Domestic violence crimes are extremely common in Pasadena and throughout Southern California, and false or exaggerated accusations of domestic violence offenses are no less common. And for those facing these kinds of charges in California courts, the potential consequences of a conviction can be severe and long-lasting.
At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we have successfully defended numerous clients against all manner of domestic violence charges in the past, and we continue to do so today. Our deep experience in this practice area and our intricate knowledge of both the relevant California statues and of local court processes give us a distinct advantage in the courtroom.
To learn more about California domestic violence crimes defense or to avail yourself of a free legal consultation, do not hesitate to call us 24/7 at 626-689-2277.
How Does California Define "Domestic Violence?"
Any incident of assault, battery, criminal threats, abusive neglect, or other related offenses, when directed against a current/former spouse or romantic partner, a child or whom you and/or your partner are the parents, your own parent, or other family members or persons dwelling with you in the same residence is an act of "domestic violence" under California law.
Thus, domestic violence is distinguished not so much by the type of criminal act committed but by the class of persons against whom such acts are directed.
Due to the violation of trust and taking advantage of people with whom you have a pre-established relationship, involved in domestic violence incidents, this class of crimes can get you additional punishment as compared to the same crimes committed against someone else.
Below, we will look briefly at a variety of forms of domestic violence, giving the definition, penalties, and possible legal defenses for each specific offense.
Corporal Injury of Spouse/Cohabitant
California Penal Code Section 273.5 covers domestic violence in which a bodily injury was inflicted that led to a traumatic condition.
It is important to understand that "traumatic" is not used in its popular sense but can apply to even a small bruise or any visible injury whatsoever. And the action must have been "willful," not in the sense that the perpetrator intended to inflict an injury but simply in the sense that the action done "on purpose" (as opposed to accidentally).
The victim must have been a current/former spouse or romantic partner or the parent of one's child. Violence against children and one's own elderly parents would be handled under child abuse and elder abuse (covered below) instead.
PC 273.5 can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, varying based on the details of each case and the defendant's past criminal record.
As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to 12 months in county jail and a fine of up to $6,000. As a felony, PC 273.5 can be punished by 2 to 4 years in state prison.
Possible defense strategies include:
- Defense of self or others: If you were, or reasonably believed yourself to be, under immediate threat of bodily harm, and if your actions were only such as were necessary under the circumstances, it was not domestic violence but self-defense. The same principle applies if you acted to defend another person present who was under immediate threat of injury.
- Accidental injury: If you did not act "willfully" in what you did, but you simply had an accident, this cannot count legally as domestic violence regardless of the injurious outcome.
- Falsely accused: In many instances, intimate partners who feel betrayed or offended resort to leveling false accusations of domestic violence in an effort to get revenge. A good defense attorney, however, will know how to "get to the bottom of" what happened (or didn't happen).
PC 243.e.1 criminalizes the use of force/violence against a spouse or romantic partner. The major difference between this crime and PC 273.5 (covered above) is that the latter involves actual infliction of injury while domestic battery does not.
Domestic battery is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to 12 months in county jail and a maximum fine of $2,000.
The common defenses against domestic battery are the same as against corporal injury of a spouse, covered above, being self-defense, lack of intent, and false accusations.
PC 273d covers the crime of child abuse and defines it as the infliction of bodily injury or excessive punishment on a child. The act, to qualify, must be justly characterized as "cruel and inhumane" or have caused an injury (even the smallest injury, however, qualifies it as child abuse).
PC 273d is carefully worded to avoid the inclusion of all reasonable parental administration of child discipline. Thus, spanking is not child abuse unless it is done with such force as to be cruel and/or results in an injury.
Child abuse can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to 12 months in county jail, but as a felony, it can get you 2 to 6 years in state prison. If a repeat offense and a felony, it can be punished even more severely.
While child abuse is a very serious crime, it is also very easy to be falsely accused of child abuse. And just the mere accusation can do irreparable damage to one's reputation, while a conviction will extreme and long-lasting consequences.
At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, our most commonly used defense strategies against charges of child abuse include:
- False accusations: Sometimes, a child may have been coaxed into accusing a parent of child abuse when none actually occurred. Perhaps, a former spouse, for example, would do this to get revenge.
- Lack of intent: If the actions leading to the child's injury were done accidentally, it cannot count legally as child abuse.
- Injury from another cause: It may be that the injury was caused by something other than the actions of the defendant. A false accusation or a mistaken identification of the injury's cause may then have followed.
- Parental rights: It may be that you acted within the limits of your parental right to discipline your child and that any injury that occurred could not reasonably have been foreseen based on your intended actions.
