Sexual Battery

California punishes sexual offenses severely, and the sexual battery is among these crimes. If you are arrested, charged, or under investigation for this criminal conduct, you want to hire an experienced sex crimes defense lawyer. A reliable lawyer could fight to have your sentence reduced by negotiating a lesser charge in a plea bargain or even convincing the prosecution to drop your charges entirely.

At Darwish Law, we have extensive knowledge of California’s criminal justice system and an excellent understanding of how local courts operate. We can represent you if you are facing charges in Santa Ana and the neighboring cities. We will analyze the facts in your case and develop a defense strategy to help you obtain the best possible outcome.

Overview of the California Crime of Sexual Battery

In California, a sexual battery crime is otherwise known as sexual assault and is defined under Penal Code (PC) 243.4. You commit this crime when you touch an individual’s intimate parts against his/her will to achieve sexual abuse, gratification, or arousal.

Unlike rape, you don’t need to engage in actual sex or penetration to be sentenced for sexual battery. Additionally, you could be sentenced for committing sexual battery even when you are currently in a sexual relationship with the victim. And lastly, you can also be convicted even if you didn’t achieve the sexual gratification or arousal you intended to achieve.

Aggravated Sexual Battery

The definition above is for the basic kind of PC 243.4 violation, mostly a misdemeanor. This law also mentions other actions that constitute aggravated sexual assault. Aggravated sexual battery occurs when the above definition applies to a victim who:

  1. Doesn’t know what you are doing because you fraudulently made them believe you are touching them due to professional reasons
  2. Has been illegally restrained— the restraining could either be by you or another person.
  3. Is medically incapacitated/severely disabled and is institutionalized to undergo medical treatment.
  4. A victim whom you forced to masturbate/ touch your intimate part, or the private part of your accomplice/someone else under the above scenarios

Scenario 4 (above) is the only one where the state considers it sexual assault when the defendant forces the victim to touch their (defendant’s) intimate part instead of the accused touching the victim’s parts.

Facts that the Prosecution Must Prove

For you to be found guilty of violating PC 243.4, the prosecution should first prove various facts beyond a reasonable doubt. The facts are what we call elements of sexual assault. Let’s define these elements to understand better what they mean per this law. The prosecutor has to show that:

You Touched the Victim

Touching the victim per the misdemeanor definition of sexual assault means making contact with any of the victim’s intimate parts either through clothing (yours or the supposed victim’s) or directly.

And touching the victim per the felony definition of sexual assault means coming into contact with the supposed victim’s naked skin either via clothing or directly. However, it’s worth noting that to be a felony offense, the victim’s naked skin must participate in the contact-making. It’s not considered a felony if the victim’s body makes contact only through their clothing.

Private Part

A private part refers to a woman’s breast or any other person’s buttocks, sexual organ, groin, or anus.

Against the Victim's Will

You break the sexual battery statute when you come into contact with the victim’s intimate part against his/her will, meaning the victim didn’t agree to your actions. A victim is considered to have consented if they acted voluntarily or freely, aware of the actions to which they’re agreeing.

Thus, this is the reason you could be convicted of aggravated sexual assault even in a case where the victim consented, in case you fraudulently made the victim believe that you were touching them for professional reasons. The reasoning behind this is that fraud voids consent— an individual can’t consent to something if they have been misled or misinformed, and as a result, aren’t aware of the actions to which they’re consenting.

Illegal Restraint

You’re considered to have unlawfully restrained a victim for sexual battery purposes if you controlled their freedom of movement through authority, words, or acts at the time of the offense, and the restraining was against the victim’s will. However, illegal restraint needs much physical force than the one required to accomplish the sexual contact. Additionally, you don’t unlawfully restrain a person if you use legal authority for lawful purposes, provided the restraining continues being legal.

Sexual Abuse

You commit sexual assault intending to achieve sexual abuse when you aim to intimidate, humiliate, hurt, or injure the victim or make them feel pain in their intimate parts. Sexual contact with this aim could be sexual assault even when you weren’t driven by the urge to achieve sexual pleasure or gratification yourself.

