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How is Battery Defined?

California Penal Code section 242 defines battery as “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.” In order to be found guilty of the crime, it must be shown that:

  1. You willfully

  2. Touched another person

  3. The touching was done in harmful or offensive manner


All willful means is that you acted willingly or on purpose.  It doesn’t mean however that you meant to hurt the other person or trying to break the law.

For example: Say you tripped and fell into another person, a defense to this crime could be that you did not willfully touch the other person because you tripped.

Touched Another Person

The element requiring a touching of another person requires a mere physical contact. You do not have to have injured the victim. The slightest touching can be a battery. A battery also occurs when the touching occurs using an object or through the clothing of the victim.

For example: Spitting or hitting another person with a stick would both be considered the touching of another person.

Harmful or Offensive Manner

When the prosecutor is trying to prove this element, they are going to first focus on the harmful aspect.  With most simple battery cases, there is little to no injury because an injury may charged under battery with serious bodily injury.  However, if the nature of the injury is small, the prosecutor may try to prove this element through the minor injury.  A minor injury will often be a minor scratch, bruise, or redness of the skin.

An offensive manner is a touching that is done in a rude, violent, or angry manner. Again, there doesn’t have to be an injury in order for it to be offensive.  This is often where a battery involving spitting is going to fall under. 

If the prosecution can’t show an injury or that the touching was done in an offensive manner, then all the elements are not satisfied and you must be found not guilty.

Penalties for Simple Battery

Simple battery is a misdemeanor crime in California.  The potential penalties will typically include misdemeanor probation, up to six months in the county jail, and/or a fine up to $2,000.

If you are convicted of PC 242, you will also become ineligible to possess or purchase any firearms for ten years.  If you do so, you can be charged with another crime, in violation of Penal Code section 29805.

Defenses to Battery Charge

One of the best ways to defend against a battery charge is to assert the claim of self-defense. Once the claim is asserted, and some evidence provided, the prosecution then has the burden to prove that you did not act in self-defense.

Self-defense applies when:

  1. You reasonably believe that you or someone else was in imminent danger of suffering bodily harm or unlawful touching;

  2. You reasonably believed that the immediate us of force was necessary to defend against that danger; and

  3. You used only the amount of force that was reasonably necessary to defend yourself.


The danger you are facing must be immediate, it cannot have been a future threat of harm, regardless of the severity of the threat.

The belief that you were in imminent harm must also be reasonable.  We judge this by the standard of the “reasonable person.”  A reasonable person is what is known as a legal fiction. It is a person who reacts as we expect them to react in the same situation.  The reasonable person does not suffer from any kind of mental defect but may have the same physical capabilities as the person asserting the claim of self-defense.

Lastly, the amount of force used was that which was reasonably necessary to defend yourself. 

For example: Let’s say David and Bobby are in a verbal argument.  Bobby makes a move to punch David, but David dodges the punch, pulls a gun and shoots and injures Bobby.  David will have trouble claiming self-defense, even though Bobby attacked him because David’s response was unreasonable to the situation.

Another defense available to the crime of simple battery is consent.  If a person agrees to engage in an activity where the is a risk of battery, then they cannot later claim to have suffered a battery as a result of the activity.  This is often used in situations with sports games.  Consent can also apply to a situation where you and the other person both agreed to engage in a physical altercation.  If two people agree to engage in a fight, we don’t allow one person to later claim, most likely the loser of the fight, to be a victim of a battery. However, you should be aware that if you engage in conduct beyond the agreement, you may be charged.

For example:  Tom and Jack agree to engage in a fistfight. During the fight, Tom has gained the upper edge so Jack grabs a nearby golf club and starts to strike Tom with it.  Jack will be charged with battery because Jack’s conduct went beyond the agreement to engage in a fight.

I Was Provoked!

When someone has been charged with battery one of the first things they often say is “he provoked me”.   This is not a defense to battery.


No matter how offensive or provoking, words are not an excuse for a crime in the eyes of the law.  There are very limited situations in which words may justify provocation under the law.  In 99% of cases, there is no such justification.

It is better to walk away than to face the loss of your freedom and rights over words.

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