PC 273a deals with child endangerment, which is defined as a willful act or omission that causes a child under your supervision and/or in your custody to suffer bodily harm or to at least be brought into grave danger of suffering harm.
Child endangerment differs from child abuse (discussed above) in that it need not involve actual injury and in that any injury or danger of injury involved is due to neglect or negligence rather than a direct application of physical force.
As a misdemeanor, child endangerment is punishable by up to 12 months in county jail. Normally, if the child was not in "great" danger and did not suffer "great" bodily injury, PC 273a will be charged as a misdemeanor.
If great bodily harm/death or the risk thereof is, in fact, involved, then a felony charge is likely. As a felony, child endangerment is punishable by 2 to 6 years in state prison.
Possible defenses include:
- False accusations.
- Lack of intent (it was an accident).
- You acted within your rights as a parent/legal guardian.
- You are not actually the person in whose care the child was nor the person who caused the child's safety to be endangered.
PC 270 covers child neglect or the failure to provide proper care for a child in your custody. Generally, this will involve failing to provide such necessities as food, water, medicine, or a safe place to live. The lack of provision must be willful and not due to poverty or any other innocent cause.
Normally PC 270 is charged as a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 12 months in jail, summary probation, and a maximum fine of $2,000.
However, if the defendant is the father of the child and has had his fatherhood of that child disputed in court at some point in the past, it is possible for PC 270 to be charged as a felony and receive stricter sentencing. But this "exception" clause has been held to unconstitutional in a previous case, so that it will not likely be pursued by the prosecutor.
Common defense strategies against a charge of child neglect (PC 270) include:
- Lack of intent. Unless you acted willfully in neglecting to supply support for your child, it is not a criminal act. Many times, a "deadbeat dad" will be charged with child neglect, whereas the mother or some other relative was preventing his helping the child OR he was not aware of the child's situation of lacking basic necessities.
- "Lawful excuse:" If the failure to provide proper care to a child occurred through no fault of your own but only due to an inability to provide said care, you cannot be held legally accountable.
PC 368, the statute dealing with elder abuse, can apply when domestic violence is committed against an elderly parent or other relative. While elder abuse can be physical, emotional, or financial, the aspect of it that relates to domestic violence is that of inflicting, threatening, or by neglect inviting, physical harm.
Elder abuse can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. As a felony, it is punishable by 2 to 4 years in state prison. As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to 12 months in county jail and a fine in the thousands of dollars range.
Possible defenses against the charge of elder abuse include:
- False accusations.
- Mistaken identity.
- Lack of intent.
- Insufficient evidence to convict.
PC 422 criminalizes the issuing of threats to inflict "serious" bodily injury on another person. The threat can be made verbally, in writing, or electronically.
The threat must have been made with an intent to instill fear in the victim, must have actually put that person in fear, and must have been of such a nature that a reasonable person might well have been put in fear by it.
Additionally, the threat must have been clear and specific, not vague and general.
It is important to understand, however, that one's inability to carry out the threat does not prevent it from being a criminal threat. And also note that one's actual intention to carry out the threat is not a factor, though one's intention to make the other person believe he will carry it out is.
Issuing criminal threats can be either a misdemeanor or a felony in California. As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to 12 months in county jail. As a felony, it is a "strike" under the California "Three Strikes Law" and is punishable by a maximum of 4 years in state prison. If a "deadly weapon" was used in making the criminal threat, an extra year is added to the sentence.
Common defenses used against the charge of making a criminal threat (PC 422) include:
- False accusations or mistaken identity.
- The threat was not specific and/or could not have reasonably been believed and instilled a genuine fear for one's safety.
- The "victim" never was actually put in fear by the threat issued.
- Though the victim feared, it was but for a moment. It was not a "sustained" fear.
- Only a gesture was made. No verbal, written, or electronic threat was issued.
Other offenses often charged along with domestic violence crimes include the following:
- Damaging a telephone line (PC 591): Oftentimes, a phone line will be cut in order to prevent a victim of domestic violence from calling for help. While the existence of cell phones reduces the importance of this action, it still does occur in many cases.
- Aggravated trespassing (PC 601): When you enter another person's property illegally to threaten them there, it is an additional crime beyond the threat itself.
- Posting "harmful information" online (PC 653.2): In the modern world, many threats are issued via email or social media. But information is also often posted to damage the other person's reputation. In either case, it is a separate crime from the domestic violence charge.
Contact Us Today for Help
At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we stand ready to come to your defense in your hour of need with second-to-none legal advice and representation. We understand the ins and outs of the California legal system, and we know how to build you a solid defense in your domestic violence case.
For a free consultation and immediate attention to your case, contact us anytime 24/7/365 at 626-689-2277.