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Are Domestic Violence Charges a Felony in the State of California?

According to California Penal code 273.5, “Domestic violence” covers crimes such as child abuse, domestic battery, and the infliction of a corporal injury on a cohabitant or spouse. In the state of California, “domestic violence” is the phrase typically used to define a category of crimes in which a person uses physical violence upon a special class of individuals. This special class of individuals is determined by the relationship between the accused and the accuser.

Under California Domestic Abuse Law, this class of individuals comprises:

  • Boyfriends (Past or Present)
  • Children
  • Cohabitants
  • Girlfriends (Past or Present)
  • Family Members
  • Roommates
  • Spouses
  • The Defendant’s Fiancé (current or former)

In the state of California, a prosecuting attorney determines if the defendant will face a misdemeanor or felony charge. The prosecuting attorney makes this determination based on the facts and circumstances of the case. For example, the prosecuting attorney will evaluate the severity of the injury done to the victim and the criminal history of the accused. This is especially true in cases of domestic violence.

In most cases, simple domestic violence charges are misdemeanor offenses in the state of California. However, a domestic violence charge may be elevated to a felony criminal charge if:

  • there was a sexual assault on a minor;
  • there was bodily harm done to a minor;
  • the victim received severe bodily injury;
  • there was sexual assault on the victim;
  • the defendant has prior domestic violence convictions;
  • the defendant has prior convictions for other crimes; or if
  • the defendant has other domestic violence criminal charges.

When an individual has been charged with domestic violence on a spouse, that individual will be facing one of two types of charges.

  1. Corporal Injury to a Spouse, which a felony charge, or
  2. Spousal Battery, which is a misdemeanor charge.

Corporal Injury to a Spouse or a Cohabitant in the State of California

A criminal charge of “corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant” is brought against an individual when he or she inflicts personal injuries to the victim, causing a “traumatic condition.” One might be surprised to learn that even the least severe bruise could be considered a “traumatic condition.” However, emotional pain or emotional distress is not considered a “traumatic condition.” Also, the attorney prosecuting the case against the defendant has to prove intent to commit the criminal offense. For example, if the accused has a self-inflicted injury and states, the accused caused the injuries. In that case, a self-inflicted injury would not meet the standard of showing intent by the accused.

The Penalties for Felony Domestic Violence in California

If a defendant is charged with felony domestic violence, the defendant will be facing a prison sentence of up to 4 years. The sentence could be longer, depending on the seriousness of the injuries the accused inflicted. Additionally, you will have to undergo a mandatory domestic violence class.

Spousal Battery Charges and Penalties in California

According to the California penal code, “spousal battery” is defined as unlawful and willful use of violence on a cohabitant or spouse. The victim does not need to have any visible injuries for you to be charged with spousal battery. If the defendant has a history of committing violent crimes within the past seven years, the defendant could be facing fines of up to $10,000 and a prison sentence of up to five years if convicted of “spousal battery.” The criminal record of the accused will affect sentencing if the accused is found guilty of “spousal battery.” Also, if the victim has suffered bodily injuries, and the defendant is found guilty of “spousal battery,” the defendant could have additional prison time added to the end of any prison time given to the defendant for the “spousal battery” charge.

The Penalties for Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Charges in California

If an individual is charged and found guilty of misdemeanor domestic battery in the state of California, the defendant will be ordered to pay a fine of $2,000 and/or complete a one-year prison sentence in county jail. If represented by an experienced domestic violence attorney, the defense attorney may be able to help the defendant receive reduced penalties such as:

  • no prison time,
  • a reduced prison sentence, and/or
  • lower fines.

If a criminal justice court permits a no jail time plea deal, the court will likely require a lengthy probationary sentence and may require the defendant to receive counseling.

All Types of Domestic Charges Are Serious – You Need Representation

In California, domestic violence criminal charges may be brought against an individual regardless of whether or not the victim reported the incident. Also, if an individual is charged with domestic violence, it is unlikely that the charges will be dropped regardless of the victim’s plea for criminal charges to be dropped.

Legal Consequences of a Domestic Violence Conviction in California

The life changes consequences of a domestic violence conviction in the state of California may include damage to your reputation, community service, mandated counseling, fines, lengthy probation, and/or incarceration. Also, the court may order the defendant never to make contact with the victim or visit the victim’s home. Further, the charge will be on your criminal record indefinitely, making it more difficult for you to obtain employment.