Conflict is inevitable in every relationship, however, what happens when it becomes physical? That's when the authorities get involved. Domestic violence laws in California are intended to protect individuals who are vulnerable, such as domestic partners, minors, as well as senior citizens, from mental or physical violence.

Under California law, the prosecution has the alternative of charging a perpetrator with a felony or a misdemeanor for the different domestic violence acts committed. Usually, this decision is made depending on the seriousness of a victim's injuries, if the accused used any weapons during the act, or any other exacerbating elements, as will be discussed further in this blog.

General Overview of Domestic Violence in California

In California, the term "domestic violence" refers to a single or recurring act of abuse in which the accused uses physical force against a specific group of people. This special classification is determined by the relationship between the purported victim and the defendant. The following individuals fall into this category:

  • Spouses
  • Girlfriends/Boyfriends (current or previous)
  • Accused's engaged or formerly engaged partner
  • Children
  • Cohabitants
  • Members of the family

Domestic violence encompasses domestic battery under PEN 243(e), child abuse under PEN 273 (d), and inflicting corporal damage on a partner or domestic partner under PEN 273.5.

Although most people consider domestic violence incidents as one spouse attacking the other, this phrase can also be applied to any case wherein a family member, or even a roommate, is exposed to abusive acts. For example, hitting, slapping, whipping, threatening, using abusive language, or psychological or emotional manipulation.

Domestic violence is also a legal issue that could be brought up in both civil and criminal trials. It frequently arises during various sorts of family court proceedings, such as legal separation, divorce, and child custody battles. These cases are usually filed by private entities and heard in a civil court.

Domestic violence is a serious offense in California, as it is in many other jurisdictions. Previously viewed as a private affair kept between couples or families, police enforcement is now more probable than ever to intervene in domestic conflicts.

Domestic Violence: Felony vs. Misdemeanor

When you are arrested for domestic violence, you may face felony or misdemeanor charges, based on a variety of factors. It's critical to grasp the differences between a misdemeanor and a felony domestic violence violation, as well as what these distinctions signify for those facing domestic violence accusations.

The Distinction Between Felonies and Misdemeanors

In California, a felony is the most serious category of a criminal violation. A felony charge has serious implications, such as losing the right to vote and getting a felony charge on their record which could disqualify them from many career and housing prospects.

Misdemeanors, on the other hand, are offenses that carry a maximum sentence of a year in county jail. Most people guilty of misdemeanor charges are placed on summary probation and might be required to serve jail time as part of their sentence. Misdemeanors can have long-term ramifications and can stay on someone's record until and unless they are expunged.

Some felonies are classified as "wobblers," meaning they can be prosecuted as misdemeanors or felonies. When deciding what degree of criminal allegations to pursue, prosecutors will look at the details of the matter as well as the accused's previous history.

When are Domestic Violence Cases Considered a Felony in California?

Domestic violence can be considered a felony in at least 5 circumstances. Felony charges can be made under PEN 273.5 if an individual:

  • Imposes corporal harm on a domestic or romantic partner, that results in a distressing condition
  • Commits Domestic violence and has a history of previous battery charges within the last seven years
  • Commits Domestic Violence and has a previous domestic battery charge within the last seven years
  • Commits domestic violence that results in serious physical injury
  • Commits domestic violence with a degree of force that is likely to result in serious physical injury

Domestic violence is classed as a wobbler charge in California, which suggests it can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony. The following are factors that a prosecutor considers when deciding if to pursue a misdemeanor or felony charge:

  • The nature and severity of injuries your victim sustained
  • The circumstances of the incident
  • Your previous criminal history

Any bodily injury, whether major or slight, is considered a corporal injury according to PEN 273.5.

The Severity of Your Victim's Injuries

When determining whether to pursue the case as a misdemeanor or felony, prosecutors will consider one critical factor: Were there injuries, and how serious were they? Are these serious physical injuries? Did the victim have to get stitches? Were there any fractured bones?

If your victim sustains obvious injuries, you may face charges of corporal injury. Domestic violence that results in a traumatic injury, for instance, a fractured bone or a concussion could be prosecuted as a felony charge. Even though the medical community does not regard the traumatic state as severe, it might land you in deep trouble. The following are the penalties for corporal injury to a partner or cohabitant:

  • Maximum sentence of one year in county jail
  • A maximum sentence of 2, 3, or four months in state prison
  • Maximum fines of $6,000
  • A minimum of a 1-year mandatory batterer's treatment program

As you've seen, the possible consequences are quite harsh. And since most domestic violence cases in California result in significant injuries or fatalities, the consequences for physical injury on a spouse or other categories of people mentioned above are severe, and there is considerable leeway for modifying sentencing to fit the facts of the case.

Previous Domestic Violence Conviction

Domestic violence charges can also be charged as a felony if you have previously been convicted of domestic violence. It would certainly support the prosecutors' decision to pursue the matter as a felony rather than a misdemeanor. It is dependent on a variety of things.

Evidence of prior acts regarding domestic violence can be used legally as proof against you in an ongoing prosecution under California's laws on domestic violence. It isn't required that the allegations lead to a conviction as per this rule. It suggests that even though the past charges were proven false or if you were acquitted, the evidence can be used to show that you have a history of domestic violence and you are likely to be abusive again.

Prosecutors take into account if the accused has a previous record of violence. If the offender has previously been convicted of a domestic violence crime, a prosecution may decide to pursue a "wobbler" charge as a felony rather than a misdemeanor. If found guilty of the crime, the offender faces a jail term of up to 3 years.

