California Domestic Violence Laws

Domestic violence in California is physical abuse committed against 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 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.

Battery & Domestic Violence

Battery is any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another. Where a battery is committed against certain classes of victims, such as peace officers and probation department employees, the law authorizes longer periods of incarceration. Similarly, batteries involving people in the specified domestic violence relationships, noted above, are punished more severely than ordinary battery offenses. (Although the battery statute omits former cohabitants from the list of battery victims that justify increased jail time, the definition of domestic violence includes abuse against former cohabitants.)

When a defendant commits a battery against a person who is not in one of the classes of victims that triggers increased punishment, a conviction carries a maximum of six months in jail and a $2,000 fine. But if the defendant and victim share one of the domestic relationships identified by the battery statute, a conviction for battery carries up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine. If the defendant is instead sentenced to probation, or the judge suspends imposition of the sentence, the defendant must complete a batterers' program.

In addition to assessing a fine, a court may require a person convicted of a domestic violence offense to pay a fee that funds domestic violence prevention programs.

(Calif. Penal Code Sections 243, 1463.27)

Read more on California's definitions of assault and battery.

Willful Infliction of Bodily Injury

A person who willfully inflicts "corporal" (bodily) injury that results in a traumatic condition upon a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former co-habitant, or co-parent of the person’s child is guilty of a felony. “Traumatic condition” is a wound or external or internal injury caused by force.

Upon conviction, a defendant may be sentenced up to four years in prison and fined $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 and other costs that directly result from the offense.

A conviction for willful infliction of corporal injury can be punished by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if the defendant has a prior conviction for any of the following offenses within the previous seven years:

  • willful infliction of corporal injury
  • battery involving serious bodily injury
  • sexual battery
  • an attempt to injure or disfigure a person with a flammable substance or caustic chemical
  • assault with a stun gun, or
  • assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm or by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.

(Calif. Penal Code Section 273.5)

Protective Orders & Law Enforcement Duties

A court may issue a temporary protective order, without holding a hearing (known as an ex parte order), where a law enforcement officer asserts reasonable grounds to believe that a person is in immediate danger of domestic violence, based on the person’s allegations of recent domestic violence or threats of domestic violence. The order may prohibit the alleged abuser from harming, harassing, or otherwise having contact with the alleged victim, as well as order the alleged abuser to move out of the home. After conducting a hearing involving the alleged aggressor and victim, the court may extend the order up to five years.

(Calif. Family Code Sections 6250, 6320, 6321, 6345)

Where 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 an order directing a law enforcement agency to provide protection to a victim, witnesses, or the immediate family of a victim or a witness who reside with or live in close proximity to the victim or witness.

At sentencing for conviction of a domestic violence crime, a court may issue an order prohibiting the defendant from having any contact with the victim. The court may make the order effective for up to ten years.

Officers are required to make an arrest when it appears more likely than not that a suspect has violated a domestic violence protective order. If each side has protective orders against the other, the officer must determine who is the dominant aggressor. California law defines the dominant aggressor as the most significant aggressor, which is not necessarily the initial aggressor. In identifying the dominant aggressor, the officer considers several factors, including whether either person acted in self-defense.

Violating a protective order can have serious consequences. As of January 1, 2017, violating a post-conviction restraining order (one issued after the defendant was convicted of specified acts of domestic violence) carries a sentence of incarceration in the county jail for up to one year, a $1,000 fine, or both. A first violation must result in a sentence of 48 hours in the county jail if the violation resulted in physical injury. And a second or subsequent violation occurring within seven years and involving an act of violence, or a credible threat of violence, with imprisonment in the county jail no to exceed one year; or by 16 months, or two, or three years in state prison.

(Calif. Penal Code Sections 136.2, 166, 836)

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. A lawyer will evaluate strengths and weaknesses in your case and may seek to have charges reduced or dismissed. If your case proceeds to trial, a lawyer will zealously protect your rights while advocating for your acquittal.

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