Domestic battery under Cal. PC 243(e)(1)
The people of the state of California — as evidenced by the bills passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor — do not take domestic violence lightly. Even domestic battery, which is the least serious crime defined by California’s strict domestic violence laws, carries substantial penalties.
Anyone involved in a relationship with a current or former spouse or fiancé/fiancée, a co-parent of a child, someone you currently date or live with, or even someone you used to live with, is covered by California’s domestic violence codes and should be familiar with these important laws.
There are multiple domestic violence crimes that you can be charged with under California’s strict domestic violence laws. Of these, domestic battery is the least serious offense. Under California Penal Code Section 243(e)(1), domestic battery is a “battery” committed against a person with whom you have an intimate relationship. A battery is any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.
Elements of domestic battery
To prove that someone is guilty of “domestic battery,” the prosecutor must prove the following two elements:
- The defendant willfully and unlawfully touched the victim/accuser in a harmful or offensive manner;
- The victim/accuser was one of the following:
- A current or former spouse of the defendant
- Someone the defendant used to live with
- A current or former fiancé/fiancée of the defendant
- Person the defendant currently or previously had a dating relationship with
- The mother or father of the defendant’s child, regardless of whether or not the parents were in a relationship at the time of the offense
Unlike the more serious crime of corporal injury on an intimate partner which requires the victim to suffer physical injury, charges of domestic battery can be filed even if the victim was not hurt.
Penalties for domestic battery
Anyone convicted of domestic battery faces the following penalties under California Penal Code Section 243(e)(1):
- A maximum of one year in county jail; and/or
- A maximum fine of $2,000; or
- Probation (informal) for up to three years
If probation is granted, the court will require the offender to attend a batterer’s educational program for a minimum of one year. Even if the offender receives a sentence of probation, the court will also order them to serve a minimum sentence of 48 hours in county jail if they have a prior domestic battery conviction on their record.
Defenses against a charge of domestic battery
Self defense and defense of others
The best defense to a domestic battery charge is self-defense. This defense may apply if:
- You had a reasonable belief that you or another person would suffer a great bodily injury unless you defended yourself or another person;
- The force that you used in response was not excessive compared to the threat; and
- You responded with force only until you or the person you were protecting was no longer in danger.
For example, if one person first punches another person, but the second person then hits the first repeatedly with a bat, self-defense probably will not apply.
Because battery requires a willful touching, you cannot be guilty of domestic battery if you did not intend the contact. For example, if you were arguing with your fiancé, turned your back to answer the phone, and then elbowed her in the face when you turned back around, you are not guilty of domestic battery because the harm was unintentional. However, you can still be guilty of domestic battery if you intend the contact but an unexpected result occurs. For example, if you playfully shove someone and they stumble over the curb into oncoming traffic and are struck, you can still be convicted of domestic battery even though you did not intend for them to get hit by a car.
You should not be convicted of a crime that someone else committed. This defense hinges on showing that the defendant is not actually the person who committed the crime, and may employ witnesses and other evidence which establishes an alibi for the defendant.