Conflicts happen in every relationship. However, if it escalates to the point of physical harm, the police may be involved. California domestic violence laws protect vulnerable people like intimate partners, children, and the elderly from physical and mental abuse. In California, you can face an arrest and charges for domestic violence if you threaten to harm or inflict actual harm on your relative, your children, or a domestic partner. In addition, there are several crimes for which you can be charged after an arrest in an instance of domestic violence, including child abuse, elder abuse, domestic battery, corporal injury on a spouse, among others.

The consequences that accompany a conviction for domestic violence are severe, and they include fines, jail time, and payment of restitution fees to the victim. If you or your loved one faces criminal charges for domestic violence, you will need the guidance of a competent criminal defense attorney. At San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer, we will provide you with the legal guidance and representation you need to ensure the best outcome for your case.

Overview of Domestic Violence in California

Domestic violence is abuse directed towards a child or an adult who is your spouse, former spouse, or someone with whom you have a child. It is common for relationships to have arguments and disagreements. However, when these instances escalate to criminal threats or physical violence, the police may be involved. California law defines domestic violence into two separate laws:

  • California Penal Code 13700 makes it a crime to threaten or exert force on an intimate partner. The answer to how much force is needed to charge you with domestic violence lies in the different crimes under this statute.
  • California Family Code expands the States meaning of domestic abuse makes it illegal to exert or threaten force on close family or spouse.

It is a common myth that the victim of domestic violence can ask for the charges to be dropped, and the court will dismiss your case. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As soon as the officers are called to a scene of domestic violence, the individuals involved will not have control of what happens next. For example, if there are visible injuries on the victim, you could be arrested, and the prosecutor will decide what type of charges to file.

There are several crimes under domestic violence, including:

Domestic Battery

Under California PC 243(e) (1), domestic battery inflicts force or violence on an intimate partner. For you to be charged and convicted with domestic battery, the prosecutor will not need to prove the existence of physical injury on the alleged victim. Even the slightest touching done offensively could constitute a battery. Compared to an ordinary battery, California law punishes domestic battery more severely.

Domestic battery is charged as a misdemeanor, and a conviction will result in a one-year jail sentence and a $2,000 fine.

Child Abuse

California PC 273d makes it a crime to inflict injury or corporal punishment on a minor. It is essential to understand that any cruel punishment could potentially harm the child is considered abuse. Before you are convicted for child abuse, the prosecutor must prove that:

  • You willfully inflicted cruel punishment or an injury on a child
  • Your actions cause the child to suffer a traumatic physical condition
  • Your actions were not part of a reasonable discipline on the child

Child abuse is a wobbler. Depending on the level of injury on the child, the crime can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. A felony conviction is punishable by a six-year prison sentence, while a misdemeanor conviction attracts a one-year jail sentence.

Corporal Injury to a Cohabitant or Spouse

An individual who uses physical force to inflict bodily injury on a former or current spouse can be arrested and charged with corporal injury. Unlike a domestic battery, touching this type of crime must have resulted in physical injury. In addition, the damages that constitute this crime are visible from the outside.

Unlike other domestic violence crimes, inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant is a felony. A conviction for the offense subjects you to a four-year prison sentence and or a $6,000 fine. If you have a prior conviction for battery or assault, your sentence may be increased to five years.

Child Endangerment

You commit a crime of child endangerment if you willfully allow a child under your care to suffer harm or have their safety in jeopardy. Unlike child abuse, child endangerment does not need the prosecutor to prove that the child sustained actual injury. There are three ways through which you can omit the crime of child endangerment including:

  • Permitting or causing a minor to suffer physical, mental, or emotional pain and suffering
  • Willfully allowing a child under your care to suffer injuries.
  • Willfully causing a child to be placed in a dangerous situation. If you leave a weapon within a child’s reach, you could face child endangerment charges.

Child endangerment is often charged as a misdemeanor, and a conviction will attract a jail sentence of up to one year. However, if you put a minor at risk of great bodily harm, you could be charged with felony child endangerment, which is punishable by a prison sentence of up to six years.

Aggravated Trespass

You can face an arrest and charges for aggravated trespass if you make criminal threats and enter the person’s home in the next thirty days to carry out your threats. The State must prove the following factors to establish a conviction for aggravated trespass under CPC 601:

  • You made a credible threat of inflicting severe bodily injury to the alleged victim. You could be arrested and charged under this statute for making written, verbal or implied threats.
  • You issued the threats with the intent to make the victim fear for their safety.
  • Within thirty days of issuing the threats, you entered the person living or workplace intending to carry out the threats.

