California Domestic Violence Laws

A person who commits acts of domestic violence in California can face serious criminal penalties, including lengthy terms of incarceration and hefty fines.

Crimes involving abuse or threats of abuse between two people who are or have been in an intimate relationship constitute domestic violence in California. Domestic violence crimes can include domestic battery, inflicting bodily injury, sexual assault, stalking, and false imprisonment. This article will discuss California's criminal penalties for domestic violence crimes. Find information on civil protection orders in our article on California Domestic Violence Protective and Restraining Orders.

Domestic Violence Crimes and Penalties in California

Domestic violence in California is actual or threatened physical abuse committed against a current or former intimate partner, which includes:

  • a current or former spouse or fiancé
  • 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.

Common charges for domestic violence crimes include domestic battery and inflicting corporal (bodily) injury.

Domestic Battery

Battery in California involves an offender's willful and unlawful use of force or violence against another person. No requirement exists that the victim suffered an actual injury or felt any pain. Even touching a person in an offensive manner can constitute battery.

The law punishes domestic battery—against a current or former intimate partner—more severely than ordinary battery offenses. A misdemeanor conviction carries penalties of up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine. (Sentences of up to one year equate to 364 days in California. Learn more here.)

If the judge places the defendant on probation or suspends their sentence, the court must order the defendant to complete a batterers' treatment program. Repeat offenders placed on probation may also be ordered to spend at least 48 hours in jail. In certain cases, the court can require a defendant to make payments to a battered women's shelter and reimburse the victim for counseling costs.

Inflicting Corporal (Bodily) Injury

An offender who uses physical force against a current or former intimate partner that results in bodily injury can face felony charges. The law refers to injuries that result in a "traumatic condition." A traumatic condition involves a wound or external or internal injury caused by force, even a minor injury such as bruising. It also includes injuries relating to acts of strangulation or suffocation.

A conviction subjects the defendant to up to four years in prison and a $6,000 fine. Here, too, the court can require the defendant to donate money to a battered women's shelter and reimburse the victim for counseling costs.

The punishment increases up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine if the defendant has a prior assault or battery conviction within the previous seven years. If the court places a repeat offender 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 §§ 242, 243, 273.5, 1463.27, 13700 (2020).)

Related Domestic Abuse Crimes and Penalties

Domestic violence crimes involve more than bodily injury offenses. Related crimes include stalking, false imprisonment, and violating a protective order.

Stalking

Stalking involves an offender who follows, harasses, or threatens a victim in such a manner that the victim fears for their safety. Depending on the circumstances of the stalking, the defendant can face a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor subjects them to up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, but the felony can land them in prison for up to five years.

False Imprisonment

California law defines false imprisonment as the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another. An example of this would be holding someone against their will and not allowing them to leave. The prosecutor can charge false imprisonment as a misdemeanor or felony. The misdemeanor crime carries up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. If the offender uses violence, fraud, or deceit as part of the unlawful detention, they face a felony and up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Violating a Protective or Restraining Order

Violating a protective order, restraining order, or stay-away order constitutes a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. If the violation resulted in physical injury, the court must order the defendant to spend at least 48 hours in 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 prison.

(Cal. Penal Code §§ 166, 236, 237, 273.6, 646.9, 836 (2020).)

Arrest, Bail, and Firearm Restrictions

In addition to incarceration and financial penalties, California law establishes the following conditions, restrictions, and penalties for domestic violence cases.

Arrests

California law requires a mandatory arrest when law enforcement has probable cause to believe someone violated a domestic violence restraining order. The law encourages an arrest where probable cause exists that domestic violence has taken place.

Bail and Pretrial Release

The judge sets bail in an amount they deem sufficient to ensure the protection of the victim. Factors that help the court determine the appropriate bail amount and pretrial release conditions include the circumstances surrounding the offense and the history of the defendant. Pretrial release conditions in domestic violence cases typically include restrictions such as ordering the offender to stay away from and not contact the victim.

Firearm Restrictions and Relinquishment

California law prohibits the possession of firearms for defendants convicted of domestic violence offenses. Upon conviction, a prohibited person must surrender all firearms. A violation of these provisions can mean criminal penalties. Federal law also provides gun restrictions.

(Cal. Penal Code §§ 836, 1269, 1370, 29800, 29805, 29810; 18 U.S.C. §§ 921, 922 (2020).)

Talk to 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, contact a local criminal defense lawyer experienced in handling domestic violence matters. An experienced attorney can guide you through the process while ensuring that your rights are protected.

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