What Is Considered Domestic Violence?
The California State Penal Code Section 13700(b) defines domestic violence as “abuse committed against an adult or a minor who is a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or person with whom the suspect has had a child or is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship.”
Abuse occurs when a person intentionally or recklessly causes or attempts to cause bodily harm. It also includes the placing of another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily harm to themselves or another person.
How Much Jail Time for a Domestic Violence Conviction?
In California, there are two kinds of domestic violence charges: spousal battery under Penal Code Section 243(e)(1) and corporal injury to a spouse or co-inhabitant under Section 273.5. The penalties differ depending on the section the offense is charged under.
Instances of spousal battery are charged as misdemeanors. Penal Code 243(e)(1) defines spousal battery as a willful or unlawful touching of an intimate partner inflicting force or violence. Note, it is not necessary for the victim to suffer actual bodily injury or harm.
An intimate partner is considered:
- A current or former spouse
- A current or former co-inhabitant
- A current or former fiancé
- A person with whom the defendant had or has a dating or engagement relationship
- The mother or father of the defendant’s child
Penalties include a maximum fine of $2,000, a maximum jail sentence of 1 year, or both.
Corporal injury to a spouse or co-inhabitant
Corporal injury to a spouse or co-inhabitant is known as a “wobbler” offense and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. Penal Code Section 273.5 describes the offense as the infliction of physical injury on an intimate partner causing a traumatic condition. Unlike with domestic battery, the victim must suffer physical injuries, such as bruises, cuts, fractures, etc.
Under this section, intimate partner is defined much more narrowly, including only:
- Past or present spouses
- Past or present co-inhabitants
- The mother or father of the defendant’s child
The offender will be charged with a felony if the victim’s injuries are serious or if the defendant has a prior criminal record.
The penalties for a felony conviction include a maximum prison sentence of 4 years and a maximum fine of $6,000. A misdemeanor conviction can result in the same maximum fine amount and a stint up to 1 year in a Los Angeles County jail.
Common Defenses to Domestic Violence Charges
An arrest in an alleged domestic abuse situation can be both unexpected and frustrating. You may feel like the whole incident was a misunderstanding or was just blown out of proportion. Fortunately, there are many potential defenses in cases like these.
Some of the common defenses include:
- The alleged victim is lying: In many cases, the alleged victim is found to have made false statements about what happened.
- The incident was an accident: The victim may have suffered the injuries in an accident, instead of due to intentional or willful conduct on the part of the defendant.
- The defendant was acting in self-defense: If the alleged victim was attacking the defendant, the defendant may have responded with physical force out of fear for their life.
- The police made errors: An experienced Los Angeles domestic violence attorney will thoroughly go through the details of the arrest and any related police investigations. If the police committed an error at any point in the process, evidence could be thrown out or the case may be dismissed entirely.
- Domestic violence cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt: Reasonable doubt is an incredibly difficult standard to meet. Domestic violence cases can often be reduced to he said, she said situations. If the defense can impeach the testimony of a key witness, such as the accuser, the prosecution may not clear the reasonable doubt bar.
Remember, in any criminal case, an arrest is just the start. Talk to a domestic violence lawyer in Los Angeles about all the potential ways you can fight the charges against you.
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Can Domestic Violence Charges Be Dropped?
In domestic violence cases, people often assume that the alleged victim has the power to “press charges.” However, it is not up to the victim whether the case proceeds or not.
The prosecutor is the one who decides whether there is enough evidence to bring a case. That being said, a skilled Los Angeles domestic violence lawyer can identify all possible weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and argue for the charges to be dropped or reduced, depending on the circumstances.
Common Charges Related to Domestic Violence
When a person is charged with domestic violence, they often also face charges for residual crimes, including:
- Child abuse and endangerment – Penal Code Section 273(a)
- Restraining order violations – Penal Code Section 273.6
- Protective order violations – Penal Code Section 273.6
- Battery – Penal Code Section 242
- Assault – Penal Code Section 240
- Stalking – Penal Code Section 646.9(a)
- Aggravated trespass – Penal Code Section 601
- Criminal threats – Penal Code Section 422
- Damage to a telephone or cable line – Penal Code Section 591
- Dissuading a witness from reporting a crime – Penal Code Section 136.1
- Elder abuse – Penal Code Section 368