Charged With Domestic Violence In California?Unfortunately, some disputes among family members or those in close personal relationships get so heated that threats of violence are made or a physical altercation ensues. If you are ever in a situation where you are accused of domestic violence, you could face severe consequences including jail time. The criminal defense lawyers at My Rights Law provide you with this overview of domestic violence laws in California, and what you could do to protect yourself if charges are brought against you.
Domestic Violence Involves Family, Significant Others, Roommates
Generally, domestic violence is where you commit or threaten to commit abuse that results in the physical injury of your family member, significant other, roommate, or someone who you have a relationship. This includes:
- your spouse or ex-spouse
- your fiancé or ex-fiancé
- your partner or ex-partner
- someone who you have been in a dating relationship with
- someone who is related to you by blood or marriage (e.g. brother, sister)
- someone who you reside with (cohabitant) or used to reside with
- your child’s other parent
For example, suppose that you get into a verbal altercation with your spouse where you both hail insults at each other. If you hit your spouse in this situation, then you may have committed domestic violence. Suppose instead that your friend stops by your apartment only to discover that your old girlfriend is back in the picture. If your friend berates you in front of your old girlfriend, and you hit your friend in response, then you might not have committed domestic violence under California law; however, you could still be arrested and charged with battery.
Acts Evidencing Domestic Violence
- Assault: intentionally and unlawfully threatening violence, such as making someone afraid that they are about to be attacked
- Battery: intentionally hurting someone or touching them against their will
- Sexual battery: penetrating someone’s sexual organ without their consent
- Stalking: following or harassing someone
- Kidnapping: abducting or confining a child
- False imprisonment: preventing someone from leaving
Domestic violence can be manifested through physical abuse such as hitting, pushing, shoving, kicking, scaring and throwing property around. It could even entail situations where you mistreat a family dog, cat or other pet. Moreover, abuse can be evidenced through psychological, emotional or verbal abuse. So, you don’t need to hit someone for abuse to occur.
For example, it is not against the law to merely yell at your children for doing something wrong – even if you have overacted or misjudged the situation. It is not against the law for you to threaten your spouse with divorce. However, if instead of threatening divorce, you threaten your spouse’s life, then you might have committed domestic violence.
Also, keep in mind that battery does not just consist of situations where you physically hurt the other person to the point that they need medical treatment. It could include situations where you touch someone without their consent in a way that makes them feel violated.
Fines, Jail Time For Domestic Violence
Typically, domestic violence is a first degree misdemeanor offense which carries a maximum penalty of six months in county jail and a $2,000 fine. However, if you really hurt someone, then you could face a more severe punishment. Specifically, if you cause serious injury to a person, you will face at least one year in county jail, but could face as much as four years in prison depending on the circumstances. Also, California considers it a crime to engage in conduct that causes your spouse, partner, fiancé or significant other to be traumatized. If you are convicted of this offense, then you could face up to one year in county jail or potentially up to four years in prison.
You Could Get Probation Instead Of Fines, Jail Time
Typically, for a less severe domestic violence offense, instead of being ordered to serve a lengthy jail sentence, your sentence could be suspended or you might be granted probation by the court as long as you participate in a one-year batterer’s treatment program. If there is no batterer’s treatment program available, then an alternative counseling program could be designated by the court.
Also, if you are granted probation, then instead of being fined, you could alternatively pay up to $5,000.00 to a battered women’s shelter or you could reimburse the victim for any reasonable expenses or counseling associated with the offense. Notably, if you are granted probation, you still might have to serve 48 hours in prison. However, even this mandatory minimum requirement could technically be set aside by a judge who could instead grant probation or suspend the sentence.
You Might Face A Restraining Order
In addition, you might be required by a court to avoid contact with the other person through an emergency protective order (EPOs), temporary restraining order (TRO), permanent restraining order (applicable for five years), or a criminal protective order. Namely, restraining orders are designed to help those protected by the orders from threats of abuse or actual abuse. A valid restraining order can require the restrained person to stay away from someone’s home and can also preclude the restrained person from owning a firearm. Some retraining orders can even require the restrained person to complete a one-year batterer intervention program.
Defending Against Domestic Violence
Since California considers domestic violence as a criminal act instead of just a private matter, be prepared to face criminal charges that, if not defended against, could result in your conviction. Fortunately, in our criminal justice system, you are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a judge or jury. There are a number of defenses which could get you off the hook for a domestic violence offense.
You Are Acting In Self-Defense
One of the most common reasons why you might not get charged or convicted of domestic violence is that you are just defending yourself. If you (or someone who you are responsible for protecting such as your child) are in imminent fear of serious harm or even death, then you have the right to defend against the attacker. For example, if your spouse attempts to slap you in the face out of nowhere, and you swat her hand away to avoid being slapped, then you have not committed domestic violence. However, if your spouse attempts to slap you, and you are in imminent fear of the sting associated with being slapped, then you are not entitled to react with greater force such as stabbing your spouse. This defense also might not be available to you if you are the primary aggressor.
You Aren’t The Primary Aggressor
It is possible that your family or household member suggests to the police that you initiated the altercation or violent acts. If you and the other person both complain to law enforcement about each other, the officer is supposed to determine who started it (the primary aggressor). If the officer determines that the other person is the primary aggressor, it is possible that you won’t be arrested and charged with anything.
You Are Defending Your Property From Robbery
Another defense to a domestic violence offense is that you are just defending your property. Perhaps your spouse is attempting to make off with your valuable property as they are leaving your home. If you forcefully grab your property out of your spouse’s hands to protect against this happening, and this results in an injury to your spouse, then you have not committed domestic violence.
You Are Falsely Accused Or You Make A Mistake
You might be falsely accused of domestic violence. For example, if you slam your bathroom door in the middle of a verbal fight with your spouse, and they put their arm in the doorway to try to prevent you from shutting the door, then it is possible that you will injure your spouse’s arm in the process. However, if you don’t know that your spouse’s arm is in the doorway, then you can’t have committed battery. Put another way, if you unintentionally act in a way which results in harm to another, then you should not be found guilty of a criminal offense in which the law specifically requires you to have acted with intent or purpose.
California Criminal Defense Attorneys
Considering the far reaching implications that a domestic violence conviction might have on your life, it is recommended for you to discuss your situation with a criminal defense attorney. My Rights Law is dedicated to fighting for people’s rights. Our attorneys have extensive experience protecting the rights of California clients who are accused of criminal offenses such as domestic violence. We are here for you. If you have been criminally charged in California, then call My Rights Law at (888) 702-8882 or contact us online for a free consultation.