Police and prosecutors treat offenses against individuals severely in California. A battery causing severe bodily injury is one of these crimes. Being convicted of this offense could have substantial repercussions affecting you for your entire lifetime. You may face hefty fines plus victim restitution and mandatory time in jail. Battery with severe injuries mostly occurs during domestic household disputes with cohabitants or during bar arguments and fights with friends.

If you have been charged with this crime, it is critical to contact an expert criminal defense lawyer who may help you lower your charges or have them dismissed entirely. For Los Angeles, CA residents, reach out to attorneys at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm. Our lawyers have a deep understanding of the California criminal laws, how the legal system works, and how prosecutors charge different types of cases. They will thoroughly evaluate your situation and help you fight your charges accordingly. In this article, we look at California law on assault with serious bodily injury.

The Legal Meaning of Battery with Serious Bodily Injury

Battery with serious physical injury is also called an aggravated battery. It is defined under PC 243d. The lawful meaning of this crime is quite simple. For a person to be convicted of it, the following facts have to be true: he/she must have committed a battery and that the battery must have caused the victim a severe physical injury. Note that from these requirements, a battery is one of the necessary elements of aggravated battery. Battery, as per the California law, means touching another person willfully and in an offensive or harmful manner.  Let’s explain these elements in detail to have a better understanding of what they mean.

  1. Touching Another Person

The legal meaning of battery causing severe physical injury only requires you to make bodily contact with someone else, including his or her clothing. Even a minor touching, as long as it results in an injury, qualifies as an aggravated battery.

  1. Willfully

For Penal Code (PC) 243d purposes, you touch another person willfully in case you did that on purpose or willfully. You do not need to have had the intention to violate the law, hurt the victim, or gain an advantage.

This is a critical point about an aggravated battery. You do not need to have the intention to harm the alleged victim, in reality, to be convicted of this crime. You only require to have had the intent to touch him/her in an offensive or harmful manner.

  1. In an Offensive or Harmful Way

Any touching could qualify to be a battery causing severe bodily injury if you do it in an offensive or harmful manner. By this, it means, for instance, touching that’s rude, violent, disrespectful, or angry.

In case you were only being affectionate or playful and hugged or pushed a person but caused them harm, you shouldn’t be convicted of PC 243d, aggravated battery. This is because the contact you made wasn’t disrespectful, violent, or angry.

Elements of PC 243d, Battery Causing Severe Bodily Injury

Generally, for a prosecutor to convict you of battery causing severe physical injury under Penal Code 243d, he/she has to prove the following facts beyond any reasonable doubt:

  • You willfully touched the victim in an offensive or harmful way
  • The victim sustained a severe bodily injury due to your touching
  • You weren’t acting in yours or another person’s self-defense

The Legal Meaning of a Severe Injury

The primary element of battery causing severe physical harm is a requirement that the alleged victim sustains a severe bodily injury or injuries. Severe physical harm means any substantial impairment of another person’s physical condition. It’s not a must that the supposed victim seeks medical care for the injury/injuries he/she has sustained.

A physical injury that is considered severe might include but aren’t limited to concussions, loss of consciousness, bone fractures, severe disfigurement, impairment, or protracted loss of a function of a body organ or part, and wounds that need extensive suturing.

However, under the aggravated battery statute of California, whether a particular injury is, in reality, severe physical harm is usually a matter for the judge to determine in every individual case. Therefore, your injury doesn’t need to fall under any of the categories we mentioned above for it to be considered severe. Also, even if your injury falls into any of these classifications, the judge won’t necessarily decide that it’s severe.

For the prosecutor to substantiate every element of PC 243d, he/she may present eyewitness testimony to prove you touched or made contact with the victim in a harmful or offensive way. For instance, if there's testimony from the supposed victim and a neutral eyewitness who saw you touching the victim, the prosecution can use that.

To prove that your making contact was willful, the victim in question or third party eyewitness could describe the touching as a shove, punch, or hard push. The bodily contact may also have been from a firearm, knife, or any other object you wielded in a threatening manner. The victim or witness could also describe you as looking straight to the victim before you touched or that you made aggressive comments before making contact.

To show that your touching was in an offensive or harmful manner, a witness can describe you as shouting or being angry just before making contact. Or, the witness could say you were laughing mockingly before violently touching the victim.

For the prosecution to prove that your contact with the victim caused them (victim) severe physical injury, he/she may need to present medical proof from medical reports or doctors that say the harm was severe as the law defines. Keep in mind that this is a factual determination, which, in a similar case, could result in a different interpretation for the same injury.

Assault vs. Battery

Often, several people get confused about the difference between an assault offense and a battery crime, including aggravated battery. The difference between these two is:

  • An assault offense refers to any action that might inflict unwanted touching or physical harm on another person, whereas
  • A battery crime, including PC 243d, battery causing serious bodily injury, refers to the actual use of violence or force on another person.

