Penal Code 243.4 PC Sexual Battery Laws, Penalties, and Defenses
Sexual battery, also known as sexual assault, is a crime in California under Penal Code 243.4 PC. While this is one of the few sex crimes that can be prosecuted either as a misdemeanor or a felony, called a “wobbler,” even a conviction for misdemeanor sexual battery can have significant repercussions on a person's life.
Even though this statute is technically a “wobbler” that could be charged as a felony, it is the lowest level sex crime that California law defines.
It is also the crime prosecutor's charge for the least sexual misconduct. In other words, PC 243.4 sexual battery is almost always charged as a misdemeanor.
A misdemeanor PC 243.4 sexual battery conviction is penalized by up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $3,000. A felony carries up to four years in a California state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
California Penal Code 243.4 PC is the statute that defines the crime of sexual battery as touching someone's intimate parts for the purpose of sexual gratification, arousal, or abuse.
The “intimate parts” include the genital area, buttocks, or female breast. Prosecutors commonly use this law to charge someone for unwanted sexual touching of another person.
A typical example of misdemeanor sexual battery includes a situation where a man intentionally touches a female's breast or buttocks over her clothing without consent.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will take a closer look at the sexual battery laws below.
Overview of Sexual Battery in California
As described in Penal Code 243.4 PC, sexual battery occurs when someone touches another person's intimate parts against their will for purposes of sexual gratification or abuse. The law reads thus:
- “Anyone who touches an intimate part of another person while they are unlawfully restrained by the accused or an accomplice, and if the touching is against the will of the person touched and is for the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, is guilty of sexual battery.”
According to the law, “touching” can be either direct contact with the skin or touching through clothing. PC 243.4 sexual battery charges do not require an act of penetration or sexual intercourse.
Further, you could still be charged under this statute even if you are involved in a relationship with the accuser. As noted, an “intimate part” includes the female breasts and the genitals, buttocks, anus, and groin areas of any person.
The term “unlawfully restrained” can refer to controlling someone's actions physically or by words. And “against the will” means without the person's consent—meaning the victim is either unwilling or unable to consent.
Thus, the “elements of the crime” for misdemeanor sexual battery under Penal Code 243.4 include:
- You touched an intimate body part of someone else without consent,
- The intent was sexual gratification, sexual arousal, or sexual abuse.
What Constitutes Misdemeanor Sexual Battery?
As noted above, sexual battery is a “wobbler” offense, meaning prosecutors may charge it as a misdemeanor or a felony. The choice to charge you with misdemeanor sexual battery will depend on a variety of factors, including, but not limited to the following below.
Whether or not physical force was used to restrain the victim. If your actions were particularly aggressive or violent, you're more likely to be charged with a felony than if you groped someone in passing, purposely brushed your arm across a female's breast, etc.
Whether or not your intentions were clear. Willful intent is a critical factor in prosecuting sexual battery. Prosecutors are more likely to charge you with a misdemeanor if there is ambiguity in your intention to violate the victim versus accidental touching;
Your prior criminal history. Second-time and subsequent offenders are more likely to be charged with felony sexual battery; a first-time offense is more likely to be charged as a misdemeanor;
The prosecution's confidence in obtaining a conviction. Based on all circumstances surrounding the alleged offense, prosecutors will likely charge you with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on which one they feel is most likely to result in a conviction.
What are the Penalties for Misdemeanor Sexual Battery?
While a misdemeanor conviction is undoubtedly preferable to a felony conviction, even a misdemeanor conviction for sexual battery can have a lasting negative impact on your life. Penalties may include any/all of the following:
- Fines up to $2000 (up to $3000 if you were an employer and the victim was your employee);
- Up to 6 months in county jail;
- Probation (possibly instead of jail time if your attorney can negotiate for leniency or as part of a plea deal);
- Mandatory 10-year minimum on the sex offender registry (Tier 1 offense).
It's important to note that even if you receive a reduced sentence for misdemeanor sexual battery, the sex offender registry requirement is non-negotiable.
You will be required to register with local law enforcement as a sex offender, and your information will be placed on a publicly searchable database.
You will also have to keep that registration current for a minimum of ten years, and after that time has expired, you'll only be able to have your name removed from the registry upon request and at the court's discretion. By contrast, for felony offenses, the registration requirement is for life.
The penalties can be increased if there were aggravating factors, such as the victim was incapacitated, mentally ill, disabled, forced, or they were fraudulently convinced the touching was for a professional purpose. If the victim suffers a great bodily injury (GBI), the defendant could receive an additional three to five years in prison.
What are the Related Offenses for Sexual Battery?
- Felony sexual battery (Penal Code 243.4 PC): Sexual battery is often charged as a felony if the circumstances are more serious—for example, physically restraining the victim or abusing a disabled person. A conviction for felony sexual battery can result in fines up to $10,000 and up to 4 years in prison;
- Rape (Penal Code 261 PC): Where sexual battery involves only touching someone's intimate parts against their will, rape is the act of sexual intercourse (involving penetration) with someone against their will. A conviction can result in up to 8 years in prison;
- Oral copulation by force or fear (Penal Code 287 PC): Unwanted sexual contact entails touching one person's mouth to another person's genitals;
- Indecent exposure (Penal Code 314 PC): Exposing one's genitals in public for sexual gratification or among those who are likely to be disgusted by it.
What are the Best Defenses for Penal Code 243.4?
If you have been accused of a misdemeanor or felony sexual battery that violates Penal Code 243.4, there are several defense strategies we can use the challenge the charges, including:
- Alleged victim gave consent,
- Insufficient evidence,
- False allegation.
To convict you of sexual battery, a prosecutor must be able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the touching was against the alleged victim's will.
Maybe we could make a reasonable argument you had a reasonable belief the touching was consensual.
In most cases, sexual battery cases do not have supporting physical evidence or a physical injury. This means it might be possible to argue with the prosecutor they have insufficient evidence to secure a conviction.
Perhaps we can argue there is not enough evidence to support the charges. There are cases where people were falsely accused and wrongfully arrested for sexual battery. Maybe we can argue that the alleged victim makes false accusations against you out of anger or revenge.
Finally, through a process called prefiling intervention, we might be able to persuade the prosecutor from filing formal charges before court.
Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles County, and we serve people throughout Southern California Courts. You can reach us for an initial consultation by calling (877) 781-1570 or filling out our contact form.