California Domestic Battery Laws, Charges and Punishment

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The California legal system takes domestic battery allegations very seriously. In most cases where there is any evidence that domestic battery has occurred, the police will arrest the person suspected of the crime. There are several important sections of the penal code in California that address domestic battery. One of the most important is PC 243 e 1. Other important statutes include:

  • Penal Code Section 422 Criminal Threats
  • Penal Code Section 166 Violation of a Protective Order
  • Penal Code Section 646.9 Stalking
  • Penal Code Section 136.1(b)(1) Dissuading a Witness from Reporting a Crime

It is common for the alleged victim to not want to prosecute the accused. But in most cases, California’s domestic battery statute requires the prosecutor to proceed with the case.

Legal Definition of Domestic Battery in California Penal Code 243(e)(1)

To be guilty of domestic battery, the behavior must fit the legal definition of the crime. This means the prosecutor must prove that all of the facts of the crime are true. Penal Code 243 e 1 states that to be convicted of domestic battery, you must have willfully touched the other person; touching was offensive or harmful; and the person you touched was an intimate or former intimate partner.

‘Willfully’ under the law means that you acted in a purposeful way. You do not need to have wanted to break the law or to hurt another person to be convicted of this crime.

One of the most unusual aspects of the California domestic battery law is that you do not even have to have hurt the other person to be convicted. “Harmful or offensive touching’ does not need to have caused pain or injury. If it was done in a disrespectful or angry way, it can be a crime.

More Specifics of California Penal Code 243(e)(1)

This section of the penal code contains the definition and punishments for simple misdemeanor domestic battery. Under this domestic battery law, the legal definition of domestic battery is any unlawful or willful touching that is offensive or harmful that is committed against the following:

  • The spouse or former spouse of the defendant
  • The cohabitant or former cohabitant of the defendant
  • The fiance or former fiance of the defendant
  • A person that the defendant has had a dating relationship with
  • The mother or father of the defendant’s child

The defendant may be convicted of domestic battery or spousal battery even if the victim was not injured. All that is required for a conviction is for the prosecution to prove the defendant used force or violence against him or her. This distinguishes domestic battery in California state law from the related offense of corporal injury on a spouse. This requires the victim to have suffered some type of physical injury.

Some examples of behavior that could lead to you being convicted under PC 243 e 1:

  • A man pushes a woman during a fight
  • A man who is frustrated with his ex-fiance, grabs her blouse and tears it
  • A lesbian teen is angry with her partner and pulls her hair and scratches her arm

Domestic battery is defined as a misdemeanor under California law and can be punished by up to one year in jail and a fine of $2000. However, the court may also decide that instead of the $2000 find that you pay up to $5000 to a women’s shelter and/or any reasonable expenses that the victim incurred due to the crime.

Also, if you are convicted under this law for a second or third time, and you get probation, you still must serve at least 48 hours in jail. The only way to get around this requirement is if you are able to convince the judge there is a legitimate cause why you should not serve the time.

Arrest for Domestic Battery Under California Penal Code 243(e)(1)

Bail amounts for domestic battery under this statute tend to range from $20,000 to $100,000. This depends upon whether the charge is filed as a misdemeanor or felony. It also depends upon there are enhancements involved, such as the use of a weapon or great bodily injury. It is more common today to release suspects on their own recognizance, which means they do not have to post bond. This is only for minor domestic battery incidents with little to no injury.

However, the police can issue an emergency order of protection that is valid for up to 72 hours for the victim. This means that contact by the accused with the alleged victim can result in a charge of violating a protective order. If the alleged victim lets the emergency order of protection to expire by not filing a restraining order, the accused can contact the victim. But most state prosecutors will ask the judge to put a new restraining order on the victim’s behalf during the first court appearance.

What To Expect in California Court on Domestic Battery Charge

If the accused does not post bail in 48 hours, he must be seen by the judge. If you do post bail, the arraignment date will occur between one and four weeks out. If the victim of the alleged crime fails to renew the restraining order, the defendant may contact the victim.

But the prosecutor will usually ask the judge to put a new restraining order on the victim’s behalf. Most judges agree to do so, although there may be resistance by the alleged victim. In some cases, the judge may allow the victim and defendant to have what is called ‘peaceful contact.’ This allows the parties to live together and see children, as long as the accused does not harass the other party.

In a felony domestic battery case in California, the victim does not need to testify at the initial hearing. The preliminary hearing is also known as the probable cause hearing to decide if the prosecution has sufficient evidence to bring the case to a felony trial court. The victim need not testify per California Proposition 115.

Legal Defenses To Domestic Battery in California

There are several potentially effective defenses to this crime in California:

  • You believed that you or another person was in danger of suffering bodily harm or was going to be touched in an unlawful manner
  • You believed that using force was necessary to defend against danger
  • You did not use more force than was necessary to defend against the danger

Also, if you can show there was a lack of willfulness to touch the other person, you cannot be convicted of domestic battery in California. For example, if a woman and her boyfriend are in a fight in their apartment and the man throws a glass against the wall and a shard hits the woman, it can be argued this is not domestic battery. There was not a willful act to hit the woman with the glass.

Another possible defense against this charge is a false accusation. It is common for people to be wrongly arrested for spousal battery. Sometimes the allegation is made based upon anger, jealousy or a desire for revenge.


  • California Domestic Battery Laws. (n.d.). Retrieved from