However, there are exceptions to this statute. For example, if you are entering your workplace or are engaged in labor union actions, you cannot face aggravated trespassing charges for entering the property. Aggravated trespass is often charged as a misdemeanor. However, some aggravating circumstances could cause the prosecutor to charge you with a felony. A misdemeanor conviction for violation of PC 601 attracts a one-year jail sentence. On the other hand, a felony conviction will be punishable by up to three years in State prison and fines not exceeding $10,000.

Elder Abuse

California PC 368 is designed to protect older members of society. You can face an arrest and charges for elder abuse if you inflict physical, mental, or psychological abuse on a dependent adult or elder. Also, neglecting or allowing an elder under your care to suffer could attract criminal charges. Under this statute, an elder is any individual over sixty-five years. Like child abuse, elder abuse occurs when you inflict:

  • Unjustifiable emotional or physical pain
  • Willful neglect
  • Financial exploitation on the elder

Prosecutors can charge elder abuse as a felony or a misdemeanor in California. If you face a misdemeanor conviction, you are likely to spend a year in jail and pay up to $6,000 in fines. Should your crime be charged as a felony, elder abuse attracts a prison sentence of up to four years and a fine not exceeding $10,000. However, prosecutors have the discretion of determining the nature of your charges by considering different factors of your situation.

Damaging a Telephone Line

Many people who commit the crime of damaging telephone lines do so to prevent others from seeking help. You can be arrested and charged with domestic violence under California Penal Code 591 if you stop an intimate person from calling for help in a domestic violence instance by damaging telephone lines. However, damaging telephone lines is charged as a wobbler. As a misdemeanor, damaging telephone lines are punishable by a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Sometimes, the prosecutor can charge you with a felony, and a conviction will result in three-year imprisonment and fines not exceeding $10,000.

Criminal Threats

It is an offense to threaten another person or their family with serious harm. Your statements will meet the criteria of criminal threats if:

  • It explicitly states that you will cause substantial harm or kill someone else.
  • Your statement put the alleged victim in a state of sustained fear. It is crucial to understand that you can face Penal Code 422 even when you did not intend to carry out the threats.
  • You passed the threat verbally, via electronic media, or in writing.

In California, making criminal threats is a wobbler. The prosecutor can charge the crime as a felony or a misdemeanor. As a misdemeanor, violation of PC 422 is punishable by a one-year jail sentence. As a felony, making criminal threats attracts a four years prison sentence. Additionally, a felony conviction for this offense will count as a strike under California’s Three Strikes law. This could affect future sentencing if you commit other crimes.

Additional Consequences of Domestic Violence in California

A conviction for domestic violence attracts more punishment than jail time and fines. Further consequences that accompany these offenses include:

Criminal Record. A conviction for domestic violence will remain on your record. In California, a criminal record is always accessible to the public and will show up in the background checks done by potential employers. Most employers are reluctant to take on people with a criminal background, and the domestic violence conviction could be the basis of denying you the job.

Immigration Consequences

In California, domestic violence is a crime of moral turpitude. A conviction for crimes of moral turpitude may result in deportation or being rendered inadmissible. Therefore, before you plead guilty or no contest to domestic violence, it is crucial for you as a non-citizen to consult a skilled attorney.

Payment of victim restitution

If you are convicted of domestic violence, you could be ordered to pay victim restitution to cover medical bills, lost wages, or property damage suffered by the victim. Also, you may be required to pay up to $500 to fund the domestic violence program.

Loss of Child Custody.

In most cases, domestic violence cases accompany the end of relationships, separation, and divorce. In California, defendants facing charges or a conviction for domestic violence are prohibited from gaining custody of minor children. For custody cases, the family court judge does not need to establish a conviction for domestic violence to deny you custody.

Loss of Gun Rights

A conviction for domestic violence in California will most likely result in losing your rights to purchase or possess a firearm. If you face a conviction for a misdemeanor, you could face a ten-year firearm ban. However, if you are convicted for inflicting corporal injury on a spouse under California Penal Code 273.5, you will suffer a lifetime loss of your gun rights. If you are convicted of a felony, state and federal laws prohibit you from gun possession. If the court bans your gun rights for a felony conviction, you can only restore them through a presidential pardon.

Restraining Order

Victims of domestic violence can apply for an emergency protective order against the defendant. If you face a conviction for domestic violence, the victim does not need proof of physical harm to file a restraining order against you in a civil or criminal court. However, the person seeking the protective order must prove that:

  • They have suffered abuse or threat of injury
  • The abuser was an intimate partner or an immediate relative

If you are served with an emergency protective order for violating domestic violence laws, you will need to avoid contacting the alleged victim. Violation of an emergency domestic violence order is a criminal offense. If you do not cause injury to the victim, violation of the restraining order will be charged as a misdemeanor.

Face an arrest and charges for violating the protective order. You may be able to fight the charges by claiming that you did not know of the existence of the protective order or the violation was accidental.

