Societal conventions distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate ways of touching another person based on factors such as your relationship to that person and the environment you are in. However, the law takes physical contact much more seriously.

ventura criminal defense attorneyFactors regarding where you touch another person, whether you have their consent, the age of the person, the intention behind the touch, and the manner in which you touch another person all determine whether the interaction is appropriate or inappropriate, legal or illegal. California law takes physical contact of a sexual nature especially seriously, and it carries strict laws to protect victims and prosecute perpetrators of sex crimes.

One such law is California’s sexual battery law – Penal Code 243.4 PC (also known as the sexual assault law). This law specifically prohibits a person from touching another person’s intimate parts against their will for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse.

Sexual battery is an extremely serious crime. A defendant charged with violating Penal Code 243.4 PC faces the possibility of many years in prison and spending the rest of their lives as a registered sex offender. If you have been accused of sexual battery or a related crime such as molestation or rape, an experienced defense attorney can help you navigate the complicated legal system and find a suitable defense based on the details of your case.

What is sexual battery?

Under California Penal Code 243.4 PC, sexual battery can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The difference between misdemeanor and felony sexual battery relies on whether particular case presents certain “elements” of the crime. Elements of a crime are those factors which the prosecution must prove in order to make a conviction.

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Misdemeanor sexual battery is defined by the following elements:

  1. The defendant touched another person’s intimate parts
  2. Against that person’s will
  3. For the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse.

EXAMPLE: On a crowded subway, Linda purposefully stands close to Paul, another passenger, in such a way that her hand rests on his penis (over his jeans). She does this for her own sexual gratification. Linda could be charged with misdemeanor sexual battery. 

Felony sexual battery includes the elements of misdemeanor sexual battery as well as some additional factors. It is defined by the following elements:

  1. The defendant or an accomplice of the defendant unlawfully restrained another person.
  2. The defendant touched that person’s intimate parts with his or her own intimate parts while the other person was restrained
  3. Against that person’s will.
  4. For the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse.

In order to better understand what constitutes sexual battery, it helps to start by understanding more about what is meant by some of the terms used in defining the elements of the crime. Below is a bit more clarification about some of these terms:

To touch another person means to make direct contact with an intimate part of the victim. In the case of misdemeanor sexual battery, the contact can be made directly or through the clothing. In order for the assault to be constitute felony sexual battery, the perpetrator must make contact with the bare skin of the victim either directly or through the perpetrator’s clothing.

An intimate Part is defined as any person’s sexual organ, groin, buttocks, anus, or a female’s breasts.

A person is touched “against their will” if they do not consent to being touched, meaning they do not freely and voluntarily participate in the act of being touched, knowing that the touch is of a sexual nature.

Sexual abuse is the cause of intimidation, injury, harm or humiliation to the victim through the act of touching their intimate parts or to cause pain or suffering to their intimate parts.

Unlawful restraint is the restriction or control of a person’s freedom of movement against their will. Using physical force in order to touch the victim (such as holding them down) does not, in and of itself, constitute unlawful restraint. Unlawful restraint can include physical acts, such as barricading an exit, the unlawful use of authority, or verbal methods of eliciting fear or intimidation.

It is possible to be guilty of committing misdemeanor or felony battery even if you are in a romantic or sexual relationship with the victim or if no penetration or sexual intercourse was involved in the physical interaction. 

EXAMPLE: Shawna and Chad live together and have been boyfriend and girlfriend for 5 years. One night, while Shawna is cooking dinner, chad comes up behind her and begins fondling her breasts. Shawna tells Chad to stop, but he continues to do it anyway. In spite of the nature of their relationship, Chad could be charged with misdemeanor sexual assault. 

California also recognizes some forms of aggravated sexual battery in Penal Code 243.4 PC. Aggravated sexual battery meets the definition of misdemeanor sexual battery AND includes at least one of the following:

  1. The alleged victim is unlawfully restrained, either by the person who is committing the battery or an accomplice.
  2. The defendant makes the alleged victim touch or masturbate another person’s intimate parts (those of the defendant or someone else).
  3. The perpetrator fraudulently represented the assault as an act that served a professional purpose, causing the victim to be unaware of the nature of the act. 
  4. The alleged victim is disabled or medically incapacitated and is institutionalized for medical treatment.

California offenses related to sexual battery

Some crimes related to sexual battery may be charged in addition to Penal Code 243.4 PC, while others may be charged instead of sexual assault if they better fit the details of the alleged offense. Below are two of the most common related crimes:

Rape – Penal Code 261 PC

In California, rape is defined as non-consensual intercourse with another person by use of threat, force, or fraud. Though their definitions are very similar, sexual battery includes many types of non-consensual touch, while intercourse must be involved in order for a crime to be considered rape. 

