Criminal Law

917. Insulting Words Are Not a Defense

917. Insulting Words Are Not a Defense

Words, no matter how offensive, and acts that are not threatening, are not enough to justify an assault or battery.

[However, if you conclude that <insert name> spoke or acted in a way that threatened <insert name of defendant or third party allegedly threatened> with immediate harm [or an unlawful touching]/ [or] great bodily injury/ [or] trespass on land/ [or] trespass against goods], you may consider that evidence in deciding whether <insert name of defendant> acted in (self-defense/ [or] defense of others).]

Bench Notes

Instructional Duty

There is no sua sponte duty to give this instruction. It is no defense to battery or assault that insulting or offensive words, or acts that fall short of a threat of immediate harm, were used. (People v. Mayes (1968) 262 Cal.App.2d 195, 197 [68 Cal.Rptr. 476]; People v. Mueller (1956) 147 Cal.App.2d 233, 239-240 [305 P.2d 178].)

If the evidence raises the issue of defense of self or others, give the bracketed paragraph along with any other appropriate defense instruction. (See People v. Johnston (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th 1299, 1303 [7 Cal.Rptr.3d 161]; see CALCRIM Nos. 3470-3477.)


Instructional Requirements. See People v. Davis (1995) 10 Cal.4th 463, 542 [41 Cal.Rptr.2d 826, 896 P.2d 119]; People v. Mueller (1956) 147 Cal.App.2d 233, 239-240 [305 P.2d 178].

Secondary Sources

1 Witkin & Epstein, California Criminal Law (3d ed. 2000) Crimes Against the Person, § 6.

3 Millman, Sevilla & Tarlow, California Criminal Defense Practice, Ch. 73, Defenses and Justifications, § 73.11 (Matthew Bender).

(New January 2006)