What Everybody Ought to Know About Domestic Violence

Written by Steve Lau.

It is against the law to hit someone (i.e. commit a battery) against anyone. However, if the alleged victim is your spouse, fiancé, girlfriend/boyfriend, co-habitant or even your dating partner, California domestic violence laws makes the allegation of even a simple battery much more serious.

While rape and murder can be forms of domestic violence, most often domestic violence consists of lesser forms of physical abuse such as slapping and pushing.

Most district attorney offices in California have a special unit dedicated to prosecuting domestic violence cases. Because of the public outcry against past indifference in the prosecution of domestic violence cases, prosecutors usually will proceed with the case even if the accuser insists he/she doesn't want to press charges. Most counties impose jail time for domestic abuse convictions, even in first-offense misdemeanor cases.

Innocent People Get Accused

Unfortunately, innocent people get wrongly accused of domestic violence all the time in California.

Often times, an accuser will make a false allegation of domestic abuse out of anger or jealousy, or to gain the upper hand in divorce or child custody proceedings.

Sometimes what appears to the police to be a domestic battery was really an accident, or the arrested person having acted in self-defense during a mutual struggle.

California Domestic Violence Laws

California domestic violence laws make it illegal to use physical force--or to communicate threats of harm--against an intimate partner. These are the most common DV crimes:

Penal Code 273.5 – Corporal Injury to a Spouse or Cohabitant - Penal Code 273.5 makes it illegal to inflict a "corporal injury" resulting in a "traumatic condition." A person commits this crime by striking his/her intimate partner in some violent way and causing a visible injury, even a slight one such as swelling or a bruise. This California domestic violence law can be charged if the alleged victim is a current or former spouse or cohabitant or the parent of your child.

Penal Code 243(e)(1) – Domestic Battery - Penal Code 243(e)(1) makes it a misdemeanor crime to inflict force or violence on an intimate partner...a category that includes your fiancè, cohabitant, the parent of your child, or your current or former spouse or dating partner. Unlike Penal Code 273.5, this California domestic violence law does not require a visible injury.

Penal Code 273(d) – Child Abuse - Penal Code 273d makes it a crime to inflict "corporal punishment or injury" on a child if it was "cruel or inhuman" and caused an injury (even a slight injury). California child abuse laws allow a parent reasonable latitude to spank a child, but draw the line where the punishment is cruel or injures the child.

Penal Code 273(a) – Child Endangerment - Penal Code 273a makes it a crime to willfully allow a child (in your care or custody) to suffer harm or to have his/her safety or health endangered. An example would be a mother who permits her boyfriend to beat her 6-year-old; or a parent who operates a dangerous meth lab in the same home where his/her child lives.

Penal Code 368 – Elder Abuse - Penal Code 368 makes it a crime to inflict physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, endangerment or financial fraud on a victim 65 years of age or older. The crime is usually charged against caregivers, but can also be charged against anyone who commits these sorts of offenses against a senior citizen victim.

Penal Code 422 – Criminal Threats - Penal Code 422 makes it a crime to communicate a threat of serious harm to someone if (1) you intend to put the person in fear, and (2) you actually do put the person in sustained fear. Criminal Threats may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. As a felony, it counts as a strike under California Three Strikes Law.

Domestic Violence and Immigration Issues

California domestic violence laws present an especially serious problem for immigrants who are not United States citizens. Most of the DV offenses are crimes of moral turpitude, conviction of which will trigger deportation. If you are a non-citizen accused of some sort of domestic abuse crime, it's imperative that you fight the case and avoid a criminal conviction. Otherwise you may lose your opportunity to remain in the United States and eventually to naturalize.

California Domestic Violence Penalties & Sentencing

The penalty, punishment and sentencing for crimes under California domestic violence law varies depending on (1) the seriousness of the injuries, if any, and (2) the defendant's criminal record. But most counties impose a minimum 30 days jail, even for first-time misdemeanor convictions. Additionally, judges almost always require the defendant to attend a 52-week domestic batterers class.
Worst of all, a California domestic violence conviction goes on one's permanent criminal record...and will surface anytime someone does a routine background check. This can make it difficult to gain employment, state licensing and other benefits.