California Domestic Battery Laws – Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC

January 14, 2018

Domestic battery[1] is charged under California Penal Code 243(e)(1) pc making it unlawful to physically touch another person in a harmful or offensive manner.[2]  Under this statute, your accuser must be your spouse, a cohabitant, a parent of your child, former spouse, fiancé or fiancée, or a person you’re currently dating or previously had a dating relationship with.  In other words, the underlying charge is simple battery but carried out against another person listed above.

It does not require actual or visible injury and simply grabbing the other person’s arm or pulling on their shirt in a rude or angry manner without their consent may suffice to charge you with this offense.  Additionally, even if the alleged victim does not wish to press charges, the government may still pursue prosecution.


What is the Government Required to Prove?

Under CALCRIM 841[3], to prove someone is guilty of Domestic battery charges under PC 243(e)(1), the government is required to prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You willfully and unlawfully touched another person in a harmful or offensive manner;
  1. The other person is [your spouse, former spouse, fiancé, fiancée, cohabitant, parent of your child, or dating partner];
  1. You were not acting in self-defense or defending someone else.

What are the Legal Defenses to Penal Code 243(e)(1) pc?

  1. No Dating Relationship

To be clear, a “dating relationship” is formally defined as a frequent, intimate associations mainly characterized by “the expectation of affectual or sexual involvement, independent of financial considerations.”[4]  Under this theory, the government must prove you harbored a dating relationship with your accuser to characterize the offense as “domestic” versus simply battery.  Having a long term friendship or being a close colleague will not suffice under this theory unless the government can show there was an “expectation” of the relationship to have affectual or sexual involvement.  Note however, the statute does not require you to be in a current dating relationship with your accuser, but only that you previously had a dating relationship with your accuser.

  • CASE EXAMPLE: People v. Upsher (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 1311 provides an example of what constitutes a dating relationship and whether the defendant was properly convicted of committing domestic battery against the victim while in “..a dating relationship.” The court held that there was sufficient evidence of a dating relationship between defendant and the victim, even though there was no evidence of the duration of the relationship or of what the parties expected of each other.  The formal definition of a dating relationship (see above) does not require increasing exclusive interest” or that the relationship ensure for any particular length of time, hence, it does not preclude a new dating relationship.  In upholding its ruling, the court considered “…in addition to ‘my lady friend,’ and ‘my girl,’ defendant referred to the victim by nickname, and once, by mistake, as ‘my wife.’  The victim ran from defendant’s house, calling for help and pursued by defendant, at 4:30 a.m.  When a bystander attempted to intervene, defendant told him to mind his own business, permitting an inference that defendant considered the relationship between himself and the victim to be private and personal.  Defendant stated that he had a domestic violence prior and feared an additional charge of domestic violence, indicating that he knew that the nature of his relationship with the victim was sufficient to sustain the charge.”
  1. Not Cohabitants

Absent your accuser being your dating partner, fiancé, fiancée, spouse, former spouse, or parent to your child, the government must show that you were a cohabitant with your accuser.  The term cohabitants means “two unrelated adults living together for a substantial period of time, resulting in some permanency of the relationship.”  Factors the court will consider are, but not limited to, 1) the sexual relations between the parties while sharing the same residence; 2) sharing of income or expenses; 3) joint use or ownership of property; 4) the parties’ holding themselves out as (husband and wife/ domestic partners); 5) the continuity of the relationship; and 6) the length of the relationship.  Furthermore, a permanent address is not necessary to establish cohabitation for the purposes of this statute and can be found even in an unstable or transitory living conditions.

  • CASE EXAMPLE: In People v. Taylor (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 11, the evidence that a domestic violence victim had been dating the defendant for 5 months, that she and the defendant were living together in the defendant’s car at the time of the offense, and that she was 10 weeks pregnant with the defendant’s child, established that the victim was a cohabitant of the defendant, as required for a domestic violence conviction even though the defendant and the victim sometimes lived separately with other relatives.[5]
  • CASE EXAMPLE: In People v. Belton (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 432, the evidence was sufficient to show that the defendant and the victim had been cohabitants even though the defendant argued that his two-month relationship with the victim was neither permanent nor long enough to qualify as cohabitation.[6] At trial, the victim testified that she and the defendant lived together at a house and that, after they were expelled from the house, they continued to live together in friends’ houses, motels, or a car, and the victim and defendant shared their meals and shopped together on occasion.  Additionally, the victim paid their living expenses and both had a sexual relationship during their time together.
  1. Lack of Willfulness

Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you acted willfully is a key element to this offense.  In other words, the government must prove that you committed the act which resulted to the direct application of force to your accuser on purpose.  The law does not require that intended to cause harm to another but only that intentionally performed the act.  However, if the force to the other person resulted from your accidental conduct or by misfortune, then you did not act willfully as required under statute.  For example, you slipped in the kitchen causing you to fall inadvertently striking your accuser.  In that case, you never willfully committed the act of physical touching because it was merely a response attempting to regain your balance.

