If it's the battery how do I check?
connect a small car incandescent lamp (12 V 3-5 W) to +- of the battery. if it lights up a bit then battery is ok
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That's probably a bad idea. The DS runs on about 5V and you would probably fry the board. instead take an unused usb cable, cut off the other end, and use those wires.
will it work when plugged in?
will it work when plugged in WITHOUT battery installed?
If the DS has been recently dismantled or modified, it could be as simple as a loose or dammaged ribbon cable to/from one of the screens. Most DS units will turn on and function almost normally without the top screen, but I've seen a few that dont. (Hardware revisions? I dunno). Your DS will display similar symptoms at a faulty bottom screen.
They can also come loose with abuse. Dropping on a hard surface or bending the top screen back too far can knock things loose or break the top screen ribbon cable. Pushing down hard on the bottom screen can kill that one.
All these parts I mention are replacable, and in the case of a cable that's been knocked loose it's just a matter of pushing it in right. Hand it off to someone who has experience in repairing or modifying these consoles.
Charge it, the light should turn on when connected.
If it's not the battery, it may be the bottom touchscreen. Check to see if its cracked because this happened to me. If the touch screen cracks and the liquid crystals seep out, the DS will refuse to turn on.