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Penal Code 242 - Simple Battery

You often hear the legal term, “battery” coupled with his counterpart, “assault,” as in “assault and battery.” As explained in my discussion in PC 240 Simple Assault, the generalized term for a hostile aggressive physical act towards another person is most typically characterized as an assault. But, getting technical -- and that’s what parsing law is all about -- there are critical differences between assault and battery. The main distinction is that a battery occurs only when a physical contact is made; an assault does not require any actual touching. One can throw a punch, completely miss, and still be convicted of assault; however, he’d only be guilty of battery if he landed his punch. With that introduction, let’s turn to the elements of battery.


To prove you are guilty of PC 242, Simple Battery, the DA must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You willfully, and unlawfully, touched another person in a harmful or offensive manner; AND

  2. You did not act in self-defense, or in defense of someone else.


What does “willfully” mean?

Did you act willfully? Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. It doesn’t matter whether or not you intended to break the law. This element doesn’t examine the justifications of your actions; it’s a simple look at whether you were acting on your own volition. For instance, were you in the middle of an uncontrollable seizure and accidentally swung your arm? If so, you were not acting willfully. Odds are this situation does not apply to your case and the DA will be able to prove this element.

How much touching is considered a battery?

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. You do not even have to touch the person for it to be considered battery. The touching can be done indirectly by causing an object, or someone else, to touch the other person.

So what's the bottom line?

You don't have to deck someone in the face to be charged with a battery. If the contact was just offensive to another person, if it didn't occur because you accidentally tripped or something like that, then technically that person can call the cops on you. These things are case-by-case, and what's reasonable depends on the circumstances. Odds are that if a simple battery makes it to court, it's for conduct more significant than something super minor. Most the cases I've seen in court are obvious violations of the law, such as a punch.

What's the best defense?

Hands down, self-defense in the most effective defense in most cases. It may not be a feasible argument in your case, but if there's any basis to claim a confrontation was really started by the other person, or mutual in some manner, then it will be hard for the DA to convince 12 jurors to unanimously side with the alleged victim.

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