FREE CONSULTATION: 866-713-2159

Representing Clients throughout California

CALIFORNIA DOMESTIC VIOLENCE LAW

In general, domestic violence laws are triggered in California when a person is alleged to have committed an assault, battery or criminal threat against a spouse, fiancé, cohabitant, dating partner or the parent of your child.

Domestic violence charges are very serious, and most district attorney’s offices in California retain a separate unit dedicated to prosecuting domestic violence cases. Prosecutors also tend to pursue jail time for domestic violence charges, even in first offense misdemeanor matters.

Not least, it is important to note that, even if your accuser “recants” their allegations or changes this/her mind and decide that they do not want to press charges, the district attorney’s office may still pursue the case, and they often do.

No judicial system is perfect, and the nature of ours is such that innocent persons, as well as guilty ones, may be accused of and prosecuted for domestic violence. That is also because relationships, especially ones involving an intimate partner, can be fraught with emotion, and, often times, an accuser may make a completely false allegation of domestic violence out of anger, jealous, to gain an edge in child custody or divorce cases, or simply out of spite. 

Other times, there may have been physical contact between two persons, but that contact may have been an accident or the accused/arrested person may have been acting in self-defense during a fight, a struggle, or other physical altercation.

Moreover, there are incidents where a person is guilty of domestic violence; however, the prosecutor may be pursuing a level of punishment that exceeds the nature of the crime or fails to consider the nuances of the case.

In domestic violence cases, a thorough investigation of all the facts is the key to an aggressive, and successful, defense. Prosecutors often have preconceptions and beliefs about what took place, and it is your attorney’s job to present your side of the story and to humanize you to the prosecution, and before the court.  

With that said, the most common domestic violence codes include:

PENAL CODE 273.5 – CORPORAL INJURY TO A SPOUSE OR COHABITANT 

Penal Code Section 273.5 reads:

"(a) Any person who willfully inflicts corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon a victim described in subdivision (b) is guilty of a felony, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of up to six thousand dollars ($6,000) or by both that fine and imprisonment. (b) Subdivision (a) shall apply if the victim is or was one or more of the following: (1) The offender's spouse or former spouse. (2) The offender's cohabitant or former cohabitant. (3) The offender's fiancé or fiancée, or someone with whom the offender has, or previously had, an engagement or dating relationship, as defined in paragraph (10) of subdivision (f) of Section 243. (4) The mother or father of the offender's child.”

Explanation

Penal Code 273.5 makes it a crime to willfully (or intentionally) inflict a "corporal injury" resulting in a "traumatic condition." A person may be charged with PC 273.5 if they are alleged to have committed this crime by striking or hitting their intimate partner with force or violence. Generally, this code section is charged when there is a visible physical injury to the accuser. Examples of injuries include scrapes, bruises, swelling, redness, welts, bleeding, or otherwise.

Legal Defenses

  • You were acting in self-defense,
  • Your actions were not intentional or willful,
  • You are being falsely accused and did not commit the domestic abuse

Penalties

A charge of willful infliction of corporal injury (PC 273.5) is called a “wobbler,” meaning that the district attorney retains the discretion to charge it as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The determination of how a PC 273.5 will be charged is primarily based upon the facts of the case and the criminal history of the defendant. When charged as a misdemeanor, Penal Code 273.5 carries a potential sentence of up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or a fine of up to six thousand dollars ($6,000). If PC 273.5 is charged as a felony, it carries the possibility of a two (2), three (3), or four (4) year California State Prison term.

PENAL CODE 243(e)(1) – DOMESTIC BATTERY 

Penal Code Section 243(e)(1) reads:

“When a battery is committed against a spouse, a person with whom the defendant is cohabiting, a person who is the parent of the defendant's child, former spouse, fiancé, or fiancée, or a person with whom the defendant currently has, or has previously had, a dating or engagement relationship, the battery is punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. If probation is granted, or the execution or imposition of the sentence is suspended, it shall be a condition thereof that the defendant participate in, for no less than one year, and successfully complete, a batterer's treatment program, as described in Section 1203.097, or if none is available, another appropriate counseling program designated by the court. However, this provision shall not be construed as requiring a city, a county, or a city and county to provide a new program or higher level of service as contemplated by Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution.”

Explanation

Under Penal Code 243(e)(1), it is a misdemeanor crime to cause violence or inflict force on an fiancè, spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, a dating partner, the parent of your child, or anyone else qualifying as an intimate partner. The distinction with the more serious charge of PC 273.5 is relatively simple: PC 243(e)(1) does not require a visible injury; a simple shove or pulling of the victim’s clothing may suffice for a domestic battery PC 243(e)(1) charge.

Legal Defenses

  • You were acting in self-defense,
  • Your actions were not intentional or willful,
  • You are being falsely accused and did not commit the domestic abuse

Penalties

The potential penalties for a conviction under PC 243(e)(1) include a fine of up to two thousand dollars ($2,000), and/or imprisonment in the county jail for up to one (1) year.

As with PC 273.5, punishment and sentencing for PC 243(e)(1) varies depending on (1) the seriousness of the injuries, if any, (2) the actions of the defendant and (3) the defendant's criminal record. But most counties impose a minimum 30 days jail, even for first-time misdemeanor convictions. Some form of domestic violence courses – often for 52 weeks – and/or anger management classes are often also ordered.

Immigration Consequences

It is important to note that a domestic violence conviction can lead to serious immigration consequences for defendants who do not retain U.S. citizenship. That is because most of domestic violence offenses constitute what are called “crimes of moral turpitude” and may trigger deportation proceedings by the federal government.

Not least, as with any serious conviction, domestic violence may remain on a person’s permanent criminal record and always surface during background checks for employment, benefits or licensing.

For the reasons set forth above, it is critical that you aggressively fight your case in order to prevent a conviction or, in the alternative, to get your charges reduced or dismissed.