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An Overview of California Domestic Violence Laws

The Legal Definition of Domestic Violence in California

According to California Penal Code 13700, “domestic violence” is defined as recklessly or intentionally using, or threatening to use, physical violence upon an intimate partner.

Who is an “Intimate Partner,” According to California Law?

California Domestic Violence Laws are intended to protect intimate partners and children from harm.  In California, it is a crime to threaten to harm, or harm an intimate partner.  According to California law, an intimate partner is defined as:

  • A current spouse,
  • A former spouse,
  • A child of the defendant,
  • A person who the accused has, or has had, a child with,
  • A current registered domestic partner,
  • A former registered domestic partner,
  • A current live-in romantic partner (a “cohabitant”),
  • A former live-in romantic partner (a “cohabitant”),
  • A current fiancé,
  • A former fiancé,
  • A past dating relationship,

Any person the defendant is related to by either consanguinity (blood) or by affinity (marriage) in the second degree:

  • Brothers / Sisters,
  • Grandparents / Grandchildren,
  • Step-brothers / Step-sisters,
  • Half-brothers / Half-sisters,
  • Aunts / uncles, and
  • Nephews / nieces.

The most common criminal charges filed in domestic violence situations include California Penal Code 273.5, “inflicting corporal injury on an intimate partner,” and Penal Code 243(e)(1) “domestic battery.”

Common Legal Defenses to California Domestic Violence Charges

When an individual is accused of or charged with a domestic violence charge, they face serious criminal charges.  In the State of California, domestic violence crimes are “wobbler” offenses.  A “wobbler” offense means the crime may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the accusations’ facts and circumstances. For example, law enforcement or state prosecutors may raise a domestic violence offense to a felony offense depending on the defendant’s prior criminal convictions, the circumstances surrounding the offense, and the severity of the victim’s injuries.

The following types of criminal charges are often charged with a domestic abuse offense, resulting in the defendant being charged with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances.  California domestic violence-related charges that are also deemed “wobbler” offenses in California:

  • Aggravated trespass (California Penal Code 601)
  • Child abuse (California Penal Code 273d)
  • Child endangerment (California Penal Code 273a)
  • Criminal threats (California Penal Code 422)
  • Damaging a phone line (California Penal Code 591)
  • Elder abuse (California Penal Code 368)
  • Stalking (California Penal Code 646.9)

Understanding the offense’s circumstances, allegations, and specific criminal charges will be important when determining the best defense strategy.  A few of the most common defenses used in domestic violence case include showing that:

  • The victim is lying;
  • The alleged actions were an accident;
  • The defendant was acting in self-defense;
  • The defendant was acting in the defense of another; or
  • The victim’s injuries were not a result of the defendant’s actions.

Your domestic defense attorney’s goal is to persuade the prosecuting attorney to drop the criminal case or negotiate a lesser criminal charge.  Your defense attorney will also try to help the defendant avoid jail time by arguing for treatment instead of jail time.

Penalties for a Domestic Violence Conviction in California

In California, first time misdemeanor offenses are punished with up to one (1) year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000.  Felony offenses are punished with a fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to four (4) year in prison.  The amount of prison/jail time and legal fines will also depend on the specific offense and the criminal record of the defendant.

A California domestic violence conviction might also include the following additional punishments:

  • A restraining order (protective order),
  • A permanent criminal record,
  • Loss of child custody rights,
  • Loss of gun rights,
  • Mandatory domestic violence classes,
  • Mandatory minimum jail time,
  • Non-citizens face inadmissibility to the United States or deportation,
  • Payment of fines, and/or
  • Payment of victim restitution.
  • Probation – “Summary” (for misdemeanors) or “Formal” (for felonies).

In domestic violence cases, the state’s prosecuting attorney often “over-charged” defendants.  Therefore, it is essential that anyone who had been accused or charged with a crime discuss their case with a private criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Your defense attorney must be involved early in the case to persuade the prosecuting attorney not to file criminal charges. Also, experienced domestic violence defense attorneys have a better chance of negotiating a plea bargain to help the defendant avoid a domestic abuse conviction’s severe consequence.  An experienced defense lawyer will ensure that your side of the story is understood.  Opposite to what most people have heard, defendants can win their case.

The Law Office of Wesley Schroeder is ready to get started on your case. Call (408) 277-­0377 or contact us online to schedule an appointment with our firm today.