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Battery: California Penal Code Section 242

In Santa Rosa, San Rafael, Napa, Lakeport, Ukiah and Eureka

The Basics

  • This chapter is about battery in its most basic form and what is sometimes referred to as "simple battery." [1]
  • By definition, if you commit a simple battery, you also commit the crime of simple assault. [2]
    • Assault is called a lesser-included offense of battery, since a battery always includes an assault, and assault is a less severe crime than battery.

A Closer Look:

Elements of the Crime (What it takes to be convicted)

In order to be convicted of battery, the prosecution must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:

  1. Willfully (and unlawfully)
  2. Touched the victim in a harmful or offensive manner

Let's look at each of these, one by one:

  1. Willfully
    • Definition of "willfully"
      1. Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it voluntarily or on purpose.
      2. There is no special intent requirement. You don't need to intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage; [3] you just have to intend to do the act.
    • So really, it means…
      1. Doing it on purpose
  2. Touched the victim in a harmful or offensive manner
    • Definition of "harmful or offensive"
      1. The slightest touching can be enough if it is done in a rude, offensive or angry way.
        • Making contact with another person, including through his or her clothing, is enough.
        • The touching does not have to cause pain or injury of any kind. [4]
      2. The touching can also be done indirectly by causing an object (or someone else) to touch the other person.
      3. It appears to be an open question as to whether touching something attached or closely connected with a person constitutes battery. [5]

Putting it All Back Together

  • Putting the elements back together, we see that battery is touching someone on purpose in a wide variety of ways.
  • The question is whether the jury concludes that the touching was harmful or offensive.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys in our offices in Santa Rosa, San Rafael, Napa, Lakeport, Ukiah, and Eureka can provide substantial insight into these types of defenses regarding the required elements of the crime.

Defenses to Simple Battery Charge

A. Self-Defense

  1. Must Be Reasonable
    • Self-defense is a one possible legal defense to a battery charge.
    • For the defense to apply, you must have been acting reasonably, both in terms of your assessment of the threat to you and the amount of force you use to respond to that threat.
    • To be eligible for the legal defense of self-defense,
      1. You must have reasonably believed that you were in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury or being touched unlawfully
        • The threat of being harmed sometime in the future is not enough. Harm must be occurring or right about to happen.
      2. You must have reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger
        AND
      3. You must have used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger. [6]
  2. When the danger to you is over, so is your right to use force [7]
    • Part of being reasonable means that you stop applying force once the danger is over.
    • Once your attacker is incapacitated, the danger is over
  3. No right to this defense if you planned to pick a fight on purpose [8]
    • A person does not have the right to self-defense if he or she provokes a fight or quarrel with the intent to create an excuse to use force.
  4. If you started the fight or the fight was mutual
    • If you started the fight or the fight was mutual, then there are additional requirements for this legal defense to apply. First, you have to stop fighting and communicate this in a reasonably understandable to the person you are fighting with. You then have to give them a chance to stop. [9]
    • Specifically:
      1. You must actually and in good faith try to stop fighting
        AND
      2. You must use words or conduct that indicate to the person you are fighting that you are done fighting them. The words or conduct you use must be of the type that a reasonable person would understand.
        AND
      3. You must give your opponent a chance to stop fighting

B. Defense of Others

One may also successfully defend an assault charge with the defense that you were defending someone else. The rules are identical to the self-defense rules. [10]

C. Consent (can't find authority)

  1. One defense to assault is that the alleged victim actually consented to a form of touching that would otherwise be assault.
  2. This usually takes the form of implied consent to be touched in certain situations.
    • The most common example of this is athletic activity or competition that requires physical contact with other participants. Another example is grazing someone on a crowded bus.

D. Right to Kick a Trespasser off of your Land

  1. If you tell a trespasser to leave your property, they have a reasonable time to leave. However, if they don't leave and they pose a threat, you are allowed to use reasonable force to make them leave. [11]
  2. "Reasonable force" is determined by what a person in a similar situation with similar knowledge would have done.
  3. The prosecutor has the burden of showing that the amount of force you used was unreasonable

E. Right to Defend Land and Possessions

  1. You may use reasonable force to defend your property from imminent harm [12]
  2. You may use reasonable force to defend the property of others you have a duty to protect. [13]

F. Defense of Parental Discipline

Courts in California have ruled that physical discipline of one's children is allowed so long as it is within reason. [14]

G. Denial of Occurrence

Simply because someone accuses another of a battery, doesn't make it so. It is not uncommon for someone who is upset or has had their feelings hurt or who simply wants to get someone in trouble to call the police and make a false accusation of battery.

***NOT A DEFENSE: The Victim provoked me (in a non-threatening way)

Words, no matter how offensive, and acts that are not threatening, are not enough to justify battery and are NOT a defense. [15]

It is important to understand that qualified, experienced criminal defense attorneys will give every client the very best chance of taking advantage of all available defenses.

Punishment for a Simple Battery Conviction

A. Who you Committed Battery Against Matters

  • The maximum punishment for a battery conviction varies depending on who was battered.
  • There are special laws in place to protect people affiliated with particular governmental agencies, people involved in law enforcement or public health and safety, and well as people involved in the administration of justice.
    • These fall under the crime of Battery of a Specified Victim
  • There are also laws to increase the punishment for Domestic Violence.
  • These fall under the crime Domestic Battery
  • All of these laws mean more severe punishment for offenders.

