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Battery (Domestic Violence)

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1. The Legal Definition of Domestic Battery

Under Penal Code 243(e), domestic battery is defined as “willfully inflicting force or violence upon an intimate partner.”

In order to convict you of this crime, the prosecutor must prove:

  1. You willfully touched another person,
  2. That touching was harmful or offensive, and
  3. The person touched was an intimate partner or former intimate partner.

A. Definition of “Willfully”

“Willfully” means you acted on purpose or willingly. You do not need to have intended to:

  1. Break the law, or
  2. Inflict injury on someone else.

B. Definition of “Harmful or Offensive”

You can be convicted of this offense, even if you didn’t actually “hurt” the other person.

“Harmful or offensive” touching doesn’t have to cause injury or pain, as long as it was done in a rude or angry manner.

In fact, you do not even need to touch someone else’s body in order to be guilty of domestic battery.

Defendants have been convicted for touching something “attached to or closely connected with” the person (like a glass of wine in their hand).

C. Definition of “Intimate Partner”

The crime of domestic battery can only be committed against an intimate partner. For purposes of Penal Code 243(e), this means:

  1. A spouse or former spouse,
  2. A person with whom you are cohabiting (i.e., someone you are living with),
  3. A fiancé or fiancée,
  4. A person who is the parent of your child, and
  5. A person with whom you have, or have previously had, a “dating relationship.”

Several of these relationships (spouse, fiance, other parent) are easy to prove.

But sometimes it can be difficult to establish whether two people were actually cohabiting, or involved in a dating relationship.

Note: for purposes of California domestic battery law, it is possible for a defendant to cohabit with more than one person at the same time.

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1. Penalties for Domestic Battery

California domestic battery is a misdemeanor. If convicted, you may face the following penalties:

  1. Up to one (1) year in county jail,
  2. A maximum two thousand dollar ($2,000) fine, and
  3. Misdemeanor (court) probation.

A. Probation Conditions

It is common for defendants convicted of domestic battery to receive misdemeanor (also known as court) probation.

If this occurs, you will be required to complete a minimum one-year batterer’s treatment program.

Also, if you receive probation, the court may decide that instead of a $2,000 fine you must pay:

  1. Up to five thousand dollars ($5,000) to a battered woman’s shelter, and
  2. Any reasonable expenses that the victim occurred as a result of the offense, including the cost of counseling.

B. Second or Subsequent Conviction

If you are convicted of Penal Code 243(e) for a second or subsequent time, you will be required to serve at least 48 hours in county jail.

The only way around this requirement is if you can convince the judge that there is “good cause” why you should not serve that time.

C. Immigration Consequences

Non-citizen defendants should also be aware of the potential immigration consequences of a domestic battery conviction.

Because domestic battery is a crime of domestic violence, it is a so-called “deportable crime ” under federal immigration law.

This means that—even if you are here legally—you may face deportation proceedings after a conviction for this offense.

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1. Defenses to Domestic Battery

There are a number of legal defenses to domestic battery. Below are some of the most common:

A. Self-Defense/Defense of Others

If you honestly believe that you or another person is about to be seriously injured, you are allowed to use reasonable force to protect yourself.

In order to assert this defense, you must:

  1. Have an honest and reasonable belief that bodily injury is about to be inflicted on you or another, and
  2. Only counter with as much force as is reasonably necessary to ward off the injury.

B. Lack of Intent/Accident

If you didn’t “willfully” intend to injure another, you aren’t guilty of domestic battery under California law.

You must have the “intent” to commit a violent injury upon the victim.

Examples of cases that lack “intent”:

  1. Inadvertently bumping into someone while arguing, or
  2. Unintentionally spilling coffee on a partner or former partner.

C. Victim Gave Consent

Consent typically applies in situations where one knowingly engages in a physical or contact activity.

However, you must abide by reasonable expectations as to the appropriate level of touching required for the activity.

D. False Charges/ Insufficient Evidence

False accusations are frequently charged in assault cases where there are no injuries or eyewitnesses.

Because there is no requirement that the alleged victim suffers an injury, assault is a crime that is often falsely reported out of anger, revenge or jealousy.

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