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Many people use sexual battery and sexual assault interchangeably; however, these are distinct offenses in California.

Sexual assault crimes are in various statutes under the California Penal Code. Some are forcible and some are not; however, all of them carry potential prison time and sex registration.

Under California Penal Code §243.4, sexual battery refers to touching an intimate part of another person for sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse without the person’s consent. This offense carries serious legal penalties and various collateral consequences.

It is important that you contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney if you are facing sexual battery or sexual assault charges.

What Is Sexual Battery in California?

California’s sexual battery statute represents one of the state’s main laws addressing non-consensual intimate touching for sexual purposes.

Sexual battery can include touching another’s intimate parts, such as the following:

  • Genitals,
  • Buttocks, or
  • A woman’s breast

The law applies even if you are in an ongoing sexual relationship with the alleged victim. 

Examples of Sexual Battery 

Let’s look at common types of sexual battery and give an example of each.

  • Unwanted Touching—A waiter at a restaurant deliberately brushes his hand against a patron’s buttocks without their consent.
  • Abuse of Authority—A manager at work covertly touches an employee’s breasts under the guise of a congratulatory hug. 
  • Medical Breach—A physician, under the pretense of a medical exam, fondles a patient’s genitals without a legitimate reason or the patient’s awareness.
  • False Pretenses—A pastor convinces a parishioner that he’s performing a spiritual healing ritual and touches the parishioner intimately without their informed consent.
  • While Restrained—Someone takes advantage of an individual who is tied up or restrained in some manner and touches them inappropriately.

In these situations, you may be prosecuted under California’s sexual battery laws

Sexual Battery Penalties 

Sexual battery is a “wobbler” offense in California. This means that the offense can be charged and punished as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the facts of the case. 

Misdemeanor Sexual Battery

Penalties for misdemeanor sexual battery include possible imprisonment in a county jail for up to six months and a fine of up to $2,000 (or up to $3,000 if the victim was the accused’s employee).

The judge can opt to give you both incarceration and a fine. Furthermore, misdemeanor sexual battery convictions may require you to register as a sex offender for a minimum of ten years.

Felony Sexual Battery

While California does not use the specific term “aggravated sexual battery” in its statutes, there are certain aggravating factors that can elevate the offense to a felony level. 

Such felony charges typically arise in the following situations:

  • You or an accomplice unlawfully restrained the victim; or
  • You allegedly committed the act under the pretenses of a professional service and the victim was incapacitated or institutionalized.

Penalties for felony sexual battery typically include imprisonment in a California state prison for two, three, or four years, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Felony sexual battery convictions require you to register as a sex offender for a minimum of either ten or twenty years.

What Is Sexual Assault? 

As explained above, California’s sexual assault law includes various offenses involving an individual engaging in unwanted sexual contact with another person.

But these acts always include touching the sexual parts of another person’s body for the purposes of sexual pleasure, arousal, or abuse. Sexual assault is sometimes also a wobbler offense.

Does California Have an Aggravated Sexual Assault Law? 

As stated above, California does not use the term “aggravated sexual assault” as a specific offense.

Instead, the state’s criminal laws enumerate various sex crimes that can elevate the severity of the penalties associated with the offenses.

For example, certain aggravating factors that can result in harsher penalties include the following:

  • If the perpetrator used a weapon;
  • If the victim experiences significant bodily injury during the act;
  • If there were multiple perpetrators involved in the act;
  • If the victim was a minor, especially under 14;
  • If the perpetrator had previous convictions for sex offenses; and
  • If the event was part of a kidnapping. 

Further, California’s criminal code contains specific sections that address other sex crimes.

For instance, California maintains laws addressing rape, forcible acts of sexual penetration, and lewd acts with a minor

Difference Between Sexual Battery vs. Sexual Assault

Understanding the difference between sexual battery and sexual assault is crucial for anyone accused of these offenses in California.

While both offenses relate to non-consensual sexual conduct, sexual assault leans more toward attempted sexual activities, whereas sexual battery focuses on unwanted intimate touching.

Anyone accused of a sexual offense should work with an attorney to understand the specific nature of their charges.

While sexual assault and sexual battery may seem similar, there are distinctions in the following:

  • Nature of the charges,
  • Legal penalties,
  • Potential defense strategies,
  • Sex offender registration requirements,
  • Plea negotiations, and
  • Socioeconomic implications.

An experienced attorney can help you prepare a viable and robust defense that is tailored to the unique facts and circumstances of your case.

Aggravated Sexual Battery vs. Aggravated Sexual Assault

The crimes of aggravated sexual battery and aggravated sexual assault sound quite similar, and it can be confusing to understand the difference.

Typically, when people use the term aggravated sexual battery, they are referring to sexual battery charges that are enhanced by the presence of certain aggravating factors, such as restraining the victim.

On the other hand, aggravated sexual assault refers to sexual assault charges that are enhanced by the presence of aggravating factors

Defenses to Sexual Battery and Sexual Assault

Appropriate and viable defenses to sex crimes in California depend on the specific details of the alleged offense, the evidence, and the skill and resources of your attorney. However, some common defenses may include the following:

  • Consent,
  • Mistaken identity,
  • False accusation,
  • Lack of evidence,
  • Alibi, or 
  • Constitutional or procedural violation. 

An attorney can help you determine the best-suited defense for your charges. 

Learn More About Sexual Battery vs Sexual Assault and How to Defend Against Them

The nuances between sexual battery vs. sexual assault can be complex; however, both are extremely serious charges, and a conviction for either will forever change your life.

However, just because you have been arrested for a California sex crime does not mean you are guilty, and it certainly does not mean you will be convicted.

At the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, we have nearly fifty total years of experience aggressively defending clients facing some of the most serious crimes in the California Penal Code.

We know what it will take to reach the best possible result in your case, and we are ready to get started on your case as soon as possible.

To schedule a free consultation today, call the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, at 619-439-0912.

You can also connect with us through a secure online contact form.

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Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.