False accusations of domestic violence can arise in an instant. In California, most people understand that it is illegal to commit an assault or battery on another person which, many times, takes the form of hitting another person and causing injury. Such unlawful touching can lead to more serious criminal charges if the person you commit a battery against is your spouse, co-habitant, boyfriend/girlfriend or the parent of your child. Unfortunately, domestic violence criminal charges in California, whether the case is filed in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura or San Bernardino County, can stem from false accusations by a spouse or partner. These claims can erupt in divorce and custody proceedings and in many other contexts where former spouses or persons with whom one has had a bad breakup or dysfunctional current relationship. In those cases and in every criminal case, it is important for a person accused of a crime to consult with an experienced California criminal defense lawyer so that they may defend themselves against domestic violence charges whether the case is a misdemeanor or felony.
The Domestic Violence Crimes in California
1. Corporal Injury to a Spouse (Cohabitant)
Under California Penal Code section 273.5, it is unlawful for any person to inflict corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant if such injury causes a “traumatic condition.” “Traumatic condition” is broadly defined to include very small injuries including the slightest bruising. In addition, California Penal Code section 273.5 may be charged as a felony which often occurs in cases where a more serious injury is inflicted. In addition, Penal Code section 273.5 applies to ex-spouses and partners or persons involved in a dating relationship. After the OJ Simpson case in Los Angeles, most prosecuting agencies in California are more inclined to charge a person accused of such a crime. In a misdemeanor domestic violence case, a person can face terms of probation which may include 52 domestic violence or anger management classes, significant fines, a stay-away order from the complaining spouse or partner and potentially up to 1 year in a county jail. If an experienced criminal defense lawyer is able to evaluate and properly defend such a case, often times they can obtain a reduction in charges, reduction in sentence and/or a complete dismissal of charges under Penal Code section 273.5.
2. Lesser Charges to Penal Code section 273.5 (Domestic Battery)
In many charges involving domestic violence persons may be charged with crimes that have less serious potential sentences than a felony or misdemeanor charge of Penal Code section 273.5. For instance, under California Penal Code section 243(e)(1)(Domestic Batter), it is unlawful to inflict “violence” or “force” on a spouse, ex-spouse, co-habitant or partner. Such charges don’t require an actual physical batter with injury for a person to be found guilty. In addition, although classified as a misdemeanor, in many instances a criminal defense attorney may be able to get a felony Penal Code section 273.5 charge reduced to a Domestic Battery charge which will often times allow a person charged in a domestic violence case to avoid jail time and receive reduced terms of summary probation on a sentence.
3. Other Charges Often Alleged in Domestic Violence Cases
In more serious domestic violence cases, a person may be charged with other felonies such as attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and torture (carrying a life sentence). Often times, a felony charge of making “criminal threats” will be added in a domestic violence case. Under California Penal Code section 422, it is unlawful for a person who willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, with the specific intent that the statement, made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device, is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out, which, on its face and under the circumstances in which it is made, is so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened, a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, and thereby causes that person reasonably to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family’s safety. As one can see, there are many elements which a prosecutor must prove in order to have a jury find a person guilty of committing criminal threats. The best defense for such charges along with any domestic violence related charges is to first retain and/or consult with a criminal defense lawyer who has experience defending persons accused of such crimes. With the right defense lawyer, charges in such cases can be reduced to a misdemeanor or even dismissed.