Battery causing serious bodily injury, Penal Code section 243(d), also referred to as aggravated battery, is a variation of simple battery (Penal Code section 242). The difference between the two is that with battery causing serious bodily injury your actions must have caused substantial bodily harm to the alleged victim. By the same token, in order for someone to be charged with battery causing serious bodily injury, he or she must first be in violation of Penal Code section 242, a simple battery.
Let’s review what constitutes a simple battery. In order to be found guilty of committing a battery, there are several elements that must be proven by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt:
Elements of Battery
- The person has to have harmfully or offensively touched another person
- The force was willful and unlawful.
For a successful conviction of a violation of aggravated battery Penal Code section 243(d), these two critical elements must be met. But in addition to the battery, the battery must have inflicted a serious bodily injury. So, in order to be found guilty of committing an aggravated battery, here are the elements that must be proven by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt:
Additional Element for Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury
- The person has to have committed a simple battery (including a willful, unlawful, harmful or offensive touching), AND
- The victim suffered serious bodily injury as a result of the force used.
Here is more of an in-depth explanation for these elements:
Touching – What Penal Code section 243(d) means by touching includes even the most minor physical contact with another person, be it a direct or indirect contact. Making contact with another person, including through his or her clothing, is enough for a touching. And as long as the touching or contact causes an injury, it becomes an aggravated battery. Causing another person to commit the touching on someone else or even causing an object to touch the other person is sufficient as long as an injury results.
Harmful or Offensive – Penal Code section 243(d) requires that the touching be accomplished in a harmful or offensive manner. This includes any type of contact that is mean, disrespectful, rude, angry or violent, as long as the touching results in an injury. An example where the harmful or offensive element would NOT be met would be in a situation where Dan is so happy to see his friend Al after so many years and he shakes his hand and breaks it. While this is a willful touching that caused an injury, the handshake was done in friendship and cannot be considered harmful or offensive. Another harmful or offensive touching is when you use an offensive touching to something that is connected to the person. If someone, for example, is walking with a cane, and you push that cane from underneath them without actually touching a part of their body but causing them injury, this can be an aggravated battery under PC 243(d).
Willfully - What does it mean for a person to commit an act willfully? It means that the person did the act intentionally or on purpose. Even if you didn’t mean to break the law or cause an injury to someone else, as long as you purposely committed the act you can be convicted of a battery. If Susan gets into an argument with Jessica and gets frustrated and throws an object against a wall but it strikes Jessica and injures her, this is a willful act for aggravated battery. She didn’t mean to strike her friend, but she did mean to throw the object.
Serious Bodily Injury - According to California Jury Instructions CALCRIM 925, the legal definition of serious bodily injury is a “serious impairment of physical condition”. Such an injury may include, but is not limited to, loss of consciousness, concussion, bone fracture, protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ, a wound requiring extensive suturing, and serious disfigurement. However, there can be a serious bodily injury that doesn’t fall into any of the above types and there can also be an injury that does fall into one of the types but isn’t that serious! As you can imagine, determining whether an injury is serious is not always a clear and straightforward question. Each particular case must be presented to a jury who looks at all of the evidence and decides whether or not there was serious bodily injury.
Lets say Dan and Glenn play hockey together on opposing teams. Dan’s team won and he and Glenn were outside talking after the game. Glenn was upset that Dan’s team won because he believed that Dan’s team had cheated. He storms out of the locker room and nudges Dan’s shoulder with his own, which causes Dan to lose his footing and slip on the damp locker room floor. When he falls, he hits his head on the locker and is knocked out with a concussion. Even though Dan is fine the very next day, Glenn could be charged and possibly convicted of a violation of Penal Code section 243(d) battery causing serious bodily injury if the jury finds that this concussion was a serious impairment.
Penalties for Battery
PC 243(d) battery causing serious bodily injury or aggravated battery is considered a “wobbler” crime and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on what the prosecutor decides. This means that it can wobble up to a felony or wobble down to a misdemeanor. What the prosecution looks at in making this determination is the seriousness of the facts of the case and the whether or not the defendant has a prior criminal history. Penalties will vary from case to case contingent on the specific circumstances. For instance, the penalty for a battery causing serious injury charge in a case where a gun was utilized by a previous violent offender may be different, and perhaps more serious, than that of a case in which a first time offender is being charged and the weapon is a pocket knife.
Penalties for an aggravated battery charged as a misdemeanor under Penal Code section 243(d) can include a maximum of one year in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. If convicted of a felony aggravated battery under Penal Code section 243(d), you could face felony probation, two years, three years or four years in county jail, and/or a maximum fine of $10,000. In addition to these penalties for an aggravated battery charged as a felony, you now cannot own firearms in the state of California.
Various crimes carry different sentence enhancements in certain situations wherein the normal circumstances of a specific crime has been exceeded and where the maximum penalty described within a specific Penal Code is too lenient for the crime committed. A sentence enhancement for Penal Code section 243(d) battery causing serious injury can be imposed when the jury finds that “great bodily injury” is present. The enhancement is an additional three to six years in state prison in addition to the penalty for aggravated battery.
While there is just a slight difference in the words serious bodily injury and great bodily injury, it can clearly make a huge difference in your sentence. Great bodily injury is defined as a significant or substantial physical injury and has a much higher injury threshold than serious bodily injury, which as defined above is a “serious impairment of physical condition”. In order to be convicted of a violation of Penal Code section 243(d) there must be a serious injury present such as a concussion or broken bone. However for a sentence enhancement for great bodily injury to be applicable there must be a more significant injury present.
Using the same example as above with hockey players Dan and Glenn: Glenn nudges Dan’s shoulder with his own which causes Dan to lose his footing and slip on the damp locker room floor. Here, however, in addition to Dan hitting his head and having a concussion, he also breaks his neck and is paralyzed for life. Glenn could now be charged and convicted of a violation of Penal Code section 243(d) assault causing serious bodily injury, AND receive a sentence enhancement for great bodily injury due to the magnitude of Dan’s injury.
Defenses for Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury
When adopting a defense for battery causing serious injury case Ms. Naparstek will examine the case in its entirety and evaluate the specific elements that may be lacking in the prosecutors case. There are several common defenses that can be adopted.
Self Defense - Should you cause serious bodily harm upon another person in self-defense you cannot be found guilty of a violation of Penal Code section 243(d). However, you must have had a reasonable and justifiable fear that you or someone else was in immediate danger. Self-defense also requires that you had a reasonable belief that force was necessary to defend against that immediate danger and that you used only the force necessary to defend against it.
Non-Serious Injury - You cannot be charged with a violation of Penal Code section 243(d) if the injury caused was not actually serious. While the use of force inflicted does not need to be substantial, the injury caused by the force must be serious in order to be applicable for an aggravated battery.
Accidental Battery - Another defense is if the alleged aggravated battery was committed accidently. If you did not intentionally inflict force against another causing serious bodily injury you cannot be convicted of a violation of Penal Code section 243(d). Note, however, that you can still be charged and convicted of a simple battery if you cause harm to another regardless of the lack of intention. The difference with aggravated battery is that you must have intentionally and willfully inflicted force on another with the intention of causing that harm.