Penal Code 261 PC is a felony violation the penalties for which include up to 8 years in prison and a “strike” on the perpetrator’s record under California’s three strikes law.

Battery – Penal Code 242 PC

Battery is any type of non-consensual, unwanted touching. Unlike sexual battery, the touching does not need to be of a sexual nature to be in violation of 242 PC. 

Simple battery is a misdemeanor which may be punishable by a fine of no more than $2,000 and up to 6 months in county jail.

Sexual battery penalties and sentencing

As previously stated, sexual battery can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Basic sexual assault (as defined earlier) is a misdemeanor. However, if any of the following aggravating factors apply, the crime becomes a “wobbler” offense and may be charged as a felony, depending on the defendant’s criminal history and the details of the case: 

  • The victim was unlawfully restrained, either by the person who is committing the battery or an accomplice.
  • The victim was made to touch or masturbate another person’s intimate parts (those of the defendant or someone else).
  • The victim was fraudulently convinced that the act served a professional purpose 
  • The victim is disabled, medically incapacitated or institutionalized. 

Penalties for felony sexual battery include more time in jail and steeper fines than for a misdemeanor. See below for more details about penalties for Penal Code 243.4 PC violations.

Misdemeanor sexual battery

Penalties for misdemeanor sexual assault with no aggravated factors include:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • A fine of up to $2,000 or up to $3,000 if the defendant was the victim’s employer
  • Up to 5 years of summary probation which may include tier one sex offender registration for a minimum of 10 years, educational programs or programs for help with sexual abuse or compulsion issues, or community service.

Felony sexual battery

Potential Penalties for felony sexual battery include:

  • 2, 3, or 4 years in California State Prison.
  • An additional 3-5 years in California state prison if the victim sustained great bodily injury.
  • A dine of up to $10,000
  • Tier three sex offender registration for life
  • Formal (felony) probation

Aiding and abetting

If you are an accomplice to sexual assault, you may be guilty of what is known as “aiding and abetting” and will be subject to the same penalties as the primary culprit of the crime. In a sexual battery case, you are guilty of aiding and abetting if you:

  1. Had knowledge that the primary culprit was acting illegally
  2. Intentionally instigated, aided, facilitated, promoted, or encouraged sexual battery to be committed or
  3. Participated in a conspiracy to commit sexual battery

Recent change to California sexual assault penalties

As of January 1, 2017, a perpetrator who commits sexual battery against a person who is unconscious or heavily intoxicated is not eligible for probation and must serve time in county jail or California State Prison.

Legal defenses against sexual battery charges

If you have been accused of committing sexual battery, there are numerous defense strategies that your attorney may choose to use in order to fight your charges and prove your innocence. Below are some common defense strategies that may be applicable in your case.

The touching wasn’t of a sexual nature

Even if you touch another person’s intimate part, it is not considered sexual assault unless it was done for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse. You may not be guilty of a crime if you can prove that the touch was accidental or unintentional, for example, if you touched another person’s intimate part as a result of being shoved by another person. Or you may be guilty of a related crime, such as battery if the touch was unwanted and uninvited, but of a non-sexual nature. 

You had consent to touch the other person

A touch that is consensual does not constitute sexual battery. Additionally, if you can demonstrate that you had good reason to believe that the touch was consensual, you may not be convicted of violating Penal Code 243.4 PC.

The evidence against you is insufficient

Because the alleged victim doesn’t need to incur any physical injury to claim sexual assault, there is often little or no actual evidence of the crime. 

If your attorney can demonstrate that the evidence in your case is invalid or insufficient to support allegations of sexual battery, the charges against you may be dropped. 

You have been falsely accused

Due to the fact that physical evidence of injury is not needed for an alleged victim to make a sexual assault accusation, it is quite possible for a defendant to be falsely accused. An alleged victim may make false accusations for a number of reasons such as anger or revenge. If you have been falsely accused of committing sexual battery, there may be ways in which your attorney can prove your innocence to the court. 

Even if you have been falsely accused, a sexual assault accusation can have a devastating impact on your life. If you have been charged with sexual battery or a related crime, speaking with a skilled defense attorney with experience handling these types of crimes can help to put your mind at ease. As a Los Angeles based attorney with over 30 years of experience representing clients, I have what it takes to build an aggressive strategy to fight even the most serious charges. Don’t wait, call my firm today for your free case evaluation — 800-834-6434.