Are Assault and Battery Different Offenses Under California Law?
While assault and battery are usually referred to in the same breath, they are actually different crimes under California law. Both of these crimes involve the unwanted touching or infliction of violence on another person, but there are key differences between these two offenses.
Assault is defined as an action that may cause physical harm to another person, and the detailed definition of what assault gets quite complex. Battery, on the other hand, refers to the actual physical harming of another person. In the case of both assault and battery, various conditions need to be confirmed to establish that one or both of these crimes took place.
What Is the Definition of Assault?
California Penal Code Section 240 defines assault as the "unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another." While most of the verbiage in this definition is relatively straightforward, it should be noted that "coupled with a present ability" means that the person who attempted assault must have been capable of following through with their attempt. For instance, if a person attempts to kick you in the face, but they are a paralytic who is confined to a wheelchair, no responsible judge would consider such an action to be assault.
An action doesn't actually need to result in physical contact to be considered assault. As an example, if a person swings a beer bottle at you and misses, this action can still be considered to be an instance of assault. On the other hand, it's important to note that threats don't count as assault under California law; for an action to be considered assault, an attempt to physically harm another person must have taken place even if that attempt didn't actually culminate in bodily contact. In essence, assault can be considered attempted battery since an act of assault becomes battery the moment that it is successful.
What Is the Definition of Battery?
Battery can be considered to be an instance of actuated assault. Essentially, whenever anyone makes unwanted physical contact with another person in the state of California, this can be considered to be an instance of battery. Just as in the case of assault, battery doesn't need to involve traditionally accepted versions of physical contact; if a person touches another person with their bodily fluids against the other person's will, this is also considered to be an instance of battery. The penal code in California goes on to state that this contact must be made willfully, which means that the person committing battery must have done so on purpose. However, you can still be determined to have acted willfully even if you didn't intend to break the law, harm anyone, or gain any advantage from your assault or battery whatsoever. Even if you didn't intend to commit battery, you could still be convicted of battery.
In addition, it must be determined that your physical contact with another person must have been done in an offensive manner. For the purposes of battery law, the state of California defines the term "offensive" as violent, rude, angry, or disrespectful. Even if you try to make the argument that, from your point of view, spitting on someone is a sign of adoration, your subjective impression of the offensiveness of your action matters less than the accepted or common sense interpretation of what you did.
It's important to note that you don't need to grievously harm another person to be charged with battery. Many people believe that battery is only charged in the aftermath of a serious altercation, but any unwanted contact can be considered battery. For instance, a simple shove or push can be considered to be battery even if this action doesn't result in any injury whatsoever. Ultimately, it's up to the person with whom you had contact to determine whether battery occurred. If they feel that they have been touched against their will in a way that causes them to desire justice or compensation, they can press charges of battery against you whether or not they were actually hurt. Since the presumption of innocence is the core of law in the United States, however, you will always be given a fair chance to defend your actions if you have been charged with battery.
What Are the Types of Battery?
The main section of the penal code that deals with the offense known as "battery" is Penal Code Section 242, which defines battery as "any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another." In many cases, a situation that the court determines constituted an offense of battery will only center around this particular penal code section, but various sections of the California penal code deal with the offenses similar to normal battery, and these crimes are charged under widely varying circumstances. The penal codes that govern the adjudication of charges of crimes related to battery are:
- Penal Code 243(d) battery causing serious bodily injury: This type of battery is also known as aggravated battery, and the punishments for this type of battery are more severe than the punishments for normal battery as it is defined under PC 242. PC 243(d) is only invoked when you have inflicted serious bodily harm on another person, and California law defines a serious bodily injury as a significant impairment of a person's physical condition. Examples of serious bodily injury include a broken bone or a concussion, and there are many types of injuries that may be considered serious under the California Penal Code. However, scratches, bruises, and other minor injuries will not be considered valid grounds for charging a person under PC 243(d).
- Penal Codes 243(b) and 243(c)(2) battery on a peace officer: Battery on a peace officer is one of the most serious types of battery under California law. Many different types of people are considered "peace officers" under the California penal code, and pretty much everyone who serves a role that protects the public and works for the state is one of these special individuals. A peace officer must be engaged in their duties when the battery took place for a person to be charged with battery on a peace officer, and the maximum possible sentence for an instance of battery against a peace officer in which they were not injured is one year in county jail. If the peace officer was injured, however, you could be charged with a felony and spend up to three years in prison.
- Penal Code 243(e)(1) domestic battery: Domestic battery is a type of battery that you commit against a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, fiancee, former fiancee, a person you dated, or the other parent of your child. The maximum sentence for domestic battery is a $2,000 fine and a year in jail, and if you are convicted of domestic battery, you will be compelled to enroll in a batterer's treatment program that lasts at least a year. As part of this treatment program, batterers are rehabilitated to behave differently in domestic situations to protect their current or future partners.