Committing Sexual Battery as An Accomplice

If you’re an accomplice to a sexual battery crime, you’ll be committing an aiding & abetting offense. This means you will also be tried in the same way as the primary offender and face the same consequences. You are considered an accomplice if you were fully aware that the primary offender is committing a crime and aimed to:

  • Promote, encourage, instigate, facilitate, or aid the perpetration of the offense or
  • Engage in a criminal conspiracy (i.e., a joint effort) to perpetrate the sexual assault.

Related Crimes to PC 243.4 Violation

Various criminal conducts closely relate to sexual battery, either since they’re commonly prosecuted along with or instead of a violation of PC 243.4. Battery and rape are the most prevalent of these crimes.

The Crime of Rape – PC 261

You commit rape when you engage in non-consensual sex with someone else, and you accomplish the act by use of fraud, force, or threats. It’s the element of sexual intercourse that differentiates rape from sexual assault.

Raping someone in California is always considered a felony, and it’s punishable by a maximum of eight years in prison. In case the victim suffers significant bodily harm, or there are any other aggravating factors, you will serve more time in prison. Rape is also a strike per the three-strikes law.

The Battery Offense – PC 242

Battery means any uninvited or unwanted touching (whether sexual or not). For instance, if you calmly take someone else’s hand and put it on any of your private parts, you have not violated sexual assault law because you did not touch any of their private parts. However, you’re guilty of a battery offense, assuming that the other person didn’t voluntarily touch you. Violating PC 242 is charged as a misdemeanor. It is punishable by a maximum of six months in jail and up to $2,000 in fines.

Lewd Acts on a Child – PC 288(a)

The crime of lewd acts on a minor happens when you engage in a sexual act with a child below fourteen years, intending to appeal to, arouse, or gratify your passions, lust or sexual desires, or those of the child. This offense relates to sexual assault since violating PC 288(a) can occur during a sexual battery, which allows the DA to charge you with both in the same trial.

Should you be convicted of violating PC 288(a), the consequences may include:

  • A maximum of eight years in prison
  • The requirement to register a sex offender for at least ten years
  • A maximum fine of $10,000

Note that PC 288(a) law also requires some form of touching intending to arouse, appeal to, or gratify your sexual desires, lust, or passions, or those of the minor. However, actual arousal is not required. Additionally, it’s not a legal defense that the child agreed to the act.

Statutory Rape – PC 261.5

Statutory rape occurs when a grown-up has unlawful sex with a child who isn’t their spouse. Here, an adult is anybody eighteen years and above, whereas a minor is below eighteen. PC 261.5 is in place so that DAs can prosecute differently based on the defendant and victim’s ages. Thus, violating PC 261.5 is a wobbler. It relates to sexual assault because both crimes may involve sex acts between minors and adults, leading to charges for both in the same trial.

A child’s consent isn’t a legal defense to statutory rape. However, it’s a defense that you had reason to believe the victim was 18 years or older. The DA has to show that you did not actually and reasonably believe the victim was at least 18 years.

Legal Defenses to a Violation of PC 243.4

Violating PC 243.4 can have serious consequences. Fortunately, you don’t face these consequences without being allowed a chance to defend yourself. There are various legal defenses your lawyer can argue for you to prove your innocence. They include:

You Didn’t Touch the Supposed Victim’s Intimate Part

In case the body part you supposedly touched isn’t private, you can’t be sentenced for violating Penal Code 243.4. Because this offense requires that you make contact with a specific part of the victim’s body (buttocks, sexual organ, groin, anus, female breast), any touching you do outside of this range isn’t sufficient to sustain criminal liability under this crime.

If you’re facing felony charges, the prosecuting attorney must prove that you did touch the victim’s intimate part’s bare skin. Or he/she must show that you made the victim’s bare skin come into contact with your intimate part. Thus, merely touching the supposed victim’s private area through clothing and nothing more is not enough to have you convicted of felony sexual assault.

The Victim Agreed to You Touching Them

You can’t be convicted of sexual assault if the victim agreed that you can touch them or if you reasonably believed that the victim consented to the act. Thus, in case you had a reason to believe the victim had agreed to the sexual contact, and an objectively reasonable party would’ve made the same determination under the circumstances, you can’t be convicted of this crime. The judge will consider your relationship to the supposed victim and the conditions under which the offense took place.