  • CASE EXAMPLE: People v. Lara (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 102 stands for the proposition that a defendants criminal negligent conduct will not suffice to support a conviction for battery.[7] There, the defendant and his girlfriend had argued, and the defendant had begun to leave.  As the defendant turned around to face his girlfriend, his hand struck his girlfriend’s nose, breaking it.  The girlfriend later gave a statement and testified that the defendant had possibly hit her by accident. As a long standing rule, battery is a general intent crime which is not accomplished when a defendant has a lesser state of mind – i.e., “criminal negligence.”  Furthermore, the court reiterated that even “reckless” conduct alone does not constitute a sufficient basis for battery.  Therefore, because the defendant did not act intentionally but with criminal negligence, the court found that it does not suffice to warrant a conviction for battery.
  1. Self-Defense

Both men and women can be violators and victims of PC 243(e)(1).  In other words, a man can act in self-defense against a female and vice versa.  Furthermore, a claim of self-defense also carries a defense of others, meaning you were defending someone else from the force or injury.  Self-defense conduct is assessed under reasonableness.  Moreover, did you apply reasonable force to protect yourself or another?  For example, if your aggressor was about to push you, and you respond by grabbing their arms to prevent physical touching, then you were responding in a reasonable fashion to prevent unlawful contact.  Another example maybe that you reasonably believed your spouse was unreasonably physically disciplining your child and you responded by pushing your spouse away to prevent harm to the child.  In that instance, you were acting in the defense of another from physical harm.

  1. False Accusations

Little do people realize how easy it is to file a police report against someone alleging a crime that never occurred.  In that unfortunate instance, you could find yourself arrested for penal code 243(e)(1) despite it never occurring.  There are a number of reasons why someone would falsely report you in committing a crime.  For example, your former boyfriend or girlfriend could be seeking revenge for cheating on them.  Or your former spouse could be alleging a crime in an effort to increase their chances of gaining full child custody by showing that you’re a dangerous person.  If you’re being false accused, the first step to mounting a defense is to retain counsel early and then start preserving all critical evidence – i.e., photographs, text messages, phone call details, witness statements, etc.  It’s important your attorney find all possible reasons why your accuser to falsely accuse you of committing this charge to create doubt in your accuser’s credibility.

  1. Miranda Violation

Your incriminating statements to police can be the most damaging evidence against you.  The government may utilize your statements to prove you had a dating relationship, you were your accuser’s spouse, or use your statements to prove their theory of the case.  In the event the government intends to use your statements, the admissibility of your statements must be carefully examined.  For instance, if you were subjected to custodian interrogation without being admonished of your Miranda Rights, then your statements will be deemed inadmissible in the government’s case.[8]  Contrary to popular belief, a Miranda violation will not automatically result in the case being dismissed unless the government needs to use your statements to prove their case.  But suppressing your statements may make it more burdensome and tedious for the government to prove their case against you.

Punishment & Sentencing

A conviction for penal code 243(e)(1) pc carries up to 1 year in the county jail and a fine up to $2,000.  The court will usually place you on a period of probation for 3 years and order you to participate and complete a 1 year domestic violence counseling program.  In addition, you will be ordered to pay restitution in the event your accuser suffered any financial loss.  Furthermore, since domestic battery is categorically a domestic violence crime, it may consequently carry a life-time restriction from you owning or possessing a firearm.  A second conviction for this offense requires you to be imprisoned for 48 hours in the county jail.  However, the court may elect not to impose this mandatory jail sentence on a showing of good cause.[9]

Contact Us to Schedule a Free Consultation

If you’ve been arrested, charged, or are under investigation for domestic battery under Penal Code 243(e)(1) pc, contact a Orange County domestic violence lawyer at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers for a free confidential consultation concerning your rights and defenses.  Our office represents those facing criminal charges in Orange County, Los Angeles, Ventura, San Diego, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties.

Related Charges




Legal References:

[1] Domestic Battery is also known as “Spousal Battery”.

[2] California Penal Code 243(e)(1) defined: “When a battery is committed against a spouse, a person with whom the defendant is cohabiting, a person who is the parent of the defendant’s child, former spouse, fiancé, or fiancée, or a person with whom the defendant currently has, or has previously had, a dating or engagement relationship, the battery is punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. If probation is granted, or the execution or imposition of the sentence is suspended, it shall be a condition thereof that the defendant participate in, for no less than one year, and successfully complete, a batterer’s treatment program, as described in Section 1203.097, or if none is available, another appropriate counseling program designated by the court. However, this provision shall not be construed as requiring a city, a county, or a city and county to provide a new program or higher level of service as contemplated by Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution.”

[3] CALCRIM No. 841:

[4] See PC 243(f)(10): (“Dating relationship” means frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affectional or sexual involvement independent of financial considerations.”)




[8] See Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436.

[9] See PC 243(e)(3) (“Upon conviction of a violation of this subdivision, if probation is granted or the execution or imposition of the sentence is suspended and the person has been previously convicted of a violation of this subdivision or Section 273.5, the person shall be imprisoned for not less than 48 hours in addition to the conditions in paragraph (1). However, the court, upon a showing of good cause, may elect not to impose the mandatory minimum imprisonment as required by this subdivision and may, under these circumstances, grant probation or order the suspension of the execution or imposition of the sentence.”)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

four − 4 =

In the Media

Contact Us For A Free Case Evaluation

(949) 625-4487
4000 MacArthur Blvd. East Tower Suite 615 Newport Beach, CA 92660

Contact Us

24 Hour Response Time