Domestic violence charges and defenses

There are several “domestic violence” charges in California.  How they are treated and what your defenses are depend on the charge you face.

Penal Code section 273.5

This is the “standard” domestic violence charge.  In order to prove this charge, the prosecution must prove that there was a willful infliction of a “corporal injury” that results in a “traumatic condition” on a domestic partner.  First – the act must be willful – not accident or unintentional.  Even in the heat of an argument, accidents happen and the criminal intent required may not be present.  This charge also requires a “traumatic condition” on the alleged victim.  That is any sort of wound or injury of any severity.

Penal Code section 243(e)(1)

Ordinary battery is covered in Penal Code section 242 – it is any unlawful, offensive touching.  In a domestic situation, any battery is covered in Penal Code section 243(e)(1).  Unlike PC 273.5, the DA doesn’t have to prove any injury resulted – just that there was unlawful touching or physical violence.

Consequences of domestic violence convictions

The law can be quite harsh on people convicted of any of the domestic violence charges.  Mandatory “anger management” classes, fines and jail or prison sentences are all possible.  In addition, you may have a restraining order issued against you, telling you when and where you can go and whether or not you can have any contact with the alleged victim.  Most often, the prosecutor will consider a person’s prior record (or lack of one), the severity of the injuries, whether or not a weapon was used, whether children were present and witnessed the events and the victim’s cooperation level in assessing their case.

What if the alleged victim wants to drop charges?

I discussed that topic here, but essentially, the DA can pursue a case, even against the alleged victim’s wishes.

How do I defend myself against these allegations?

The police are under guidelines to make arrests in even the allegation of domestic violence – even if the alleged victim completely makes up the story out of spite or anger.  Now what?  You’ve been arrested for a domestic violence charge.  If you’ve made bail, you will be required to appear in court for your arraignment.  What can you do in the meantime?  Discuss the case with a criminal defense lawyer.  There may be certain things you should do (such as documenting any injuries you have in a mutual combat situation) – and more importantly things you should NOT do (talk to anyone about the incident).  Often, your attorney can present evidence on your behalf to convince the DA that no charges should be filed in the first place.  An attorney can help in arranging bail and preparing your defense if the case gets filed.

Just because the police thought they had enough to arrest you for a domestic violence charge, don’t assume you have to plead guilty.  Every case is unique, but if the prosecution cannot prove their case, don’t plead guilty.  A domestic violence charge on your record can affect you for years.

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