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Mar 18, 2019

Battery Felony Laws in California

Battery felony laws in California are serious offenses that can come with severe repercussions. However, from a legal perspective, battery is a nuanced crime. As such, if you’ve been charged with battery in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, or anywhere in the Bay Area, it’s important to understand the distinctions between assault and battery, and between simple battery and other types of battery.


Assault vs. Battery

Assault and battery” is an often-used phrase, yet under California law, assault is one crime and battery is another crime. In the simplest terms, assault is the attempt to violently injure another person, while battery is actually using force on someone else – whether or not the force resulted in an actual injury. Imagine this scenario: William and James are in an Oakland bar and William pulls back his fist to hit James. If James ducks and avoids the punch, then William can be charged with assault because he attempted to injure James. If William’s fist connects and he hits James, then William can be charged with battery – whether or not James was actually hurt.


Different Types of Battery

Before talking about battery felony laws in California, let’s follow through with the example of the Oakland bar scuffle between William and James. If William hits James and is charged with battery, then William will likely be charged with simple battery. In California, simple battery is a misdemeanor and carries maximum penalties of six months in jail and a fine of $2,000.


Battery with Enhanced Penalties 

Let’s say that James is a security guard working at the Oakland bar when William hits him. If William knows or should have known that James is working security, then the penalty for a battery conviction increases to up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

The California Penal Code enhances the misdemeanor battery penalty for a host of different types of victims, including a:

  • Peace officer
  • Custodial officer
  • Firefighter
  • EMT
  • Lifeguard
  • Security officer
  • Custody assistant
  • Process server
  • Traffic officer
  • Code enforcement officer
  • Animal control officer
  • Search and rescue member
  • Probation department employee
  • Doctor or nurse providing emergency care outside of a healthcare facility
  • Highway worker

California law stipulates that the battery penalty increases if William knows or should have known that James is fulfilling one of the roles listed above.

There are other circumstances for which the enhanced misdemeanor penalty applies. For example, if William hits James on a Contra Costa County school property, in a Bay Area park, or on Oakland hospital grounds, a conviction can carry a penalty of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. The same holds true if James is a an elder or an adult with physical or mental disabilities, or if James is a school employee and William punches him in retaliation for an action James took in his job. Likewise, if James is a service member and William hits James because he is in the military, then the enhanced penalty applies.


Battery as a Wobbler Offense

Injury Wobbler: If James is injured when William punches him, William can then be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony battery charge. That’s because simple battery becomes a “wobbler” when it’s committed against the people whose roles are listed above and they’re injured in the process. For example, a prosecutor might opt to charge William with felony battery if he has prior convictions for battery or other violent crimes. Because wobblers involve prosecutorial discretion, it’s doubly important to have a Bay Area criminal defense attorney who can advocate on your behalf. A seasoned attorney may be able to have a felony battery charge reduced to a misdemeanor – or to have the charges dropped altogether. A misdemeanor conviction can lead to up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000, but a felony conviction can lead to 16 months, or two to three years in state prison.

Police Officer Wobbler: What if James is in his police officer’s uniform and moonlighting as a security guard? If James is injured by the punch, then William can be fined up to $10,000 for a battery conviction and can be sentenced to serve up to one year in county jail (for a misdemeanor), or 16 months, or two to three years in state prison (for a felony).

Aggravated Battery Wobbler: Aggravated battery is also a wobbler. If James and William are just two guys in a bar and William’s punch causes James to have a concussion, to fall and break his arm, or to suffer another serious bodily injury, then William can face felony charges and a two-, three-, or four-year prison sentence if convicted.

Battery felony laws in California also say that “gassing” a peace officer or detention facility employee is considered aggravated battery. In other words, if William is a prisoner who throws excrement and bodily fluids onto James, who is a prison guard, then William can receive a year in county jail or a state prison term of two, three, or four years.

Public Transportation Wobbler: If James is driving a bus when William hauls off and hits him, then William is likely to be charged with misdemeanor battery but face a fine of up to $10,000 and up to a year in county jail. If James is injured, though, the crime becomes a wobbler. A felony conviction carries the enhanced fine and a sentence of 16 months, or two to three years in state prison. This type of battery charge applies when the victim is a transportation agent, a  passenger, or an operator of a:

  • Bus
  • Taxicab
  • Streetcar
  • Cable car
  • Trackless trolley
  • Uber or Lyft car
  • Limousine for hire
  • School bus

Juror Wobbler: Battery felony laws in California say that those involved in legal actions who commit battery against a juror or alternate juror face a wobbler. If James is empaneled on a jury hearing William’s case – whether it’s a civil case or a criminal case – and William hits James, then William can be convicted of battery. A misdemeanor conviction leads to a fine of up to $5,000 and up to a year in county jail, while a felony conviction results in the same fine and a state prison term of 16 months, or two to three years.


