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Domestic Violence Crimes in California: A Quick Catalogue

California law is decidedly severe when it comes to crimes of domestic violence—to the point that even being charged with a DV offense should evoke a sense of fear. Whether you are guilty or wrongfully accused, if a bad situation at home results in being charged with a crime, you should be as informed as possible about each charge, and its possible penalties, so you know what to expect and how to be prepared.

To that end, we’ve compiled the following catalogue of some of the more common domestic violence crimes, as defined by the California Penal Code.

Corporal Injury on a Spouse or Cohabitant

As described in Penal Code 273.5 PC, this crime refers to if someone willfully harms a spouse or other intimate partner—including a former spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend or the parent of your child—and this harm results in a visible injury (known as a “traumatic condition”).

“Corporal injury” can be as severe as breaking bones or causing a coma, or as mild as causing bruising or swelling—so the definition is quite broad.

Corporal injury can be considered either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the severity and circumstances. Conviction can result in fines up to $6,000 and/or prison time of up to 4 years—depending on factors such as prior history, facts of the case and whether the charge is brought as a misdemeanor or felony.

Defending against the charge: Willfullness is the key here—the court will look for evidence that you did, or did not, intend to injure your partner. So for example, it is relevant if you acted in self-defense, if the injury was from an accident, or if you’ve been falsely accused.

Domestic Battery

Perhaps best explained as a lesser version of the corporal injury charge, domestic battery is a misdemeanor offense in which a person unlawfully touches or strikes an intimate partner in a violent or offensive manner.
Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC lays out the details: What makes this crime notable is the fact that someone may be charged with domestic battery without any physical evidence of injury: It only requires an allegation that the person used force or violence.

If convicted of domestic battery, you could pay a fine of up to $2,000 and spend up to a year in county jail.

Defending against the charge: Common defenses of domestic battery include false accusation, self-defense or a lack of intent to cause harm. In plea bargaining, a district attorney may offer domestic battery as a reduced charge from corporal injury—especially if there is no physical proof of injury.

Child Abuse

The charge of physical child abuse, described in Penal Code 273d PC, refers specifically to physical violence directed at a minor that results in a physical injury. (In that way, it is similar to the corporal injury of a spouse or cohabitant charge.)

This crime can be quite tricky, because the act may range from serious harm to corporal punishment. California law technically allows for spanking a child so long as it doesn’t result in physical marking; however, if it as leaves a mark, the law considers it abusive.

Child abuse may be charged either as a misdemeanor or felony, with penalties ranging from 1-6 years or more in jail. Just being accused of child abuse can have serious repercussions, resulting in broken families, lost careers and more.

Defending against the charge: If you can show evidence that: you were falsely accused; did not intentionally cause any injury; were acting within your parental rights; or prove another cause for the injuries—these may all be used to defend against child abuse charges.

Child Endangerment and/or Neglect

We’ve paired the two charges of child endangerment and child neglect into one section, because these are both domestic violence crimes that can occur without actually striking a child. Think of these as passive forms of abuse.

Child endangerment refers to allowing a child in your care to suffer injury or to be put into a dangerous situation. This description is obviously vague and wide-reaching; it can include looking the other way while a boyfriend beats or sexually abuses your child, but it can be as passive as failing to take a sick child to the doctor. Neglecting to keep sharp knives or loaded guns out of children’s reach may also be construed as child endangerment.

Child neglect refers to failing to provide proper care for a child for whom you bear responsibility—even if you are not a parent or have no custodial rights to the child. Examples may include:

  • Failing to provide basic necessities like food, clothing or shelter;
  • Failing to provide proper medical care as needed;
  • Leaving a child home alone if the child is not of an appropriate age to take care of himself;
  • Failing to intervene if you know the child is in a potentially dangerous situation

Child neglect is a misdemeanor; child endangerment may be either a misdemeanor or felony.

Defending against the charges: In cases of neglect, you would need to show you either did not act willfully or you had a lawful excuse for failing to provide care (e.g., lack of money).

For child endangerment, you would need to demonstrate you did not intend to endanger the child, or you were not responsible for the child.

Criminal Threats

We include this crime because it is a key example of a verbal domestic violence charge, rather than a physical one.

Covered by Penal Code 422 PC, this is a criminal threat consists of a specific, tangible threat to harm or kill someone else—whether verbally, in writing or by electronic communication—communicated in a way that causes the other person to fear for her safety or that of her loved ones. A person may be charged with this crime even if he never carries out the threat, or indeed whether or not he is capable of doing so. The victim just needs to believe the threat is legitimate for it to be a crime.

Criminal threat may be either a misdemeanor or a felony, and conviction may result in between 1-5 years in prison.

Defending against the charge: Common defenses include proving that no threat was made or that there was no reason to believe it was legitimate, real threat.

If you have been accused of domestic violence, it is important to address it in a responsible way to prevent future harm for you or your family. Call our office for professional, courteous representation and advice.

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