Domestic Violence is a serious crime that has just as many adverse consequences in criminal court as it does in family court. The District Attorney does not hesitate to press charges upon receiving police reports involving domestic disputes. Often times, criminal charges of domestic violence come as a shock to the alleged offender (and the victim) because it was never intended by either party for the offender to be arrested. Domestic disputes happen all the time, usually without violence, and couples typically reconcile and wish to continue their lives together once things calm down. However, once the District Attorney is involved, it is important that you have a competent, skilled defense lawyer to help you protect your rights. The District Attorney will not dismiss charges simply because the alleged offender and the victim have reconciled.
Misdemeanor v. Felony Domestic Violence
In order to understand the law of criminal domestic violence in California, one must first understand the critical distinction between a battery and a domestic battery. A battery occurs when there is any contact, however slight, that occurs by somebody who uses willful and unlawful force or violence upon another, but there is no requirement of skin-to-skin contact or injury. In addition, a battery does not depend on the relationship between the offender and the victim. A domestic battery is different in both of these respects–it requires a resulting injury and a special relationship between the offender and the victim.
In California, “domestic violence” is a generic term that refers to any kind of violence committed against a person who has a special relationship to the abuser. These “special” relationships include:
- A current or former boyfriend or girlfriend
- A current or former fiancé(e)
- Family members
- Cohabitants (including roommates or tenants)
Thus, a battery committed against a person who falls into one of those categories is a domestic battery. Depending on the nature of the alleged abuse, domestic violence can be charged as a misdemeanor (i.e., simple domestic battery) or a felony (i.e., infliction of corporal injury on a spouse–which is similar to an aggravated battery).
Misdemeanor Domestic Battery
California Penal Code Section 243(e)(1) defines a domestic battery as any willful and unlawful touching that is harmful or offensive and is committed against one of the aforementioned special relationships. A defendant can be convicted of a domestic battery even if the “victim” is not injured in any way. All that is required is that the defendant use “force” or “violence” against the other person. Some of examples of conduct that could constitute misdemeanor domestic battery are:
- A woman pushes her boyfriend during a fight
- A man tries to prevent his wife from leaving the house so he tries to step in her way and she falls over
- A man throws a pillow at his girlfriend during a fight
Notice how some of these forms of contact could be harmless, but they still rise to the level of a misdemeanor domestic battery. The potential penalties for this crime include a fine of up to $2,000 and/or imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year.
Felony Inflict of Corporal Injury on a Spouse
Infliction of corporal injury on a spouse is a wobbler that can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, but it is almost always filed as a felony. California Penal Code Section 273.5 requires the District Attorney to prove the following:
-The offender intentionally and unlawfully inflicted a physical injury on his or her current for former spouse, cohabitant, or child’s parent;
-The injury resulted in a traumatic condition; and
-The offender did not act in self-defense.
A traumatic condition is a wound or other bodily injury, whether minor or serious, caused by the direct use of physical force. Cohabitants, as used in the statute, means more than roommates and describes a relationship of two people living together for a substantial time.
When deciding whether to charge this crime as a misdemeanor or felony, the District Attorney will consider the severity of each individual wound or injury caused, as well as the totality of injuries, inflict upon the victim. Wounds and/or bruising are usually considered to be enough to charge this crime as a felony. Additionally, a previous conviction for a violent crime within the past 7 years (e.g., domestic battery or assault) could also lead the District Attorney to charge you with a felony.
Infliction of corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant is one of the most serious battery crimes. If charged as a felony, it carries a possible sentence of up to four years in state prison and fines of up to $6,000. Call us for a free consultation to discuss your case and the ways we can help you fight it.
California Penal Code Section 242 defines a battery as any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another. The definition says nothing about causing an injury, and it does not require that contact was made to the bare skin of the alleged victim. The slightest, non-injurious contact can be enough to commit a battery if it is done in a rude or angry way. The word “battery” sounds much worse than what is actually required by the statute, and it even includes offensive touching. This is also known as a “simple” battery and is charged as a misdemeanor under California Law.
The penalties for a simple battery in most cases include a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to 6 months in county jail.
If a battery does, in fact, result in serious injury, then it may rise to the level of an “aggravated” battery and be charged with the separate crime of battery causing bodily injury under California Penal Code Section 243(d). Under California Penal Code 243(d0, an aggravated battery occurs when:
- One person willfully touches another in a harmful or offensive manner; and
- The person who has been touched suffers a “serious bodily injury” as a result.
Aggravated battery is a wobbler that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, but it is usually prosecuted as a felony. If it is charged as a misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. If it is charged as a felony, the potential penalties include two to four years in county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
In any case, battery is a serious crime and it is important that you have an attorney to protect your rights. Call us now if you wish to hire a skilled criminal defense attorney to help ensure your rights are protected.