B. Where the Battery Occurred Matters

  • Likewise, there are laws in place meant to discourage battery in certain places. These laws increase the punishment for what would otherwise be a simple battery.

C. Severity of the Victim's Injury Matters

D. Standard Punishment for Simple Battery [16]

  • A fine of up to $2,000; OR
  • Imprisonment in county jail for up to 6 months; OR
  • Both a fine of up to $2,000 and imprisonment in county jail for up to 6 months.

E. Common Examples of Special Circumstances with Heightened Punishments

  1. Battery against Peace Officer (Law enforcement)
    • Maximum Punishment (if NO injury is inflicted) [17]
      1. A fine of up to $2,000; OR
      2. Imprisonment in county jail for up to 1 year; OR
      3. Both a fine of up to $2,000 and imprisonment in county jail for up to 1 year.
    • Maximum Punishment (if injury is inflicted) [18]
      1. A fine of up to $10,000; OR
      2. Imprisonment in county jail for up to 1 year; OR
      3. Both a fine of up to $10,000 and imprisonment in county jail for up to 1 year; OR
      4. Under some circumstances, imprisonment up to 3 years [19] and a fine of up to $10,000
  2. Battery against emergency medical technicians, public life guards, traffic officers
    • Maximum Punishment (if NO injury is inflicted) [20]
      1. A fine of up to $2,000; OR
      2. Imprisonment in county jail for up to 1 year; OR
      3. Both a fine of up to $2,000 and imprisonment in county jail for up to 1 year.
    • Maximum Punishment (if injury is inflicted) [21]
      1. A fine of up to $2,000; OR
      2. Imprisonment in county jail for up to 1 year; OR
      3. Both a fine of up to $2,000 and imprisonment in county jail for up to 1 year; OR
      4. Under some circumstances, imprisonment up to 3 years [22]
  3. Domestic Violence
    • The law covers battery committed against:
      1. a spouse;
      2. a person with whom the defendant is cohabiting;
      3. a person who is the parent of the defendant's child;
      4. a former spouse or fiancée; OR
      5. a person with whom the defendant currently has, or has previously had, a dating or engagement relationship [23]
    • Maximum Punishment
      1. A fine of up to $2,000; OR
      2. Imprisonment in county jail for up to 6 months; OR
      3. Both a fine of up to $2,000 and imprisonment in county jail for up to 1 year.
  4. Battery that occurs at a school, public park, or hospital grounds [24]
    • Maximum Punishment
      1. A fine of up to $2,000; OR
      2. Imprisonment in county jail for up to 6 months; OR
      3. Both a fine of up to $2,000 and imprisonment in county jail for up to 6 months.

Ronald Dinan and Associates, is a firm of experienced and aggressive criminal defense lawyers, who can help in achieving the best outcome in your case. Many times criminal case dispositions will include reduction or outright dismissal of the number and/or severity of criminal charges, diversion programs, probation, reduced fines with installment payments, alternatives to jail, etc.

To get immediate help with your legal matter, we invite you to call us at one of our conveniently located offices to discuss your case. We answer all telephone calls in a polite, professional and helpful manner.

  • Santa Rosa – 707-571-5550
  • Napa – 707-252-0102
  • Marin – 415-491-0223
  • Lakeport – 707-262-0503
  • Ukiah – 707-462-5950
  • Eureka – 707-445-1348

Related Offenses

  1. Greater Offenses
    • Lewd Acts
  2. Lesser Included Offenses
  3. Other Related Offenses

The Law Itself: California Penal Code Section 242

§ 242. Battery defined

A battery is any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another. [25]


[1] Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 1-800 CALCRIM 960

[2] People v. Fuller, (1975) 53 Cal.App.3d 417

[3] Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 1-800 CALCRIM 960

[4] Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 1-800 CALCRIM 960

[5] Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 1-800 CALCRIM 960: "The committee could not locate any authority on whether it is sufficient to commit a battery if the defendant touches something attached to or closely connected with the person. Thus, the committee has not included this principle in the instruction."

[6] Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 2-3400 CALCRIM 3470

[7] Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 2-3400 CALCRIM 3474

[8] Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 2-3400 CALCRIM 3472

[9] Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 2-3400 CALCRIM 3471

[10] Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 2-3400 CALCRIM 3470

[11] Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 2-3400 CALCRIM 3475

[12] Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 2-3400 CALCRIM 3476

[13] Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 2-3400 CALCRIM 3476

[14] People v. Whitehurst, (1992) 9 Cal.App.4th 1045, 1051

[15] Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 1-800 CALCRIM 917

[16] Cal Pen Code § 243

[17] Cal Pen Code § 243(b)

[18] Cal Pen Code § 243(c)(2)

[19] Cal Pen Code §1170(h)

[20] Cal Pen Code § 243(b)

[21] Cal Pen Code § 243(c)(1)

[22] Cal Pen Code §1170(h)

[23] Cal Pen Code § 243(e)(1)

[24] Cal Pen Code § 243.2

[25] Cal Pen Code §242

Categories: PC 242: Battery

Related Articles

Assault: California Penal Code Section 240
Ronald Dinan & Associates, Attorneys & Lawyers, Santa Rosa, CA