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Domestic Violence Laws in California

Posted in Domestic Violence,Domestic Violence FAQ'S on April 5, 2020

The laws surrounding domestic violence in California are complex and can be difficult to follow. It is essential to understand how these laws work, so you can protect your rights. If you were recently accused of domestic violence and you need legal assistance, the Law Offices of Graham Donath offer free consultations and case evaluations, you can reach our Riverside domestic violence lawyers at (951) 667-5293 or by filling out an online contact form

California’s domestic violence statutes seek to prevent violence within families. Domestic violence occurs when one party commits a crime within a set of relationships defined by the California Penal Code. Under California law, domestic violence applies to the following relationships: a spouse or former spouse, a parent of a shared child, or a dating relationship. Though separate from child abuse, domestic abuse crimes generally co-occur.

There are several California domestic violence laws that inform domestic violence charges in the state. Some of the most relevant include:

Penal Code 243(E): “Domestic Battery” or “Spousal Battery”

This section of California law describes domestic battery, which is one of the state’s most common domestic violence crimes. Under California law, domestic battery occurs when one person commits unlawful and willful touching of another person that is offensive or harmful. Domestic battery applies when these acts are against:

  • A spouse or ex-spouse
  • A “cohabitant” or someone you lived with (or used to live with)
  • A fiancé or ex-fiancé
  • The mother or father of your child
  • Any person with whom you do or used to have a dating relationship

A domestic battery may also be referred to as “spousal battery” because of the nature of the relationship involved. You may face a charge of domestic violence even if your partner did not experience any injury – the law only requires the use of force or violence.

The following are examples of actions that might give rise to domestic battery charges:

  • Pushing a spouse or partner during a fight
  • Pulling his or her hair
  • Grabbing a partner by the shirt

Domestic battery charges are generally misdemeanors under California law.

California Penal Code 273.5: Corporal Injury To Spouse

The second law that informs domestic violence is called “Corporal Injury on Spouse or Cohabitant.” This is a crime that involves the willful infliction of injury or harm that causes a visible, traumatic condition in an intimate partner (listed above). Examples of corporal injury in a spouse or cohabitant include:

  • Squeezing a partner’s arm hard enough to leave bruises
  • Punching, kicking or biting
  • Pushing someone into a glass cabinet that shatters

This crime may also be referred to as spousal abuse or domestic abuse. It’s a “wobbler” under California law, which means it may be a misdemeanor or a felony. The classification depends on the unique circumstances of the case and the defendant’s legal history.

Penal Code 422: Criminal Threats

In some cases, prosecutors may use the criminal threats law to charge a defendant with domestic violence. A criminal threat is defined as threatening to harm someone and that person:

  • Reasonably fears for their safety
  • Received the communication in writing, verbally, or over an electronic device, and
  • Experienced a threat that was unambiguous and specific

You may be charged with a criminal threat even if you have no intention of carrying it out. This too is a wobbler under California law. A misdemeanor conviction carries a sentence of up to one year in county jail, while a felony conviction could mean up to four years in state prison.

Again, domestic abuse charges- whether falling under a wobbler, misdemeanor, or felony- can be confusing and always ensure harsh penalties in California. Our experienced Riverside assault lawyer, Graham D. Donath, has successfully argued to reduce felony charges to misdemeanors or have the assault charges dropped altogether. Call today to schedule your free consultation.

What Is the Legal Definition of Domestic Abuse?

Domestic violence occurs when a person in an intimate relationship commits one of the following acts against the other person in the relationship:

  • Intentionally and recklessly causing physical harm
  • Sexual assault or battery
  • Leading someone to believe that he or she faces imminent harm
  • Harassing, stalking, threatening, or intimidation
  • Destroying another person’s property
  • Disturbing the peace

Physical abuse and battery don’t pertain to only hitting – a person may face domestic violence charges for kicking, shoving, pushing, throwing things, or pulling hair. Additionally, a person may face domestic abuse charges resulting from the harmful conduct of a verbal, psychological or emotional manner.

What Crimes Constitute Domestic Abuse?

A prosecutor may charge an individual with domestic violence under several sections of California’s Penal Code. Some of the most common include:

  • Section 242. Battery is a crime in which one party uses unlawful force or commits a violent act against another person. Section 243(e)(1) specifically prohibits the use of battery in familial and intimate relationships. Under Section 243(d), a defendant may face more serious criminal charges if he or she inflicted “serious bodily harm” on the victim.
  • Section 273.5. The California Penal Code outlaws domestic violence when an individual’s intentional conduct leads to “corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition.” In other words, when a person intentionally or willfully inflicts harm on a domestic partner, he or she may face criminal charges.
  • Section 422. An individual may face criminal charges under Section 422 of the California Penal Code, which applies to criminal threats and intimidation. When a person willfully commits threats of serious or imminent bodily injury, he or she may face charges for domestic abuse.

Filing a Restraining Order

California law allows victims of suspected domestic violence to file restraining orders or emergency protective orders within the criminal and civil court systems. Under state law, the person seeking the order does not necessarily have to prove that he or she suffered physical harm. Emotional and mental abuse or fear of imminent danger may be enough for an individual to file a protection order within the court system.

What Are the Penalties for Domestic Abuse?

The penalties surrounding domestic abuse vary widely depending on the nature of the crime, the degree of bodily injury suffered by the victim, and other factors.

For example, a battery conviction under Section 243(e) may lead to fines up to $2,000, county jail time up to one year, or both. A judge may also choose to allow probation for first offenders and require the offender to complete counseling.

Section 243(d) addresses serious bodily injury and carries commensurate jail time. These penalties can include two to four years in state prison and issuance of a restraining order.

Section 273.5 can carry felony convictions. Felony domestic violence can result in up to one year in county jail or two to four years in a state prison. It also carries up to $6,000 in fines.

Domestic violence involves both misdemeanors and felony consequences, depending on the nature of the crime. If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence, encourage them to seek help or read more about California laws regarding domestic crimes.