Sexual Battery Laws in California - Penal Code 243.4 PC
California Penal Code 243.4 PC is the statute that makes “sexual battery” a crime. It's described as touching somebody's intimate parts, against their will, for the purpose of sexual gratification, arousal, or abuse.
This commonly charged sex crime, also called "sexual assault." is a “wobbler” that prosecutors can file as a misdemeanor or felony. A PC 243.4 misdemeanor sexual battery case is typically unwanted sexual touching of another person and is the lowest level sex crime California law defines.
Prosecutors also use this statute to charge someone for the least amount of sexual misconduct. In other words, a misdemeanor sexual battery charge can be filed when an alleged victim reports suspicious sexual conduct.
PC 243.4 says, "(a) Any person who touches an intimate part of another person while that person is 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. A violation of this subdivision is punishable by...."
Subsection (b) says, "Anyone who touches an intimate part of another person who is institutionalized for medical treatment and who is seriously disabled or medically incapacitated"... could be found guilty of sexual battery.
Notably, sexual battery charges do not require an act of penetration or sexual intercourse. Also, you could still be arrested, charged, and convicted under this statute if you are in a relationship with the accuser.
The related California crimes for sexual battery include Penal Code 261 PC rape and Penal Code 242 battery. Penal Code 220 PC defines the crime of assault with intent to commit a felony. Let's review this state law further below.
What Does the Law Say?
In this law, “touching” means contacting an intimate part of another person on their bare skin or even through their clothing. The private parts of someone's body include the female breast, groin area, anus, or buttocks. “Unlawful restraint” means restraining someone by controlling their freedom of movement with your actions or words.
Sexual battery is touching one's genital area, buttocks, or female breasts, better known as a person's intimate parts, without consent. However, sometimes, people accidentally touch others inappropriately and do not mean anything sexual. To convict you of PC 243.4 sexual battery, a prosecutor must prove all the elements of the crime, including the following:
- you unlawfully restrained someone, and
- touched an intimate part of the victim's body,
- the touching was against their will, and
- was for sexual gratification, sexual abuse, or sexual arousal.
Any evidence lacking these elements could result in a case dismissal. Some examples where the crime would be charged as a felony are that the victim was unaware of the inappropriate touching because they were:
- fraudulently convinced that it was for medical or other professional purposes;
- forced to touch the suspect's intimate parts or was forced to masturbate.
A typical example of when the crime would be charged as a misdemeanor is the suspect intentionally fondling a female's breasts without her consent and putting their hands on another person's buttocks without permission.
What Are the Wobbler Forms of PC 243.4 Sexual Battery?
Penal Code 243.4 PC adds other more severe sexual battery charges that increase the penalties. The fines for these more serious forms of sexual battery also increase to a $10,000 maximum. In addition, PC 243.4 defines the following as the more serious wobbler versions of sexual battery:
- the touching happens while the victim is unlawfully restrained by the accused or an accomplice defined under Penal Code 243.4(a) PC;
- the victim is institutionalized for medical treatment and disabled or medically incapacitated, as defined under Penal Code 243.4(b) PC;
- the victim is unconscious, or the perpetrator fraudulently represented the touching served a professional purpose defined under Penal Code 243.4(c) PC;
- the perpetrator causes an institutionalized person or unlawfully restrained person to masturbate or touch an intimate part of the victim, perpetrator, or third person, defined under Penal Code 243.4(d) PC.
Notably, Penal Code 243.4(j) increases sexual battery from either a misdemeanor, wobbler, or felony to a straight felony if the defendant has already been convicted for one of the above wobbler forms of sexual battery and the pending charge is for sexual battery of a minor.
What Mistakes Can You Make?
There are some common mistakes people make who are under investigation or already charged with Penal Code 243.4 PC sexual battery.
Sexual assault is a severe crime, and a person convicted of this type of offense as a felony would be facing sex registration for the rest of their life and prison time. So, if you or a loved one is charged with sexual assault, the first common mistake I see people make is doing nothing and hoping things work out.
If you believe you're being investigated for or you've been charged with sexual assault, get an attorney immediately, and get somebody who has experience and has handled cases just like yours. I have handled cases at the investigative phase, prefiling, and have been able to help avoid criminal prosecution for my clients. So, the first thing to do is to get an attorney on your side right away. Don't wait. Don't try to handle things yourself and do nothing.
The next thing that I see as a common mistake in these types of cases is talking to the alleged victim. A lot of times, the alleged victim – whether it's a date rape situation or an attempted rape, or a sexual assault charge – is trying to contact the person by text or by phone in an attempt to get that person to admit something.
Then, that information is being turned over to the police and being used as a critical piece of evidence against someone who's being charged with sexual assault and saying they didn't do that. Yet, they're making a statement or a text message to the person, apologizing for what they did. That certainly is not smart when it comes to these types of offenses.
Another big thing I see the police do is once the victim goes in and reports the crime; the police will then do what's called a pretext phone call, where the alleged victim calls the individual who is the target of the offense. The police give them a bunch of questions to ask. They tape-record the conversation.
If the person apologizes and says they did something wrong and it will never happen again – or whatever the words are clear that that person is involved in doing something wrong – that is a crucial piece of evidence against that particular individual. The bottom line is you don't want to speak to or text with the alleged victim. That would be a big mistake regarding these types of offenses.
Making a statement to the police, thinking you can talk your way out of a sexual assault case, is a big mistake because the police believe you are guilty. They're in the competitive business of ferreting out crime, and they're not looking to be fair when it comes to these cases. They're looking to gather information to prosecute you. So, don't make the mistake of thinking you can talk to the police and work everything out for yourself.
What Are the Penalties for PC 243.4?
A misdemeanor PC 243.4 sexual battery conviction is punishable 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.
Penalties differ between a misdemeanor and a felony. If convicted of a misdemeanor sexual battery, one may face county jail for up to a year and fines amounting to $2000. To determine what penalties to impose, factors such as whether violence, fear, or threat was used, whether the victim was conscious at the time of the act, and whether the victim was a minor.
PC 290 mandatory sex offender registration would be imposed if convicted. However, you may be able to avoid sex registration.
What Are the Defenses for PC 243.4?
Many claim they accidentally touched the alleged victim in a sex crime case. Suppose it makes sense that you might have accidentally felt somebody related to a charge of sexual contact. In that case, if you have no prior criminal record and what happened is out of the ordinary, then it doesn't make sense that you would do something like that, and it would make sense to use accidental touching as a defense.
So, if you can prove that you accidentally touched the alleged victim somehow, you can possibly get a not-guilty verdict or even a dismissal on behalf of the prosecutors.
This is a specific intent crime, meaning the prosecution has to show your criminal intent or guilty mind. That proof depends on circumstantial evidence that other circumstances or the defendant's testimony may contradict.
Consent may also be a strong defense. Perhaps we can argue that the touching was not on an intimate body part or may have been therapeutic or cordial rather than sexual. Sexual battery charges often raise all of these fact issues, with reasonable doubt on any one of which could defeat the charges.
Perhaps we can argue that police violated your constitutional rights when searching for sexual battery evidence or interrogating the defendant to require suppression of evidence. On the other hand, the prosecutor may be willing to accept the charge's diversion, a reduced plea, or dismiss a sexual battery charge that appears challenging to prove.
So, if you or a loved one is charged with sexual battery, you first want to set up a meeting with me, Ron Hedding. We'll sit down and review everything and start to design a plan for you and your circumstances that makes sense. Then, you can contact our law firm for a free consultation by phone or through the contact form. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, CA.
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- How Can a Lawyer Help If You’re Charged with Sexual Battery?