The past charges do not have to have involved the same victim, happened similarly or had other connections to the current offense. Furthermore, even though the claimed previous act occurred years back, courts usually consider it as a form of evidence. This sort of proof can be extremely damaging to a person who should be deemed innocent until proven guilty.

Factors That Can Convert a Misdemeanor Charge to a Felony Charge

Several elements can turn a misdemeanor allegation of domestic violence into a felony. This could happen when the assault grows increasingly severe, the victim suffers more significant damage, or the offender has previously been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence.

Domestic violence can also result in felony charges if either one of the below conditions is involved during the occurrence:

  • When you employ a weapon
  • When you cause serious physical harm or death occurs
  • Abusive tendencies that persist
  • If there was any drink or illegal drugs present
  • If a minor or child was present during the incident
  • If you broke the terms of a restraining order
  • If you are a recurrent offender

Your Victim Can’t Drop the Charges

For domestic violence incidents, nothing is as it seems. What your victim says after the incident is irrelevant to the prosecution. They'll have a look at what your victim said when he or she reported the incident to the authorities. They'll consider the proof they have on hand. They'll take legal action despite what you claim if they have images of bruises, eyewitnesses who claim you assaulted your partner or others in the list above, or your victim claiming you assaulted them.

This is because it's the State of California that is against you, and not your victim, and the State has decided to pursue domestic violence cases vigorously, taking away your gun rights, putting you on probation, or sending you to prison, given the details of the case.

Penalties for Felony Domestic Violence Charges

If convicted of a felony, a domestic violence offender faces the following penalties under California PEN 273.5:

  • State prison sentences of 2, 3, or 4 years
  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • Fines of up to $6,000

If an offender has been convicted of certain previous assault or battery offenses within 7 years of committing a similar offense, the penalty could be enhanced to:

  • A state prison sentence of 2, 4, or 5 years
  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • Fines of up to $10,000

Under PEN 12022.7, the prosecution can also include a serious physical injury increase to a domestic violence conviction. The following is an increased penalty for the enhancement:

  • Sentence of three years in state prison

This severe physical injury increase must run concurrently with any other sentence the offender is facing.

If an offender guilty of domestic violence is placed on probation, the judge must set specific probation terms under PEN 1203.097. Below are some of the conditions:

  • A probationary period of a minimum of three years (minimum),
  • A criminal protective order (CPO) that safeguards the victim against further violent acts, harassment, intimidation, or threats
  • Participation in and successful fulfillment of a batterer's course,
  • Community service

Note that if you are convicted of domestic abuse, you will also lose your right to own a handgun.

Defending Against the Domestic Violence Felony Charges

When you are facing felony domestic violence charges, your attorney will help you construct a solid defense that could have your charges reduced to a misdemeanor or in some cases completely dismissed. These defenses may include:

A case of misidentification

If you argue that the alleged victim was abused by another individual, your attorney will seek the following evidence to back up your allegation:

Your domestic violence attorney will try to find out where you were at the moment of the incident. That is if you were around the crime scene at that time, the attorney will attempt to construct a solid alibi. He or she will hunt for any proof that proves you were present at the crime scene.

False Accusations

It's also likely that your partner or spouse made up the entire narrative to get back at you. If you use this as your defense, your lawyer will try to prove the following:

Whether the alleged victim's injuries match your narrative of events.

If your statements contradict the police report. For example, if you claim the victim was hurt when she fell down the stairs but the medical report contains no evidence of injuries consistent with the fall.

It was an Accident

This suggests you don't dispute being present when the victim was hurt and that you accidentally caused the harm. If you use this as your defense, your lawyer will look into it to make sure your claim is true. For example, if you allege that your hammer slid and injured your partner as you were repairing something in the kitchen, your attorney will look for the repair works that you had been doing in the kitchen, the hammer's placement, your spouse's position during the event, and traces of blood on any other possible weapons.

You Acted in Self Defense

If you argue you were merely defending yourself, your lawyer will:

  • Look for statements in the police report from the victim that he or she used aggression
  • Uncover why the alleged victim resorted to using violence. For example, did he or she use violence since they were afraid of you?
  • Contrast your statement to the one you told the authorities
  • Examine whether any of the alleged victim's injuries point to self-defense for you
  • Examine your body for any defensive injuries
  • Keep an eye out for discrepancies. If there are any damages in the house that you might have created, like holes in the walls that you might have punched using your fists

Domestic Violence Cannot Be Established Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

If your argument is that the alleged victim will not testify or if the claims against you are unfounded, your lawyer will:

  • Check to see if the prosecution's case is based on the alleged victims' claims
  • Determine whether you had injuries and, if you did, whether they were defensive
  • Ensure that the police's report stated that there was damage to property at the scene
  • Confirm whether there is any physical proof at the site that could incriminate you in the incident. Fingerprints on shattered things that might have been employed as a weapon, for example, could lead to your arrest
  • Check to see if you made statements at the crime scene, and if so, what did you say?
  • Will determine if you used intimidation to persuade the victim not to testify

The effectiveness of a solid defense will be determined by how well you work with your lawyer. Being open and honest about all aspects of the matter will help make the whole process a lot easier. Withholding critical details could make all the difference between being free and jeopardizing your career, or serving jail time.

Find a Domestic Violence Lawyer Near Me

Domestic violence allegations are often motivated by envy, a desire to get custody of children, or embellished reports of mutual conflicts. They are usually incriminating but with the help of a talented and skilled criminal defense attorney, they may be brought to light. If you are facing domestic violence charges in San Diego, you can contact the Domestic Violence Attorney Law Firm at 619-393-8588 today for a free initial consultation.