Insufficient Proof

The form of behavior criminalized by this law does not usually yield physical evidence. Mostly, there is simply no sufficient proof to sustain sexual assault allegations. The prosecuting attorney ought to prove that the sexual battery indeed occurred. With no solid proof, this is a challenging task, and prosecuting attorneys know it. Thus, an expert lawyer may manage to have your charges dropped or reduced without having to go to trial.

You Didn’t Touch the Supposed Victim for Sexual Arousal, Sexual Abuse, or Sexual Gratification Purposes.

If you didn’t touch the alleged victim for sexual abuse, sexual gratification, or sexual arousal purposes, the judge can’t find you guilty of sexual assault under Penal Code 243.4. It’s common in sexual assault for the supposed victim to misinterpret harmless actions that aren’t sexual or exaggerate the facts. It also can happen that you unintentionally bumped into the alleged victim and touched their private part mistakenly. A lawyer can help you discredit the DA's witnesses and prove to the judge why the charges against you don’t have merit.

False Allegations

Since sexual assault allegations don’t require that a victim sustains bodily injury, it’s an easy offense to accuse someone else of without tangible proof. Consequently, some people usually make false accusations out of anger, revenge, jealousy, or when trying to influence an outcome that would favor them in a child custody case.

The legal defense of false accusations usually overlaps with the insufficient proof defense. Often, there’s inadequate evidence due to the supposed victim lying about not consenting to the act or fabricating the whole thing. If that is the case, there’s often no or little evidence on which the DA can depend.

Penalties for Violating PC 243.4

Violating PC 243.4 is a wobbler crime. A wobbler offense is a crime that the DA can prosecute as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the defendant’s criminal history and facts surrounding the criminal conduct.

Misdemeanor Consequences for Sexual Assault

As we explained earlier, the basic definition of PC 243.4 violation is categorized as a misdemeanor. That is, in case the offense entails only touching a person’s private part, against his or her will, for sexual abuse, arousal, or gratification purposes and the aggravating elements we discussed above don’t apply, then only misdemeanor punishments apply. If you’re guilty of a misdemeanor with no aggravating factor present, you may be subject to:

  • A jail term that does not exceed six months.
  • A maximum fine of $2,000. In case the victim was your employee, the fine would go up to $3,000.
  • A maximum of five years of informal probation. With a probation sentence, the judge may order that you adhere to the following terms and conditions:
  • Community service
  • Complete a batterer’s school program
  • Complete a program that helps people with sexual compulsion and abuse issues
  • Register as a tier one sex offender

Felony Consequences for Sexual Assault

We also explained earlier the aggravating elements that could subject you to felony punishments for a PC 243.4 violation. That is:

  • Unlawful restraint.
  • Fraudulently persuading a person that the contact served medical purposes.
  • An institutionalized victim who is incapacitated/disabled.

In case any of these elements appears in your case, sexual assault will be considered a wobbler crime. Thus, even if your case has a single aggravating factor, the DA could still file misdemeanor charges. In that case, the consequences would include those we listed above, only that the jail term will change to up to 12 months.

The DA could also file felony charges if there is an aggravating circumstance in your case. If you’re found guilty of felony sexual battery, you may be subject to these penalties:

  • Two, three, or four years of a prison sentence, and an additional and consecutive maximum of five years in prison in case the victim suffers significant bodily harm.
  • Informal probation.
  • A fine that does not exceed $10,000.
  • Sex offender registration requirement for life (tier three). In case the victim was admitted to an institution for medical treatment and was medically incapacitated/severely disabled, you will have to comply with the sex offender registration requirement for ten years.

Find an Experienced Sex Crimes Attorney Near Me

An accusation of sexual battery can be stressful. At this point, your reputation, criminal record, and freedom are on the line because you are facing possible incarceration and registration as a sex offender. You need to act fast and prove your innocence to avoid these penalties. One best move you can make towards this is hiring a skilled sex crimes defense lawyer to fight for you.

With a lawyer’s help, you receive the best possible outcome for your case. If you face charges in Santa Ana and the surrounding cities, at Darwish Law, we will help you build a robust defense strategy. Call us as soon as possible at 714-887-4810, so we can have ample time to work on your case.