7 Things You Need To Know About “Domestic Battery”

California Penal Code Section 243(e)(1

In California, there are three types of domestic violence crimes that you can be charged with.

  1. Aggravated Domestic Battery,
  2. Corporal Injury To A Spouse or Co-Habitant
  3. And “Domestic Battery” pursuant to Penal Code Section 243(e)(1) which is the least serious one of the three.

Below Are 7 Things You Need To Know About Domestic Battery.

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Overview of Penal Code 243(e)(1)

domestic violence 2

California Penal Code Section 243(e)(1) — California’s law on domestic battery – defines this offense as a “battery” committed against a person with whom you have an intimate relationship.1.

Example: 

James and Kathy were having a fight and Kathy told James that she hates him and never wants to see him again.  She then used the palm of her hand to push him away without applying much force.  Even though James suffered no injury, Kathy can be charged with domestic battery under Penal Code Section 243(e)(1) pc, because even the slightest touching can be enough to commit a battery if it is done in a rude 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.

How Do I Distinguish “Domestic Battery” from the Other Domestic Violence Crimes in California?

In California, there are three types of domestic violence crimes that you can be charged with.  They are as follows:

  1. Simple Domestic Battery
  2. Aggravated Domestic Battery
  3. Corporal Injury To Spouse or Co-Habitant

Simple Domestic Battery: Penal Code Section 243 (e)(1):

You commit domestic battery if you willfully inflict force or violence onto your intimate partner.

An “intimate partner” includes any of the following:

  • Defendant’s former spouse
  • Defendant’s former cohabitant
  • Defendant’s fiancé
  • Person with whom the defendant currently has, or previously had, a dating or engagement relationship
  • Mother/father of the defendant’s child2

This offense is charged as a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine not exceeding $2,000, or by imprisonment in a county jail for a maximum period of 1 year, or by both the fine and the imprisonment.   See the example above for an illustration.

Aggravated Battery: Penal Code Section 243(d):

You can be charged with California’s Penal Code Section 243(d) when a battery is committed against any person and “serious bodily” injury is inflicted on the person. 3

The obvious distinction between a “simple battery” and an “aggravated battery” is the degree of bodily injury inflicted onto the victim.  Unlike in a “simple domestic battery,” where only slight touching is sufficient, to be convicted of “aggravated battery,” the victim had to have suffered serious bodily injury.  Moreover, in the case of “domestic battery,” the victim/accuser has to be an intimate partner of the defendant, whereas in a situation involving aggravated battery, the victim/accuser can be any person, not necessarily someone the defendant has an intimate relationship with.

This type of domestic violence is a more serious type of charge for which a defendant is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for two, three, or four years.

Example:

When Tim found out that his boyfriend Tony is cheating on him with another man, Tim went to the other man’s house, rang his door bell, and when the man opened the door, Tim punched him in the face so hard that he broke his nose.  Even though the victim was not Tim’s intimate partner, Tim can be charged with “aggravated battery,” because any person can file charges against the batterer under this statute.  Another reason why “aggravated domestic battery” is the appropriate charge in this case is because the victim sustained a serious bodily injury – a broken nose.

Under these circumstances, prosecutors could not file this case as a “simple domestic battery” because the man Tim punched does not qualify as an “intimate partner.”  Prosecutors could not file this case under “willful infliction of emotional corporal injury” for the same reason.  Therefore, the only appropriate charge is for “aggravated battery” under Penal Code 243(d).

Corporal Injury To Spouse or Co-Habitant: Penal Code Section 273.5:

This offense is committed when a defendant willfully inflicts physical injury on his/her intimate partner and the injury results in a traumatic condition.  Unlike in a “simple domestic battery,” when you bring charges of “intentional infliction of corporal injury,” you cannot bring such charges against a person you are or were engaged to, or are or were dating.  Notice that the definition of “intimate partner” in this offense is limited to the following:

  • defendant’s former spouse
  • former or current cohabitant
  • the mother/father of defendant’s child

Also, unlike in the other domestic violence offenses, this offense requires that the victim suffer a “traumatic condition.”  A “traumatic condition” is defined as a wound or other bodily injury, whether minor or serious, caused by the direct application of physical force. 4

Similar to “aggravated battery,” “willful infliction of emotional corporal injury” is a more serious offense than the offense of “simple battery” under Penal Code 243(e)(1).  As such, the punishment for the offense may include either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case and defendant’s criminal history.

