A criminal charge for domestic violence is a serious offense that may result in severe legal consequences. A person who is charged with domestic violence may also face collateral consequences if convicted that can affect their legal rights to custody, employment, state and federal benefits, and liberties, such as the right to possess a firearm, or if a felony, the right to vote, hold public office, or serve on a jury. 

California law classifies domestic violence charges as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the specific circumstances and facts involved in the case.

If you are facing a charge of domestic violence, it is important to understand whether you are facing a misdemeanor or an elevated offense of a felony, along with the elements that the prosecutor will have to prove under the law beyond a reasonable doubt, potential defenses that you may have to the charge, and the potential penalties under California law.  

Domestic Violence Charges in California

The crime of domestic violence is defined as committing an act of physical abuse, assault, or battery, against a family or household member, which may include a former or current intimate partner, a sibling, spouse, parent, grandparent, or other person with whom you cohabitate. California law classifies domestic violence as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the severity of the facts involved in the case, prior convictions for related offenses, and other factors that may cause a prosecutor to seek elevated, felony-level charges.

Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Charges

In misdemeanor charges of domestic violence, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant 

  • Committed an unlawful act of physical force (battery), or threatened to use such force (assault), and
  • The alleged victim is a family or household member, such as a current or former spouse, dating partner, parent of the defendant’s child, close relative, or another person with whom the defendant cohabitated in the previous 12 months.

The penalties under California law for misdemeanor domestic violence may include up to 12 months / one year of incarceration in a local jail, a fine up to $2,000, and a combination of an alternative disposition, such as a batterer’s intervention program, anger management therapy, psychological treatment, and individual counseling. Further, the court issued a protective order prohibiting contact between the parties.

Felony Domestic Violence Charges

In certain cases, California authorities may seek felony charges for domestic violence. A prosecutor must still prove the defendant an unlawful act of physical force or threats to do so, against a person who is a spouse, dating partner, family member, co-parent, or other person with whom the defendant cohabitates.

But in addition to the predicate elements for domestic violence, a felony charge may be sought when the defendant has prior convictions for domestic violence in the past seven years, filing the case as a habitual offender.

A charge of felony domestic violence may also be sought by California prosecutors in aggravated cases of extreme abuse, such as serious bodily harm where the victim suffered severe injury or a deadly weapon has been used. 

Additionally, felony domestic violence charges may be filed when the victim has been assaulted in front of a child, prosecutors may seek felony charges for child endangerment.

Or, if the victim has suffered a specific type of injury, such as a strangulation whereby their breathing and blood circulation has been affected by application of force to a person’s neck, then a felony charge of strangulation may be filed.

The penalties under California law for felony domestic violence is imprisonment up to four years and a fine up to $6,000. In certain cases, the prosecutor may also seek to impose probation, with compliance of terms and conditions, as a condition of avoiding or mitigating an otherwise lengthy prison sentence.

Possible Defenses in Domestic Violence Cases

There may be a number of defenses available to you in domestic violence cases. First, a defendant can assert self-defense. The doctrine of self-defense requires proof that the defendant used a proportional amount of physical force to protect themselves from a reasonable belief of imminent danger of bodily harm.

Self-defense fails if the defendant used disproportional force to repel the threat, or the harm was not imminent, or the defendant’s belief that they would be harmed by the victim was unreasonable. But, if a defendant is being attacked by their spouse, the law permits them to defend themselves and use force if necessary.

Second, the defendant could argue that the evidence is insufficient to prove the elements beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant could raise an alibi and argue they did not commit the assault because they were somewhere else at the time of the alleged altercation.

He could also argue that he simply never assaulted the victim, and there is no physical evidence to prove an assault even took place.

Domestic violence cases are difficult cases for prosecutors to prove because oftentimes, the case arises in a heated confrontation between two people who may later reconcile while the prosecution is pending. After reconciling, the alleged victim may decide they do not want to pursue charges, or refuse to testify pursuant to the Fifth Amendment. 

Even if the victim declines to prosecute, the prosecutor may still seek to prove the domestic violence case via 911 calls, photographs, recorded admissions, and the defendant’s own statements to police.

But, a defendant should be mindful not to do anything to suggest to the victim how to proceed, even if the victim no longer wants to prosecute and the parties have reconciled, to ensure that witness tampering charges are not brought. Rather, the defendant should undertake all communications through counsel. 

Contact an Experienced Domestic Violence Lawyer for Help.

Under California law, domestic violence charges may be classified as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the defendant’s prior record and the circumstances of the case. If you are facing a charge of domestic violence, it is crucial to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney to speak with the prosecutor, evaluate your defenses, and develop a strategy to resolve the case.

Contact a San Diego Domestic Violence Lawyer at Blair Defense Criminal Lawyers Today For Help

For more information please contact the San Diego domestic violence attorneys at Blair Defense Criminal Lawyers for a free consultation, give us a call at (619) 357-4977 or visit our convenient location:

Blair Defense Criminal Lawyers – San Diego
255 Broadway, Ste 1740. San Diego, CA. 92101