What Constitutes Sexual Battery?
California Penal Code 243.4 PC defines sexual battery, also referred to as sexual assault. The two terms can be used interchangeably. The following constitutes an act of sexual assault:
- touching someone on an intimate part of their body;
- doing so against the person's will;
- and with the intent to achieve sexual arousal, gratification, or inflict sexual abuse.
Sexual assault is distinguished as a separate crime from rape in that it does not require the act of sexual penetration to have occurred. There are circumstances where sexual assault law still applies even in an ongoing sexual relationship.
Penal Code 243.4(a) PC sexual battery is defined as “anyone who touches an intimate part of another person while unlawfully restrained by the accused or an accomplice, and if the touching is against their and for the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse.”
Forcing another person to touch you or another person in an unlawful sexual manner is covered under California Penal Code 243.4(d) PC. While this statute is a “wobbler” that could be charged as a felony, it is usually the lowest-level sex crime that California law defines.
This is also the crime prosecutor's charge for the least amount of sexual misconduct. In other words, PC 243.4 sexual battery is almost always charged as a misdemeanor.
The “intimate parts” include the genital area, buttocks, or female breasts. Prosecutors typically use this law to charge somebody for unwanted sexual touching of another person, such as a man intentionally touching a female's breast or buttocks over her clothing without consent.
In this article by our California criminal defense lawyers, we will examine this statute in greater detail below.
What are the Potential Penalties for a Conviction?
Sexual battery convictions can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies, depending upon the specifics of the particular case.
- intentionally groping a female in a public setting without permission;
- purposely touching someone's buttocks without having been given prior consent.
- holding someone's hands behind their back to restrain them and putting your hand up their skirt;
- a yoga teacher touching a student inappropriately under the guise of “helping” a student corrects their form;
- convincing an institutionalized, severely mentally disabled individual to perform a sexual act for you.
As seen in the above examples, a felony is charged in cases with greater severity. This includes instances in which a person is restrained against their will; when an institutionalized person is incapacitated medically in some way or is severely disabled (Penal Code 243.4(b) PC); and situations where the perpetrator acted under the guise of touching a person for “professional” purposes, i.e., within a spa or medical facility (Penal Code 243.4(c) PC).
Penalties for misdemeanor sexual battery conviction include a maximum fine of $2,000—$3,000 if the victim was an employee of the offender—and six months of county jail time, with a maximum of up to a year depending on the particulars involved in a case.
An individual must also be registered as a California sex offender for a minimum of ten years.
However, a felony sexual battery conviction is punishable by either two, three, or four years of prison time and a $10,000 maximum fine.
More often than not, a felony conviction also requires the individual to be registered as a sex offender for the remainder of their lifetime.
Felony sexual battery is a severe charge that has lifetime ramifications and consequences. Ensure that you have an experienced attorney's help if you face a charge of sexual battery in California.
What Are Some Related Offenses?
There are some commonly related offenses to sexual battery under California law, including:
- Penal Code 261 PC – rape,
- Penal Code 261.5 PC – statutory rape,
- Penal Code 288 PC – lewd acts on a minor,
- Penal Code 242 PC – battery,
- Penal Code 287 PC – oral copulation by force or fear.
California's battery law (PC 242) is distinct from sexual battery in that it defines any unwanted touching as a potential violation, whether the touching is sexual or not.
Non-consensual intercourse done through the use of force, threats, or fraud constitutes rape under California law. Specifically, intercourse must have taken place during the incident to constitute rape, the requirement that distinguishes it from sexual battery.
Rape is always a felony, with a punishment of up to eight years in prison. In some instances, an individual may be given a more significant prison sentence if the victim was severely injured due to the attack.
California Penal Code 288 PC prohibits engaging in any lewd or lascivious act with a minor, which are acts that are indecent or of a sexual nature. This statute is often called child molestation.
PC 288 lewd acts usually refer to a crime when an adult has sexual contact with a minor child, as either touching a minor for sexual gratification or causing the minor to feel themselves for a sexual purpose.
Suppose the minor subjected to lewd or lascivious acts were under 14. In that case, the penalties will involve a straight felony conviction that can't be reduced to a misdemeanor and three, six, or eight years in the California state prison.
What About Civil Lawsuits for Victims?
A victim of sexual assault can choose to file a civil lawsuit against the offender to receive compensation for necessary medical bills, counseling, pain and suffering, property damage, and lost wages.
Filing a civil lawsuit is an additional act, separate from any criminal charges brought against the offender. In civil lawsuits, it must be proven that a sexual battery crime occurred and that crime resulted in the alleged damages for which compensation should be given.
What Defenses Are Available for a Sexual Battery Charge?
There are a few common defenses if a person is charged with sexual battery. These include the following that criminal defense lawyers often use.
- a false allegation was made by the “victim” against the defendant;
- the “victim” consented to the act that occurred; and
- insufficient evidence.
A detailed criminal investigation must occur, and reasonable evidence must be provided to use false allegations as a defense. Similarly, it can be argued that consent was, in fact, given to the defendant at the time. Each defense is case-specific.
If you touched an adult with sexual intent with their full knowledge and consent, you should be able to avoid a conviction for sexual battery.
Perhaps we can challenge the validity of the prosecutor's evidence by arguing that there is insufficient evidence to support the allegations of sexual battery against you.
Perhaps we can argue the touching was not sexual in nature. If you touched someone on an intimate part against their will, but without having the intent of sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse, you might be able to avoid a conviction.
Also, if we are retained early in the case, there is a prefiling intervention process. This is negotiating with law enforcement and prosecutors to persuade them not to file formal criminal charges.
Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles County. You can contact us for an initial consultation by calling (310) 328-3776 or using the contact form.