Sexual Battery

Battery felony laws in California include laws prohibiting sexual battery. Sexual battery charges can be filed in a number of circumstances. If William touches James’ intimate areas without his consent – either directly or through clothing – then William may be charged with misdemeanor sexual battery, which can result in a fine of up to $2,000 and up to six months in county jail. If William is James’ employer, the maximum fine increases to $3,000.

However, if William touches James’ intimate areas in a sexual manner when James is unlawfully restrained (either by William or by an accomplice), then sexual battery charges become a wobbler. The same holds true if the sexual touching occurs when James is in a hospital for medical treatment or if he is seriously disabled or medically incapacitated. Likewise, if James is unconscious and William engages in sexual touching under the pretense that it is medically necessary, then William can be charged with a wobbler. If convicted as a misdemeanor, the penalty for sexual battery is up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000. In contrast, a felony conviction carries a fine up to $10,000 and a prison sentence of two, three, or four years.


Battery Against an Intimate Partner

California law enumerates a different type of punishment for those who are accused of intimate partner battery. An intimate partner is defined broadly, and includes your spouse or fiancée, your ex-spouse or fiancée, the parent of your child, the partner you’re living with, or the person you’re dating or you’ve previously dated. If James and William are married and William hits James, then William can receive the misdemeanor penalty of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000, or he can be granted probation or his sentence can be suspended. If William is given probation or his sentence is suspended, he’s required to complete a batterer’s treatment program and might have to pay up to $5,000 to a battered women’s shelter and reimburse James for counseling and medical expenses.


Battery in a Sports Setting

Sporting matches can get heated for both players and fans. California law makes battery against a sports official punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and up to one year in county jail. For this provision of the law to apply, the battery must take place immediately prior to, during, or immediately after a sporting event. The event can be any organized sport, ranging from interscholastic games to professional sporting events.

California’s assault and battery laws also specify that it’s an infraction to throw something onto the playing area in order to distract a player or interfere with play, or to walk onto the court or field while the sport is being played. Both are considered infractions and are punishable by fines of up to $250.


Battery Felonies

Battery Against Custodial Officers: Battery felony laws in California dictate that battery against a custodial officer is a felony punishable by 16 months, or two to three years in state prison. A custodial officer isn’t the same as a peace officer, but instead is an employee of a county law enforcement agency in counties having populations of 425,000 or less. Typically, they are responsible for prisoner custody and tasks like serving court orders and warrants in the local jail. So, if William is in a small county jail where James is a custodial officer, and William punches James when he serves William with a court order, then William can be charged with felony battery.

Using Corrosive Substances: If instead of punching James, William threw acid, gasoline, or another flammable or caustic chemical on James, then William faces felony battery charges. A conviction carries a state prison term of two, three, or four years.


Defenses Against Battery Charges

There are three components of battery felony laws in California: 1) willfulness; 2) touching someone, either with your person or with an object; and 3) doing so in a harmful or offensive manner. An experienced Bay Area criminal defense attorney can mount a vigorous defense to combat any or all of those components. For example, your Contra Costa County lawyer might argue that you acted in self-defense or that the force you used was the minimum amount needed to defend yourself or someone else. In our Oakland bar example, perhaps William punched James because James had shoved William’s friend and William was simply trying to protect his friend. Or, your Bay area lawyer might put forth a defense that says that it was an accident, and that you didn’t act willfully. If William accidentally bumped into James, which caused him to fall and hit his head on a barstool, then William wouldn’t be guilty of battery.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your battery charges or the battery charges faced by a loved one, time is of the essence. It’s crucial to contact a knowledgeable Bay Area criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The sooner they can advocate on your behalf, the more impactful they will be. Their help can mean the difference between misdemeanor and felony charges – or having the charges dropped altogether. Should your case go to trial, an experienced Alameda County lawyer can create a defense that causes reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors. Remember, battery felony laws in California are complex, and it’s in your best interest to retain at attorney early in the legal process.

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