- Penal Code 243.4 sexual battery: Sexual battery is different from rape, and it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The state of California separates sexual battery from other types of battery by stating that it must involve the touching of an intimate part of another person's body for the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal. Sexual battery can also be a form of abuse, and this type of battery can be considered a felony if it is perpetrated against a person who has been institutionalized. It will also be considered a felony offense if you sexually battered someone while they were restrained.
- Penal Code 368 elder abuse: The state of California separates battery of an elderly person from normal battery. PC 368 indicates that it is a crime to "willfully or negligently impose unjustifiable physical pain" on someone who is over 65 years of age. This section of the penal code also covers the infliction of mental suffering, which makes it the only type of battery that can involve psychological violence as well as physical violence. If you are charged with elder abuse, you can also be charged with battery for the same crime, and elder abuse can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
What Is Considered to Be Bodily Contact?
The state of California doesn't limit its definition of bodily contact to being an instance of a person's limbs of the physical body contacting another person. In essence, any object or substance originating from your body can be a medium for physical contact under California law, which means that acts like spitting on another person are considered to be assault even though they don't consist of physical contact in the usual sense.
Are You the Victim of Assault or Battery?
If you feel that you have been the victim of either assault or battery, you should reach out to law enforcement immediately. When you speak with a law enforcement officer, you'll be able to press charges for your assault, and you'll be able to arrange a date in court at which you'll present your case. Before you even think about setting foot in a courtroom, however, you'll need to hire expert legal help to assist you in representing your position. If you want to ensure that justice is done on your abuser, you'll need to be able to state your case clearly and convincingly, and the only way to do so is to have professional lawyers serve as your representation to the judge, jury, and criminal defense lawyers who are representing the person who hurt you.
Have You Been Charged with Assault or Battery?
If you've been charged with assault or battery, you could be in considerable legal jeopardy unless you defend yourself robustly. Both assault and battery carry weighty potential penalties, and it's often hard to summon an adequate defense if it's true that you were involved in the altercation in question. However, there are a variety of tried and true defenses against charges of assault and battery that may apply in your case. The only way to determine the best approach to take in the courtroom is to work with lawyers who have extensive experience defending clients against these charges. Even if you read up on the statutes involved and understand the theory behind the defenses that are commonly used in these cases, the situation that will confront you when you actually stand before a judge can only be navigated effectively by a seasoned lawyer.
What Are the Legal Defenses Against Battery Charges?
- Self-defense: Arguing that your physical contact with another person was justified as an attempt at self-defense can be an effective tack to take if it can be established that you believed that you or someone else would be hurt by someone's actions. However, your assumption that you or another person would be harmed would have to be reasonable; if a masked stranger runs at your child with an axe in their hands, it would be considered legally permissible to fight back. If, however, you tackle a grown woman on the sidewalk because you mistake her willing handshake with an acquaintance as an instance of sexual assault, a California judge will most likely rule that you behaved unreasonably. For a claim of self-defense to be considered valid, it must also be established that you reasonably believed that an act of force or unwanted touching was the best way to defend yourself or another person. The judge must also determine that you didn't use any more force than was necessary for you to have any chance of successfully claiming that you acted in self-defense.
- Accidental contact: If you truly didn't mean to make physical contact with the person who is charging you with battery, you may be able to claim that the supposed battery was actually an accident. If the court can determine that the supposed instance of battery was entirely unintentional, it may be possible to have a charge of battery that has been made against you dropped.
- Disciplining a child: If it's believed that a person has abused their child, a California prosecutor may sometimes try to bring charges of battery against parents in conjunction with charges under Penal Code 273(d), which deals with the definition and potential punishments for child abuse. However, parents are allowed to make physical contact with their children against their will as long as this contact falls within some relatively vague guidelines. For an instance that would normally be considered battery to be considered to fall within a parent's right to discipline their child, the contact must be determined to be both reasonable and not excessive under the circumstances. While many parents choose not to corporally punish their children, the law in California would most likely consider it reasonable for a parent to administer a few spanks as punishment for a minor indiscretion. If, however, a mother strikes her daughter across the face with a frying pan because her child wore the wrong pair of shoes, this action would most likely be considered to be unreasonable and, therefore, an instance of battery.
What Are the Penalties for Assault or Battery?
In most cases, both assault and battery are considered to be misdemeanors under California law. As such, the potential penalties for assault and battery generally don't exceed a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to six months of incarceration in a county jail. However, if you are charged with battery on a peace officer, which is a much more serious crime, you could potentially be convicted of a felony offense. Battery on a peace officer can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, which means that you could end up spending time in a state prison if you commit battery against a firefighter, police officer, EMT, or another designated type of public servant.
Find an Assault and Battery Lawyer Near Me
Whether you're the victim of assault or battery or your finding yourself in a position where you'll need to defend yourself from charges or battery or assault in a courtroom, you'll need to have excellent legal help by your side when it comes time to state your case before a judge. To schedule a time to sit down for a free consultation and determine the best path forward, reach out to the offices of Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm by calling 760-691-1551 today.