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Battery: Penal Code § 242 PC

Battery is a crime under California Penal Code section 242. It is defined as the willful and unlawful use of force or violence against another person.

From a technically legal standpoint, all that is necessary to allege the crime of battery is unwanted contact with another person. If that contact results in injury, then it is possible the suspect may be charged with the more serious crime of “battery causing serious bodily injury” which is defined under California Penal Code Section 243(d).

The Criminal Act

If someone shoves another person in a public place or hurls an object at another person and hits them, either of those acts could be considered battery under the Penal Code. It should be noted that in order to prove most crimes, it is necessary to find criminal intent. Bumping into someone accidentally getting off an elevator isn’t likely to result in a battery charge. Intentionally knocking someone down while getting off an elevator, on the other hand, might be considered battery.

Legal Definition

The legal definition of battery consists of three elements. The perpetrator must touch someone. They must do so willfully and they must do so in a violent, harmful or offensive manner. Note the second element disqualifies accidental touching. Like most crimes against another person, battery requires some degree of intent. This doesn’t necessarily mean you intended to commit a crime, harm someone or produce some kind of advantage for yourself. It does, however, mean you must have intended to perform the act of touching the victim.

Note that this intent, even though it is not necessarily intent to commit a criminal act, or mens rea, it may still establish criminal conduct even if the intended victim is not touched by the suspect, but a bystander is. If a suspect fires a gun at someone and misses, it does not cancel their criminal intent since under U.S. law, since intent follows the bullet. In a battery case, if person A throws a rock at person B but hits person C instead, they may yet be guilty of battery. They may not have intended to hurt person C, but they did intend to throw the rock, and that is the threshold for the crime of battery.

Assault and Battery

While these two terms are often used interchangeably, they are, in fact, two different crimes. Assault is any action which might cause harm to another person. Battery is the actual infliction of violence. Think of assault as throwing a punch. Battery is when the punch lands.


Simple battery like that charged under California Penal Code 242, provided it is not performed on a police officer and provided it does not cause injury, is a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and a fine of up to $2000. It may also result in probation.


There are several defenses to a battery charge, any of which may be presented by a qualified criminal defense attorney. Defense of one’s person or protection of someone else’s person are the two most common. A good example of this kind of defense is to consider battery is a lawful response to someone else committing battery, either on the suspect or on another person.

A defendant can also assert whatever touching took place was inadvertent or accidental. Unless the act is willful, it cannot be considered battery.

Note that any battery that results in serious injury can be considered “aggravated battery” and result in either a misdemeanor or felony charge. Aggravated battery is much harder to defend, as one of the primary pieces of evidence will be the injuries sustained by the victim.

Naturally, acts of battery can also result in civil litigation regardless of the disposition of the original criminal charge.

As always if you are facing a criminal case, it is highly recommended you avail yourself of the services of a qualified criminal defense attorney. Facing a criminal charge on your own is inadvisable even under the best of circumstances. Protect your rights and make certain you get the best possible defense.

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