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What constitutes battery in California?

Many people tend to use the terms "assault" and "battery" interchangeably because they so often go together. However, assault encompasses actions that merely threatened another individual while California law defines battery as the unlawful and willful use of violence against another person. Battery requires the perpetrator to make actual physical contact with another. 

Battery can come with an array of penalties because numerous factors impact the charges. While most battery charges end up as misdemeanors, the state can upgrade it to a felony under certain circumstances. 

Cause of serious injury

Misdemeanor battery charges can result if physical contact occurs during an argument. However, the charges can increase depending on the severity of the injury. A person may look at felony charges if the battery required that the other person go to the hospital for treatment. Courts typically refer to this as "aggravated battery." 

The victim of the battery

The state will also look at who was on the receiving end of the offense. Felony charges are on the table if a person commits battery against a "peace officer," which can constitute the following. 

  • Doctors and nurses
  • Search and rescue members
  • Animal control officers
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Firefighters
  • Lifeguards
  • Process servers
  • Traffic officers
  • Paramedics or emergency medical technicians
  • Employees within a probation department

A person may also end up with "domestic battery" charges. This happens when the offense occurs to a spouse, fiance or any dwelling cohabitant.

Legal defenses

There are numerous defenses someone can implement in a battery case. For example, a person can claim the battery was necessary as self-defense. The person could claim that he or she only implemented enough force as was necessary to prevent further harm from occurring. A person could also claim that he or she did not act willfully, such as accidentally shoving someone in a crowd to get through. 

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