear you out, which can be a lot more important than you think. This can be a sympathetic friend or something more formal, such as a community counselor or a licensed therapist.
Finding a Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury Near Me
If you or a loved one are formally charged with the crime of battery causing serious bodily injury in California, do not wait. Get started learning about your rights and responsibilities, the legal path to justice, and your best defense by contacting our Los Angeles Criminal Attorney. Helping clients across Los Angeles, we are ready to help you defend your honor and reputation – simply give us a call at 310-502-1314 today.