Example: 

When Tim punched the man that his boyfriend was cheating with, he broke the man’s nose.  Although the broken nose qualifies as a “traumatic condition,” Tim could not be  prosecuted under Penal Code Section 273.5 because the man he punched does not qualify as an “intimate partner” under this section.  If, however, Tim punched and broke his spouse’s nose, he could be prosecuted for Penal Code Section 273.5.

How Does the Prosecutor Prove Domestic Battery?

stressed witness in penal code 243(e)(1) trial

To prove that you are guilty of “domestic battery,” the prosecutor has to prove the following facts or elements5 :

  • You willfully6 and unlawfully touched7 the victim/accuser in a harmful or offensive manner;

AND

  • The victim/accuser was one of the following:
  • Your former spouse
  • Former cohabitant 8
  • Your current fiancé
  • Your former fiancé
  • Person you currently or previously had a dating relationship with9
  • The mother or father of your child10

How Can You Fight Domestic Battery Charges?

sword, scales,law book

The most common defenses that a skilled criminal defense attorney can use to defend you from a charge of “domestic battery” are as follows:

Self-defense/Defense of Others:

If you acted in self-defense, this may be used as a defense to this charge.  The defense will apply in a situation when you have a reasonable belief that you or another person will suffer a great bodily injury if you do not defense yourself or another person.  However, the force that you use to repel the threatened force has to be proportionate (i.e. reasonable and not excessive) to that force.  Also, once you have repelled the force and the threat subsides, you have to stop.  Otherwise, you may not be able to use this defense.

Example:

When James’ wife started beating their daughter Sarah for misbehaving, using a long wooden kitchen spoon, James pushed his wife out of the way to prevent her from battering the daughter, which caused the wife to fall on the floor and hit her head on the refrigerator.  If James is charged with domestic battery, his lawyer can use the defense of others to argue that James’ actions were justified, as he had a reasonable belief that Sarah would suffer a bodily injury if he did not defend her from his wife.

Accident:

If you battered another person accidentally, you are not guilty of domestic battery, because this offense requires that the battery be “willful,” or intended application of force.  In a situation where the defendant had no such intent, a prosecutor will not be able to prove the essential element of “willful” application of force.

Penalties for Domestic Battery

criminal handcuffed

If you are convicted of “domestic battery” pursuant to California Penal Code Section 243(e)(1), you face the following penalties:

  • A maximum of 1 year in county jail.
  • A maximum fine of $2,000.
  • Probation (informal) for up to 3 years.

If probation is granted, the court will require you to successfully complete a batterer’s program for a minimum of 1 year.  However, if you have a prior Penal Code 243(e)(1) conviction on your criminal record, the court will order you to serve a minimum sentence of 48 hours in county jail.

Potential Enhancements & Case Process Information

Potential Enhancements To A Domestic Battery Charge

Assault

Pursuant to California assault law, Penal Code Section 240 , an “assault” is an act that is likely to result in the unlawful application of force onto another.  Assault is a lesser included offense in “domestic battery,” because a defendant does not need to make physical contact with the victim/accuser to be convicted of assault.  A simple attempt is enough, given that defendant has the ability to carry out the attempt.  However, if the defendant does make physical contact, he/she can be charged with “battery.”

Battery

Pursuant to the California laws regarding battery Penal Code Section 242, a “battery” is the unlawful application of force against another person which results in a harmful or offensive contact.  It is a lesser included offense in a “domestic battery” charge, because “battery” does not have to be committed against an “intimate partner.”

How We Can Help

If you have any questions about the material presented in this article please contact attorneys at the Aizman Law Firm at 818-351-9555. 

