Written by attorney William Peter Daley

A Guide to California Assault and Battery Laws

A California battery takes place when you willfully and unlawfully use force or violence upon another. You can be convicted of this offense even if you don't harm or injure the other person, as long as you make some type of unwanted physical contact.

CaliforniaAssault and Battery Laws at a Glance

  1. What is California Penal Code pc 242 Battery?

California law defines battery... which is sometimes referred to as assault & battery... under Penal Code 242 PC. A California battery is simply this: any willful and unlawful touch that is harmful and/or offensive.

The slightest touch can trigger a battery allegation if it is done in an angry or offensive manner.

If, for example, Sara spits on Julie, Julie could properly claim that Sara battered her. Despite the fact that Julie wasn't injured, Sara's act was willful, unwanted, and offensive... which amounts to the crime of battery.

If the battered person is seriously hurt, the criminal case may be prosecuted under Penal Code 243(d) as a battery causing serious bodily injury. Otherwise known as an aggravated battery, this offense will be further discussed in the section entitled "Battery and Related Offenses".

If the battered person doesn't suffer serious bodily injury, prosecutors will file the case as a misdemeanor (otherwise known as a simple battery) under PC 242.

The exception to this rule is when you allegedly commit a CaliforniaPenal Code 243 battery on a peace officer. If the battered person is a police officer... or other protected civil servant... the offense may be filed as either a misdemeanor or a felony, regardless of whether a serious bodily injury is inflicted.

And because of the special consideration afforded to these protected individuals, you face a greater jail or prison sentence and potentially higher fines than you would if you were convicted of a Penal Code 242 PC simple battery.

  1. The Difference between a California Assault & a CaliforniaBattery

People often use the terms ‘assault' and ‘battery' interchangeably, or to refer to the same offense." However, assault (defined under California Penal Code 240) and battery (Penal Code 242) are actually two separate crimes.

A Penal Code 242 pc battery (defined above) requires some type of violent, painful, or offensive physical contact.

A CaliforniaPenal Code 240 assault, on the other hand, may be filed when an attempt to injure another is made. No physical contact is actually necessary to be convicted of assault.

A California assault can take place even though no battery occurs. However, a battery necessarily includes an assault. This is because it is impossible to commit a battery (a willful act) without first attempting to do so.

An assault is often called an "attempted battery," while battery is often called a "completed assault".

Because PC 240 assault is a necessarily included offense of battery, you cannot be punished for committing both offenses at the same time. A lesser offense is "necessarily included" if it is impossible to commit the greater offense (in this case, battery) without necessarily committing the lesser offense.

Since you cannot batter someone without first assaulting that person, assault is a necessarily lesser included offense of battery. As a result, you can be convicted of both offenses but only sentenced for one.

  1. How Does the Prosecutor Prove that I Committed California Penal Code 242 pc Battery?

In order to prove that you committed a PC 242 battery, the prosecutor must prove the following three facts (otherwise known as "elements" of the crime):

  1. that you willfully,

  2. used force or violence,

  3. upon another.

Let's take a closer look at these terms to better understand the elements.


"Willfully" means with a purpose or willingness to commit the act. It is not necessary that you (1) intend to break the law, or (2) intend to injure another.

Force or violence

The words "force or violence" mean the same thing. With respect to California battery law under Penal Code 242 PC, they refer to any illegal use of physical force against another person.

The force or violence doesn't need to result in pain or harm. The slightest touch is sufficient for a battery if it is done in a (1) rude, (2) angry, or (3) disrespectful manner. The bottom line is that any unwarranted and unjustifiable touch suffices to trigger a California simple battery. Referring to the example used above, spitting on another perfectly illustrates this point.

Upon another

"Upon" means to touch. To "touch" another person (within the meaning of PC 242 battery law) means to touch

  • the person,

  • his or her clothing, or

  • something attached to or closely connected to that person.

A common misunderstanding is that assault and battery are the same thing. But that is not true. A battery must result in an offensive touching (whether or not it left a bruise), whereas assault does not require any actual bodily contact. The easiest way to distinguish the crimes is that assault doesn't necessarily involve any actual physical contact, while battery does. You can think of it this way -- an assault is an attempted battery, and a battery is a completed assault.

  1. CaliforniaBattery and its Related Offenses

There are several offenses that relate to battery... either because they are lesser included, as is the case with PC 240 assault... or because they are variations of PC 242 battery. The following are a few of the most common examples.

CaliforniaPenal Code 243(d) battery causing serious bodily injury

Penal Code 243(d), also known as aggravated battery, is a wobbler. "Wobblers" may be filed as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on (1) the facts of the specific case, and (2) your criminal history.

A "serious bodily injury" is one that results in a significant injury. Examples include (but are not limited to a concussion, loss of consciousness, broken bones, and disfigurement).

It should be noted that if the offense is charged as a felony because the victim suffers a great bodily injury, it will be labeled a violent felony. A violent felony subjects you to a "strike" under California's Three Strikes Law.

CaliforniaPenal Code 245 (a) (1) assault with a deadly weapon (ADW)

A California Penal Code 245 (a) (1) assault with a deadly weapon (ADW) takes place when you attempt to assault another with any type of deadly weapon or means of force that is likely to cause great bodily injury to that individual.

Like aggravated battery, this is a violent felony and a potential strike under California's Three Strikes Law.

CaliforniaPenal Code 243 (e) (1) domestic battery

There is very little difference between the elements in a simple battery under Penal Code 242 PC and a CaliforniaPenal Code 243 (e) (1) domestic battery. The only added requirement in the latter is that the victim must be your intimate partner.

Intimate partners, under California domestic battery law, include:

  • your fiancé or fiancée

  • your current or former spouse,

  • someone with whom you live,

  • the parent of your child, and

  • anyone you are or were dating.

CaliforniaPenal Code 243.4 sexual battery

Unlike simple battery or domestic battery, CaliforniaPenal Code 243.4 sexual battery has elements that are very specific to that offense. Sexual battery is the non-consensual touching of the intimate part of another for (1) sexual arousal, (2) sexual gratification, or (3) sexual abuse.

It is therefore related to simple battery because both offenses involve an unsolicited, non-consensual touch.

  1. Penalties, Punishment and Sentencing for California Penal Code 242 Battery

If you are convicted of simple battery pursuant to Penal Code 242 PC, you face all of the following:

  • informal (otherwise known as summary) probation for up to three years

  • up to six months in a county jail

  • a maximum $2,000 fine

  • possible community service and/or successful completion of a batterer's program

If you are convicted of aggravated battery pursuant to Penal Code 243 (d) PC, you may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. If the injury isn't a "serious bodily injury", you will likely face a misdemeanor conviction, subjecting you to a maximum one-year county jail sentence.

If the person whom you battered suffers a serious bodily injury, you face a felony, punishable by:

When someone willfully uses force or violence upon another - and no defenses apply - the person can be charged with battery underCaliforniaPenal Code Section 242.

If you have additional questions or would like to confidentially discuss your case with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, please don't hesitate to contact us at

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