An assault does not necessarily involve actual bodily contact, while a battery offense does. Put differently, an assault crime can be defined as an attempted battery while a battery could be described as a completed assault.

PC 243d Penalties

Battery causing severe physical injury is charged as a wobbler offense. By this, it means the prosecuting attorney can opt to charge you with a felony or a misdemeanor. The choice as to whether you will be charged with a felony or misdemeanor is at the prosecution’s discretion. He or she may decide based on your criminal history and the specific facts of your case.

If you are prosecuted with a misdemeanor aggravated battery, the possible consequences will include:

  • Misdemeanor probation
  • A maximum of one year in a county jail
  • A fine that does not exceed $1,000

If you are prosecuted with a felony battery resulting in severe physical injury, the possible punishments include:

  • Felony probation
  • Two, three, or four years in a county jail
  • A maximum fine of $10,000

Additionally, if you’re found guilty of a felony battery causing severe bodily injury, you will forfeit the right to possess guns in California.  In case you buy or own a firearm, you can be prosecuted for a felony as per California felon with firearms laws.

Sentence Enhancement for Great Physical Injury

You can be subjected to additional criminal punishment for a felony aggravated battery (not misdemeanor) if the judge decides that the supposed victim sustained great physical injury. Great physical harm is separate from severe bodily harm. The former means a substantial or significant physical injury.

Generally, severe physical injury is of a lower standard compared to substantial bodily injury.  That is, not all situations of an aggravated battery will be determined to have led to significant bodily harm. In case the judge presiding over your case establishes that the injuries the victim sustained increased to the extent of substantial physical harm, you will be subjected to an additional six or three years of a prison sentence, to add on your sentence as per PC 243d.

The Legal Defenses against Aggravated Battery

Being convicted of an aggravated battery can have a terrible impact on your criminal record. Most people do not know that you could be found guilty of this offense for only slight touching, whereby you did not intend to harm the victim. Regardless of whether the touching was minor or significant, what follows after a conviction is the assumption that you’re a violent person.

Fortunately, a skilled criminal defense attorney may help. We have several valid defenses your lawyer can apply to assist you in beating the charges against you or getting them reduced or dismissed. They include:

  1. The Alleged Assault was, in Reality, an Accident

You can use the defense of accident to defend against your Penal Code 243d charges. It is a fact that you could be found guilty of a battery causing severe bodily injury regardless of whether you intended to harm the victim or not. However, you cannot be convicted in a situation where you did not touch the supposed victim on purpose.  If that were the case, then it would mean the whole occurrence was accidental. It could be that you tripped and fell on a person, or you accidentally pushed them while making your way through a crowd. In this case, you should not be convicted of this offense.

However, note that if you had the intent to hit another person using an object like a pipe but missed the intended individual and struck someone else, it isn’t treated as an accident. Instead, your intention to hit another person in an offensive or harmful manner will be transferred to the individual you struck in reality, regardless of whether you had intended to strike that person.

In case you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then stumbled and bumped into another person who fell, breaking a leg, you shouldn’t also be convicted of aggravated battery. This is because there was no intention to make contact with the person. However, you can be charged with being drunk in public or disorderly conduct.

  1. You were Acting in Self-defense

Apart from the accident defense, you can also use self-defense or defense of someone else as a means to fight the aggravated battery charges against you. However, this defense is only successful if all of these are true:

  • You had a reason to believe that you or another person was in impending danger of being touched illegally or suffering physical injury
  • You had a reason to trust that your immediate application of force was mandatory to defend yourself or the other person against the danger
  • You didn’t use much force than what was reasonably necessary for defending against the danger
  1. The Injury was not, in Reality, Severe

As we earlier discussed, there isn’t a hard and direct definition of severe physical harm for PC 243d purposes. Instead, it is at the judge’s discretion to determine whether a given injury extends to the level of a severe one.

Most victims of battery are resentful. This means they might attempt to make the injuries they sustained seem more severe than they were in reality. They may do this, for instance, by going for medical care they don’t need. Or, they may keep complaining about the pain they are not experiencing in the real sense

In this situation, your defense lawyer needs to do an investigation, which will uncover the actual degree of the injuries the victim suffered. If there’s substantial proof that those injuries do not extend to the degree of severe bodily injury, your attorney might be capable of convincing the prosecution to lower your charges to simple battery prosecuted under PC 242.

  1. Mistaken Identity

More often, battery offenses occur during bar fights, and it may be challenging to know who precisely committed the crime. In many cases, the wrong person can be identified and prosecuted. The prosecutor has to show that you are the one who caused the injury for you to be convicted. A mistaken identity defense is valid, and your attorney should apply it if your identity was mistaken.

  1. False Accusations

Unfortunately, a person can be accused falsely of committing aggravated battery. The eyewitness or police could be mistaken of your being involved in the commission of the crime, or sometimes the supposed victim has a motive to lie. It could be that you didn’t touch anybody at all, or your acts were misinterpreted, or they were involuntary. Whatever the reason, our lawyers will work to have your name cleared of the false allegations.