Diana Weiss Aizman

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Footnotes

  1. California’s Penal Code Section 243(e)(1) pc: When a battery is committed against a spouse, a person with whom the defendant is cohabiting, a person who is the parent of the defendant’s child, former spouse, fiance, or fiancee, or a person with whom the defendant currently has, or has previously had, a dating or engagement relationship, the battery is punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. If probation is granted, or the execution or imposition of the sentence is suspended, it shall be a condition thereof that the defendant participate in, for no less than one year, and successfully complete, a batterer’s treatment program, as described in Section 1203.097, or if none is available, another appropriate counseling program designated by the court. However, this provision shall not be construed as requiring a city, a county, or a city and county to provide a new program or higher level of service as contemplated by Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution []
  2. See the relevant portion of California Penal Code Section 243(e)(1): (e) (1) When a battery is committed against a spouse, a person with whom the defendant is cohabiting, a person who is the parent of the defendant’s child, former spouse, fiancé, or fiancée, or a person with whom the defendant currently has, or has previously had, a dating or engagement relationship…” []
  3. A serious bodily injury means a serious impairment of physical condition.  Such an injury may include, but is not limited to loss of consciousness, concussion, bone fracture, protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ, a wound requiring extensive suturing, or serious disfigurement.  Serious Bodily Injury Defined. California Penal Code, §243(f)(4): “Serious bodily injury” means a serious impairment of physical condition, including, but not limited to, the following: loss of consciousness; concussion; bone fracture; protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ; a wound requiring extensive suturing; and serious disfigurement.”  People v. Burroughs (1984) 35 Cal.3d 824, 831 [201 Cal.Rptr. 319, 678 P.2d 894] [serious bodily injury and great bodily injury are essentially equivalent elements], disapproved on other grounds in People v. Blakeley (2000) 23 Cal.4th 82, 89 [96 Cal.Rptr.2d 451, 999 P.2d 675]; People v. Taylor (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 11, 25, fn. 4 [12 Cal.Rptr.3d 693]. []
  4. Traumatic Condition Defined. California Penal Code § 273.5(d): (d) As used in this section, “traumatic condition” means a condition of the body, such as a wound, or external or internal injury, including, but not limited to, injury as a result of strangulation or suffocation, whether of a minor or serious nature, caused by a physical force. For purposes of this section, “strangulation” and “suffocation” include impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of a person by applying pressure on the throat or neck.”  People v. Gutierrez (1985) 171 Cal.App.3d 944, 952 [217 Cal.Rptr. 616]. []
  5. California Penal Code Section 243(e)(1): California’s Penal Code Section 243(e)(1): When a battery is committed against a spouse, a person with whom the defendant is cohabiting, a person who is the parent of the defendant’s child, former spouse, fiance, or fiancee, or a person with whom the defendant currently has, or has previously had, a dating or engagement relationship, the battery is punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. If probation is granted, or the execution or imposition of the sentence is suspended, it shall be a condition thereof that the defendant participate in, for no less than one year, and successfully complete, a batterer’s treatment program, as described in Section 1203.097, or if none is available, another appropriate counseling program designated by the court. However, this provision shall not be construed as requiring a city, a county, or a city and county to provide a new program or higher level of service as contemplated by Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution. []
  6. Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose.  It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage. Willfully Defined. Pen. Code, § 7, subd. 1; People v. Lara (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 102, 107 [51 Cal.Rptr.2d 402]. []
  7. The slightest touching can be enough to commit a battery if it is done in a rude 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.  The touching can be done indirectly by causing an object or someone else to touch the other person.  Least Touching.  People v. Myers (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 328, 335 [71 Cal.Rptr.2d 518] [citing People v. Rocha (1971) 3 Cal.3d 893, 899–900, fn. 12 [92 Cal.Rptr. 172, 479 P.2d 372]]. []
  8. The term “cohabitants” means two unrelated persons living together for a substantial period of time, resulting in some permanency of the relationship.  Factors that may determine whether people are cohabiting include, but are not limited to, (1) sexual relations between the parties while sharing the same residence, (2) sharing of income or expenses, (3) joint use or ownership of property, (4) the parties’ holding themselves out as (husband and wife/domestic partners), (5) the continuity of the relationship, and (6) the length of the relationship.  A person may cohabit simultaneously with two or more people at different locations, during the same time frame, if he or she maintains substantial ongoing relationships with each person and lives with each person for significant periods. Cohabitant Defined. People v. Holifield (1988) 205 Cal.App.3d 993, 1000 [252 Cal.Rptr. 729]; People v. Ballard (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 311, 318–319 [249 Cal.Rptr. 806]. []
  9. The term dating relationship means frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affection or sexual involvement independent of financial considerations. Dating Relationship Defined. California Penal Code, § 243(f)(10): “Dating relationship” means frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affectional or sexual involvement independent of financial considerations. []
  10. A person is considered to be the mother or father of another person’s child if the alleged male parent is presumed under the law to be the natural father. []