California Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC makes it illegal to willfully and unlawfully touch a current or former spouse, cohabitant, fiance, dating partner, or co-parent. It’s possible to be charged and convicted of this offense even if there are no physical marks on the victim, or if the victim wasn’t harmed in any way. It’s one of the more commonly-encountered domestic violence charges in California.

The fact that it’s possible to be charged and convicted of the crime without any actual harm coming to the victim causes this crime to differ from the more serious offense of California Penal Code 273.5 PC corporal injury on a spouse, cohabitant, or fellow parent. Under 273.5 PC, a person can only be charged with the crime if the victim suffers physical injury.

In order to be charged with domestic battery, it’s important that the defendant’s actions fit the definition of the crime. For this to happen, the following must occur

  • You must willfully touch another person (the injury, or attempted injury, cannot be the result of an honest mistake)
  • The touching was harmful or offensive (trying to rub someone’s back or put a hand on their shoulder likely won’t result in charges)
  • The person you touched was your intimate partner or former partner

Doing something “willfully” means that you intended to do something. You do not, however, need to intend to break the law in order for your actions to be considered “willful.” Harmful or offensive touching doesn’t have to include touching someone in a way that hurts them. Instead, it can include touching someone in a disrespectful or angry manner. Finally, the person you touched must be one of the people protected under the law’s description. If they aren’t, you may be charged with simple battery instead of domestic battery.

Domestic battery is a misdemeanor in the State of California, and the potential penalties include up to 1 year in county jail, a fine of up to $2,000, and/or misdemeanor probation.