California Domestic Violence Laws

Domestic violence in California is actual or threatened physical abuse committed against current and former intimate partners, including current and former spouses, current and former cohabitants, co-parents, and those in or previously in dating or engagement relationships.

Domestic violence in California is actual or threatened physical abuse committed against a current or former "intimate partner," including a current or former spouse, a current or former cohabitant, someone with whom the suspect has or had a dating or engagement relationship, or someone with whom the suspect has a child. A conviction for a domestic violence crime carries the possibility of incarceration along with a fine. In addition to criminal penalties for offenders, California law also provides protective orders for persons alleging to be victims of domestic violence.

Domestic Violence Crimes

In California, common charges for domestic violence crimes include domestic battery and inflicting corporal (bodily) injury. (Although not discussed here, other charges can be brought in domestic violence cases as well—such as stalking and making criminal threats.)

Domestic Battery

Battery in California is any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another. Domestic battery—against a current or former intimate partner—is punished more severely than ordinary battery offenses. A conviction carries a penalty of up to 364 days in jail and/or a $2,000 fine. If the judge places the defendant on probation or suspends imposition of the sentence, the court must order the defendant to complete a batterers' treatment program. Repeat offenders may also be ordered to spend at least 48 hours in jail. In certain cases, the court may require a defendant to make payments to a battered women’s shelter, reimburse the victim for counseling costs, or both. (Cal. Penal Code §§ 242, 243, 1463.27, 13700 (2019).)

Inflicting Corporal (Bodily) Injury

It's a felony in California to willfully inflict an intimate partner with "corporal" (bodily) injury that results in a traumatic condition. “Traumatic condition” is a wound or external or internal injury caused by force and includes attempts at strangulation or suffocation. Upon conviction, the court can sentence a defendant to four years in prison and a fine of $6,000. If a defendant is sentenced to probation, the court may, in lieu of a fine, require the defendant to donate money to a battered women’s shelter and reimburse the victim for counseling costs.

The punishment for inflicting corporal injury increases to up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine if the defendant has a prior conviction for certain assault or battery offenses within the previous seven years. If the court places a defendant with a prior conviction on probation or suspends imposition of the sentence, the court must order the defendant to serve mandatory jail time of not less than 15 days (one prior offense) or 60 days (two or more prior offenses). (Cal. Penal Code § 273.5 (2019).)

Protective Orders

To protect a person from being harmed, threatened, or harassed in a domestic violence case, a court can issue what's called a protective order. The protective order usually directs the alleged abuser or defendant to stop harming or threatening a victim and to stay away from and stop contacting a victim. Violation of the protective order can result in arrest and criminal charges. A protective order is entered into a statewide database that law enforcement can access. Anyone subject to a protective order must relinquish (surrender) possession of any firearms for the duration of the protective order.

In California, there are several different ways protective orders are issued. This section discusses orders typically issued in a domestic violence criminal case. (Victims can also apply for a protective order on their own.)

Immediate danger of domestic violence. A court may issue a temporary protective order, without holding a hearing (known as an ex parte order), when a law enforcement officer asserts reasonable grounds to believe that a person is in immediate danger of domestic violence. After conducting a hearing involving the alleged abuser and victim, the court may extend the order up to five years. (Cal. Fam. Code §§ 6250, 6320, 6321, 6345 (2019).)

Charges of domestic violence crime. When a person is charged with a domestic violence crime, the court must consider issuing a protective order to protect the alleged victim from further violence, harassment, or any other form of contact from the defendant. Where a court has good cause to believe that harm or intimidation of a victim or witness is reasonably likely to occur, a court may issue a protective order.

Conviction of domestic violence crime. At sentencing for conviction of a domestic violence crime, a court may issue an order, effective for up to ten years, prohibiting the defendant from having any contact with the victim. (Cal. Penal Code §§ 136.2, 273.5 (2019).)

Arrest and Penalties for Protective Order Violations

Officers must make an arrest if they have probable cause to believe that a suspect has violated a domestic violence protective order.

Violating a protective order can have serious consequences. A willful and knowing violation of a protective order carries a sentence of up to one year in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. If the violation resulted in physical injury, the court must order the defendant to spend at least 48 hours in a county jail. A second or subsequent violation occurring within seven years and involving an act of violence or a credible threat of violence increases the potential punishment to up to three years in state prison. (Cal. Penal Code §§ 166, 273.6, 836 (2019).)

Other Types of Protective Orders in California

If you aren't able to get a domestic violence protective order, you may be able to get another kind of protective order—or more than one kind—in California. For instance, an anti-harassment, workplace violence, or gun violence restraining order may be relevant in your situation.

Consult a Lawyer

A conviction for a domestic violence offense can result in substantial penalties, including a lengthy prison sentence in some cases. If you are charged with a domestic violence offense in California, you should consult with a lawyer experienced in handling domestic violence cases. An experienced lawyer will guide you through the process while ensuring that your rights are protected, and can advise you on issues such as protective orders, gun rights, and statutes of limitations periods.

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