Domestic Battery Penal Code Section 243(e)(1)

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 What are the penalties for Penal Code 243(e)(1) domestic battery?

This offense is a misdemeanor, and the maximum penalties include:

  • a $2,000 fine;
  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to six monthes; or
  • both a fine and imprisonment.

The court also has the option of granting probation, or suspending the imposition of a jail sentence. However, the Code specifies that if the judge makes that decision, then there must be a condition that the defendant participate in and successfully complete a ‘batterer’s treatment program’ for at least one year (or more). If there is no such program available, the court can specify another suitable program.

 

What evidence will the Prosecutor use to try to prove a charge of domestic battery against me?

If you are facing a charge of domestic battery under California Penal Code 243(e)(1), the Prosecutor will need evidence to prove the following elements beyond reasonable doubt:

  • that you willfully touched the alleged victim in a harmful or offense manner;
  • that you and the alleged victim were in one of the required types of domestic relationship; and, in some cases,
  • that you did not act in self-defense, or in the defense of another.
  • Willfully touched in a harmful or offense manner

An act is done ‘willfully’ when it is done willingly, or on purpose. So, you cannot be guilty of this offense if the touching was an accident. However, even slight touching can be enough to commit a battery is it is done in a way that is harmful or offensive – for example, done in a rude or angry manner. Further, the touching can be through the other person’s clothing, or by using an object, and it does not have to cause physical pain or injury of any kind.

For example, imagine a husband and wife are having an argument in the kitchen while the wife is washing the dishes. She picks up a rolling pin and holds it against the side of her husband’s head, which does not hurt him at all, but says, “If you don’t shut up, I’m going to knock your head in”. That kind of touching is both willful and offensive, and would satisfy this element of the offense of domestic battery.

 

Required domestic relationship

Because this charge relates to battery of someone with whom the defendant is in a domestic relationship with, the Prosecutor must prove that relationship. The kinds of relationship that offense applies to are as follows:

  • the parties are married, or used to be married;
  • the parties are cohabitants, or used to be cohabitants;
  • the parties are engaged, or used to be engaged;
  • the parties are in a dating relationship, or used to be in one; or
  • the parties have a child together.

‘Cohabitants’ does not simply mean people who live together – for example, you cannot be charged with domestic battery on your roommate. The law provides that a cohabiting relationship refers to “two unrelated persons living together for a substantial period of time, resulting in some permanency of the relationship.”[10] Several factors can be used to determine if a cohabiting relationship exists, or existed, including:

  • sexual relations between the parties while sharing the same residence,
  • sharing of income or expense,
  • joint use or ownership of property,
  • the parties holding themselves out as husband and wife, or domestic partners,
  • the continuity of the relationship, and
  • the length of the relationship.

‘Dating relationship’ means “frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affection or sexual involvement independent of financial considerations.”[11]

 

Did not act in self-defense, or defense of another

The Prosecutor only has to prove this element in cases where the defendant raises the issue of self-defense – this is, where the defendant admits to touching the other person, but argues that they did so to defend themselves or someone else. Summit Defense has defended many cases where someone was accused of domestic battery when they were actually acting in self-defense. We explain more about how this defense can be used in domestic violence cases, below.

For example, consider the scenario above where the wife is holding the rolling pin to her husband’s head. The husband then pushes his wife’s hand away forcefully. If the husband was actually afraid that his wife would hurt him with the rolling pin, he would likely be able to argue that, when he pushed her hand away, he was acting in self-defense – and, therefore, not guilty of domestic battery.