Assault and battery are often confused, but are two separate crimes in California. Assault (PC 240) is a misdemeanor described as “an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent felony injury on” another person. One can be convicted of assault, and face up to 6 months in jail, even if no one was hurt by the behavior or no one intended to violate the law. The prosecutor must prove that you did an act that would probably result in the application of force to someone, you acted willfully, you were reasonably aware that your act would result in the application of force to someone, and you had the present ability to apply force to that person. Application of force means any harmful or offensive touching, regardless how slight, whether it was indirect (that is you caused some object to touch the person) or if no injury was caused. Willful means you did the act on purpose; there is no requirement that you intended to break the law, hurt anyone or gain an advantage. Awareness that your act could most likely cause harm or injury to another person is the only necessary requirement; no intent to harm is required. The penalties are steeper if the victim is a law enforcement officer, public official or emergency personnel.
Defenses available to assault charges include acting in self defense or defense of others, not having the ability to inflict force or violence, you did not act willfully or on purpose, it was an accident, you were falsely accused, or it was a misunderstanding. A careful analysis of the evidence, police reports and background of the alleged victim are essential to defending these charges.
There is also the crime of assault with a deadly weapon (PC 245), which can occur when an assault on another is committed by a motor vehicle, someone’s fists, or a weapon such as a knife or gun. This offense is a wobbler, meaning, that depending on the egregiousness of the conduct, it can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
Battery (PC 242) is “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence” on another person. Only an offensive touching is required; no injury is required. Battery without injury is a misdemeanor. Battery causing serious bodily injury (PC 243(d)) is a felony. Battery on a peace officer is a more serious offense. Physical contact is required, even if the contact is to the victim’s clothing or you cause an object to touch the victim. Battery can also occur if you offensively touch something that is intimately connected with a person’s body, but it not a part of their body, such as grabbing or knocking something out of their hand. The same willful intent is required as in assault, except you willfully intended to do the act that caused the touching; intent to break the law is not required. The touching must be in a harmful or offensive manner, meaning violent, rude, angry or disrespectful.
Simple battery, with little or no injury, and not to a police officer is a misdemeanor. Aggravated battery (PC 242/243 d), which causes serious bodily injury-serious impairment of physical condition like a broken bone can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. There are harsher penalties if the victim was a peace officer or emergency personnel and you were aware of this status. If the victim was restrained or institutionalized it will be charged as a felony. Defenses to battery are the same as with assault.
There is also the offense of Domestic Battery (PC 243(e)(1)) if the victim is or was your spouse, cohabitant, fiancé, someone you dated, or the co-parent of your child. Sexual Battery (PC 243.4) is the “touching of an intimate part of another person for purposes of immediate sexual gratification, arousal or abuse.” Sexual battery can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony and conviction requires Sex Offender Regisration, which has been changed in California in 2021 to a 3-tier system and no longer requires life long registration for most sexual misconduct offenses.