Sometimes, victims lie, and innocent people get falsely accused and wrongfully convicted. This could happen for several reasons. For instance, police officers may lie to protect themselves or their colleagues. Or, the supposed victim may falsely accuse another person out of the desire to revenge or due to anger.

In scenarios where you are accused falsely, our experienced attorneys will deconstruct the proof and find loopholes in the prosecution’s case to help you get through lies or collusion.

Related Offenses to Aggravated Battery

Many crimes closely relate to PC 243d, aggravated battery because they are usually charged either along with or instead of this offense. These crimes include:

Simple Battery (PC 242)

If you are caught committing a battery offense, but it doesn’t result in severe bodily injury, you will, instead, be prosecuted under PC 242, simple battery law. A simple battery offense is charged as a misdemeanor. Its penalties, in many situations, include a maximum of six months in county jail and a fine that does not exceed $2,000. Due to this, it could be a relief for your attorney to try and have your charges of aggravated battery lowered to those of simple battery by negotiating a plea deal.

Battery on a Peace Officer (PC 243)

A California battery offense carries stricter penalties if it’s consciously committed against particular categories of persons as per PC 243b and 243c2. The select group of persons that battery on a peace offender law protects includes individuals in these professions, involved in the performance of their duties:

  • Firefighters
  • Custodial officers
  • Peace officers (police or any other officer of law enforcement)
  • Lifeguards
  • Emergency medical technicians or paramedics
  • Security officers
  • Process servers
  • Custody assistants
  • Traffic officers
  • Animal control officers
  • Code enforcement officers
  • Search and rescue members
  • Doctors or nurses offering emergency medical attention
  • Employees in a probation department

If you commit a simple battery offense against any of these individuals, you will still be prosecuted with a misdemeanor, though the possible jail sentence will increase to one year. If you harm a person in any of these classifications through a battery, then your offense will be a wobbler. This rule applies irrespective of whether that harm is severe. The possible felony county jail sentence is sixteen months or two or three years.

By this, it means the consequences for a PC 243 offense that results in any form of harm is still quite lenient compared to the punishment for aggravated battery.

Corporal Injury on an Intimate Partner (PC 273.5)

PC 273.5 offense is one of the most common domestic violence charges in California. A person commits this crime if they willfully cause bodily injury leading to a traumatic state on a person who is:

  • Their former or current spouse
  • Their ex or present cohabitant
  • The parent of their child

Similar to aggravated battery in PC 243d, corporal injury on an intimate partner is also a wobbler. Its potential felony sentence is two, three, or four years in jail. However, if you’re prosecuted with PC 273.5, you may seek for your charges to be reduced to PC 243d, aggravated battery. The reason for this is that since it is a crime classified under domestic violence offenses, PC 273.5 is a deportable offense under the federal immigration laws. Therefore, an immigrant that is found guilty of this crime, even if he/she is in the country legally, might be subject to deportation proceedings once convicted.

Elder Abuse (PC 368)

PC 368, elder abuse statute makes it an offense for one to negligently or willfully impose unjustifiable mental suffering or physical pain on someone who is sixty-five years or older. In case you are charged with committing aggravated battery against an individual who is at this age, you could face both PC 368 and PC 243d charges.

An elder abuse crime is prosecuted as a wobbler. Its possible sentence is two, three, or four years in prison and a maximum fine of $6,000 if you are charged with a felony.

Assault with a Deadly Weapon (PC 245a1)

A person violates PC 245a1 law when he/she willfully assaults another person with either force or a lethal weapon that’ likely to cause substantial bodily injury. It is an unlawful attempt to injure someone using violence. This is a wobbler crime in case the deadly weapon in question wasn’t a firearm. If convicted of a misdemeanor, the punishment will include misdemeanor probation, up to $1000 in fines, and a maximum jail sentence of a year. If it is a felony, the consequences are felony probation, a maximum of four years in prison, and up to $10000 in fines.

If the weapon in question was a gun, this offense is still a wobbler with similar penalties as those above. The only thing that changes is that misdemeanors have a minimum jail sentence of six months. PC 245a1 is charged as a straight felony in case the crime was committed using a machine gun, semi-automatic gun, or a .50 BMG rifle.

Contact an Experienced Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Once you are under arrest, charged, or under investigation for battery causing severe physical injury, you need to act quickly to avoid a conviction. Based on how harsh California law treats this crime, a conviction is not something you would want to happen as it may affect both your social and professional life. For instance, being put away for this offense will make society assume that you are a violent person. One of the ways to act is seeking help from an experienced attorney. A lawyer will need ample time to prepare for your case and build a solid defense.  The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm we have helped clients in Los Angeles, successfully achieve their best possible outcome in their criminal cases thanks to our knowledge of the law and the experience we have. If you are facing charges of this kind, call us at 310-935-1675 for a consultation.