How California Defines Domestic Violence
California’s definition of domestic violence is outlined in Section 13700 of the California Penal Code. According to this section, the crime entails “abuse” committed against an adult or a minor who is a:
- Spouse or former spouse
- Cohabitant or former cohabitant
- Person who shares a child with the accused
- Person who has or has had a dating relationship with the accused
The law defines “abuse” as “intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury or placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent, serious bodily injury to himself or herself, or another.”
Domestic Battery vs. Corporal Injury
California law outlines two kinds of domestic violence charges: domestic battery and corporal injury.
Domestic battery, charged under California Penal Code Section 243(e)(1), is generally considered the less serious of the two charges. A domestic battery conviction does not require the victim to suffer actual bodily harm. Rather, it only necessitates a willful touching of a partner that is offensive or harmful.
For example, a boyfriend and girlfriend are arguing, and the boyfriend restrains the girlfriend by grabbing her shoulder when she tries to leave the house. The grabbing of the shoulder would constitute offensive or harmful touching.
For a domestic battery charge, the victim must be:
- A current or former spouse
- Person who dates or dated the offender
- Person who shares a child with the offender
Domestic battery is generally charged as a misdemeanor and triggers a maximum sentence of 1 year in a county jail and fines of up to $2,000.
The domestic violence charge of corporal injury to a spouse is considered more serious than domestic battery. A conviction for corporal injury requires bodily injury, not just touching. According to the Penal Code, the injury must be “willfully inflicted” and be considered a “traumatic injury” to the victim.
The definition of who the victim may be under a corporal injury charge is also much more restrictive, with only spouses, former spouses, and those who have been in an intimate, personal relationship with the offender qualifying.
Corporal injury to a spouse is considered a “wobbler” offense, meaning it could be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case and the offender’s criminal history. A misdemeanor offense can result in up to 1 year of incarceration at a Los Angeles County Jail and a fine of up to $6,000. A felony conviction could mean the same amount in fines and a 4-year term in a California State Prison.
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Common Charges Related to Domestic Violence
In addition to corporal injury and domestic battery, there are a range of charges that a person could face in a domestic violence case. Depending on the circumstances, prosecutors may pursue charges of:
- Child abuse and child endangerment ─ California Penal Code 273(a)
- Elder abuse ─ California Penal Code 368
- Restraining order violations ─ Penal Code 273.6
- Battery ─ California Penal Code 242
- Assault ─ California Penal Code 240
- Stalking – California Penal Code 646.9
- Aggravated trespass ─ California Penal Code 601
- Criminal threats ─ California Penal Code 422
- Damage to a telephone or cable line – California Penal Code 591
- Dissuading a witness from reporting a crime ─ Penal Code 136.1
Common Defenses to Domestic Violence
There are many potential defenses in domestic violence cases. Common defenses include:
- It was an accident: In many cases, the whole situation was an accident, and there was no intent to cause injury.
- The accused acted in self-defense: Defendants may claim that they inflicted physical force upon the victim as a means of self-preservation because the victim posed a legitimate threat to their personal safety.
- There are problems with evidence and testimony: The defense may impeach the testimony of a key witness or move to exclude critical evidence.
Every domestic violence case is different, with different strategies that may come into play for the defense. When you trust the Law Offices of Justin E. Sterling to handle your case, we will review all the evidence and help you fight for the best possible outcome.
Can Domestic Violence Charges Be Dropped by the Victim?
People who levy claims of domestic violence often feel remorse and may regret making their spouse or partner the subject of a criminal case. However, even if they want the charges to be dropped, sole discretion for pursuing the charges lies with the prosecutor. In other words, only the state can decide to drop the charges.