Participation in a Barterers Program

When you face a domestic violence conviction, the judge will require you to seek treatment or attend a counseling program for up to one year. It is essential to understand that you will need to participate in the program even when you serve probation instead of jail time.

Probation in Domestic Violence Cases

In California, probation is often an alternative to a jail or prison sentence. For example, after a conviction for domestic violence, the judge could send you to a felony or misdemeanor probation, depending on the nature of your charges. However, the judge has the discretion to deny probation and sentence you to serve your time in county jail or California State prison.

The judge could grant you probation as a way to ensure that you pay your debt to society without spending time behind bars. After a domestic violence conviction, you could be sentenced to probation for up to three years. The sentence imposed after a domestic violence conviction will depend on whether you were charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.

There are two types of probation for which a domestic violence defendant can be sentenced. Informal probation is used for misdemeanor domestic violence convictions and lasts for one to three years. On the other hand, formal probation is served after a felony domestic violence conviction. Whether you serve misdemeanor or felony probation, you will be required to follow specific terms imposed by the judge.

Some of the standard probation terms for domestic violence cases include

  • Completion of a mandatory batterers intervention program
  • Substance abuse and anger management program
  • Community service
  • Pay fines and restitution
  • The judge could issue a domestic violence restraining order

Failure to complete the terms of domestic violence probation, the judge could issue a bench warrant for your arrest. In addition, a probation violation could result in revocation of your probation and reinstatement of the original sentence. In a probation violation hearing, your attorney can present testimony to dispute the fact that you violated probation.

Defenses against Domestic Violence in California

Domestic violence is a severe offense whose consequences could be life-changing. Fortunately, an arrest and prosecution will not always result in a conviction. Instead, your lawyer can explore several defense strategies to help you fight the charges.

Legal Defense

With the help of a skilled defense attorney, you can assert these legal defenses against domestic violence charges:

  1. False accusations. It is not uncommon for domestic violence cases to stem from false allegations. Anger and jealousy may drive a person to accuse you falsely. Also, domestic violence allegations are a common route taken by individuals who want to gain the upper hand in divorce and child custody cases. A skilled defense lawyer will employ an investigator to secure witness statements and forward the information to law enforcement. This will ensure that the false allegations are uncovered, and charges dropped.
  2. You acted in self-defense or defense of others. If you cause injury to another domestic partner or spouse when deepening yourself or another person, you can use self-defense to fight the domestic violence charges. However, when using this defense, you must have reasonably believed that you were at risk of harm. Also, you must have used the necessary force to protect yourself.
  3. The victim’s injuries did not result from your actions. Sometimes, a victim may have visible injuries which they claim resulted from abuse. By claiming that the injuries did not result from your actions, you will create doubt in the victim’s testimony and the prosecutor’s case.
  4. The injuries were accidental. Accidents happen all the time, and when a relationship is strained, these accidents could be viewed as abuse. Therefore, you can defend the domestic violence charge by claiming that the injuries were accidental.

Plea Bargains

Seeking a plea deal from the prosecutor is another strategy you can make for your case. A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can negotiate a plea to lesser charges. With plea bargains, you will be required to plead guilty or no contest to a lesser charge which helps you avoid the harsh penalties and stigma associated with a domestic violence conviction. Some of the most common plea bargains for domestic violence are distur9ng peace and criminal trespass.

Pleading guilty to one of these lesser charges will help you avoid an automatic loss of child custody. Also, you can retain your right to possess a firearm and avoid adverse immigration consequences.

Pretrial Diversion

Trying to obtain a pretrial diversion is another legal strategy that your attorney can pursue. Your charges will be dismissed and erased after completing the batterers program with the pretrial diversion. Not all defendants will qualify for a pretrial diversion. Eligibility may depend on the nature of your charges, your criminal history, and where you reside.

The law enforcement agencies in California often take domestic violence allegations quite seriously. Threatening to harm your child or spouse may cause you to be cut off from your family and face serious legal consequences. Therefore, seeking legal guidance is crucial.

Find a Competent Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Domestic violence constitutes crimes involving threats of abuse or actual abuse between individuals in an intimate relationship or family unit. You can be arrested and charged with one of the domestic violence crimes if you inflict physical or mental injury on a domestic partner, an elder, or a child under your care. A conviction for domestic violence cab attracts severe penalties like a lengthy prison sentence and hefty fines.

Not all arrests for domestic violence will result in a conviction. Many domestic violence cases result from false allegations or individuals seeking an upper hand in custody cases. With guidance from a skilled defense attorney, you can build a solid defense to fight the charges and avoid the consequences of a conviction. If you face domestic violence charges in San Diego, CA, we invite you to contact us, the San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer for much-needed legal guidance. Call us today at 619-695-1677 to discuss the details of your case.