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What is Assault and Battery?

Posted by Sam Israels | Mar 12, 2022

California Assault and Battery Laws - Penal Code 240 & 242 PC

Under California Penal Code 242 PC, the crime of “battery” is described as willfully and unlawfully using force against someone. The victim of the battery doesn't have to suffer a physical injury as the main “element of the crime” is that you offensively touch somebody.

The closely related crime of “assault” is defined under Penal Code 240 as an unlawful attempt to use force or violence on somebody. Most people use the term “assault and battery” together as one crime. However, they are separate offenses that are often charged along with each other. So, what is the difference between the two statutes?

Assault and Battery Laws in California
  • PC 240 assault is behavior that might inflict harm on a victim;
  • PC 242 battery is when someone inflicts actual force or violence.

Assault and battery are commonly charged crimes and essential tools for law enforcement to arrest someone when looking for a crime.

To make the issue of two separate statutes more confusing, assault and battery are also tort claims. This means a victim can file a lawsuit in a civil court for compensation from the accused.

Since assault and battery are intentional torts, liability insurance will not pay anything. Thus, the victim's only legal recourse is often through criminal prosecution and whatever restitution the criminal court might impose as a penalty. In this article, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will take a closer look at the laws below.

What is the Legal Definition of PC 240 Assault?

The crime of assault is covered under California Penal Code 240 PC and defined as "an unlawful attempt, along with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another."

Assault makes someone fear an imminent injury, such as throwing something at them but missing. In other words, PC 240 assault as an attempt at an injury. For a prosecutor to prove PC 240 assault, they have to prove the following elements of the crime:

  • you willfully acted in a way that would probably result in the application of force to someone;
  • when you acted, you could apply force to the victim.

“Application of force” means any harmful or offensive touching, even if it's just a slight touch done offensively. Penal Code 240 PC assault is a misdemeanor offense that carries up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

What is the Legal Definition of PC 242 Battery?

The crime of battery is covered under California Penal Code 242 PC and defined as "any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon another person.”

This essentially means that the battery is a completed assault but would exclude the right of self-defense or the defense of another if the force did not unreasonably exceed the threat.

Penal Code 242 PC also makes the battery a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and up to $2,000.

What are the Enhanced Assault and Battery Charges?

Under California law, potential penalties can be increased when a defendant committed battery on a police officer. For example, Penal Code 243(b) doubles the six-month assault penalty to up to one year in jail as long as the following apply:

  • the police officer has to be engaged in performing their duties, and
  • the defendant must know or should know the victim was a police officer.

It should be noted, however, the officer does not have to be on duty or in a police uniform.  Further, Penal Code 243 PC includes several other professions that are also protected, such as:

  • firefighters,
  • emergency medical technicians,
  • probation officers,
  • animal control officers,
  • code enforcement officers.

If someone injures a peace officer, Penal Code 243(c) PC even further increases the penalty to up to three years in prison.  Under Penal Code 243(d), a serious injury to a battery victim, including a spouse, police officer, or others, increases the penalty up to four years in jail.

What are Some Other Assault Related Charges?

California law enhances punishments for types of certain assaults, such as:

  • Penal Code 241(b), assault against a parking-control officer doubles the possible fine up to $2,000 along with six months in jail;
  • Penal Code 241(c), assault against a peace officer or other professional also doubles the possible fine up to $2,000 and up to one year in jail;
  • Other Penal Code Sections include similar penalties for assaults on highway workers, school employees, and other officials.

What Are the Related California Crimes?

  • Penal Code 217.1(a) PC - assault on a public official,
  • Penal Code 243(d) PC - aggravated battery,
  • Penal Code 245 PC - assault with a deadly weapon,
  • Penal Code 245(a)(2) PC - assault with a firearm,
  • Penal Code 243(a)(4) PC - assault likely to cause great bodily injury,
  • Penal Code 244 PC - assault with caustic chemicals,
  • Penal Code 664/187 PC - attempted murder.

What Are the Defenses for Assault and Battery Charges?

If you are charged with any assault and battery, there are a wide range of effective defense strategies based on the details of the case, such as:

  • acting in self-defense,
  • not a willful act,
  • false accusation.

What might appear to be an assault or battery could have been conduct without criminal intent. Further, the details could support an argument of self-defense or defense of others.

Another defense could include an argument of unreasonable search and seizure and the right to counsel. We might argue to suppress incriminating evidence gained from violating these rights.

Defenses for Assault and Battery Charges

Criminal procedures in California offer a preliminary hearing, discovery, motions to suppress, and motions to dismiss. We might obtain exonerating evidence while challenging false and unsupportable allegations.

All crimes of violence usually carry serious penalties and collateral consequences. If accused of assault and battery, you will need experienced counsel. We might be able to negotiate for reduced charges, a case dismissal, or obtain a favorable plea bargain if guilt is not in doubt. We might seek an alternative to prosecution, including early disposition court or pretrial diversion.

Finally, through prefiling intervention, we might be able to negotiate with law enforcement and the prosecution to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges before the court process begins, known as a “DA reject.” We know the best approaches to minimize conviction risk and maximize positive outcomes. We have many trial victories to prove our ability to defend against serious criminal charges. 

Cron, Israels & Stark is located in Los Angeles County and serves people throughout Southern California. We offer a free case evaluation at 424-372-3112 or fill out our contact form.

About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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