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273.5 Corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant

Domestic violence in California is an issue that law enforcement and courts have been involved with for decades now. Under 273.5 of the California Penal Code, if a person willfully inflicts corporal injury that results in a traumatic condition to their spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or the mother or father of their child, they can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony.

This crime requires no specific intent. The only intent required is to willlfully and without legal justification, make harmful contact with a person protected by the statute. Actual malice is not required. Actual physical contact between the accused and the alleged victim is required. If the alleged victim injures themself with no physical contact by the accused, there is no crime under this section.

What constitutes cohabitants under the statute is defined by a multitude of cases. Each instance of alleged cohabitation is defined by the facts of each particular case. A sitution where two people reside together as husband and wife is sufficient under the case law.

An incident isn’t actionable unless there is some indicia of actual physical trauma. Something as minimal as marks on a person’s arm from the spouse or cohabitant grabbing it are sufficient.

Since the offense can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony, the prosecutor must evaluate the facts, injury and trauma in each case. If there is slight physical injury and trauma to an alleged victim, the accused will most likely be charged with a misdemeanor. Any prior criminal history of the accused is also considered. If charged as a misdemeanor, the offense is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine not to exceed $6,000. If charged as a felony, it’s punishable by up to four years in prison.

There are lesser included offenses to this charge. Those would be simple assault, misdemeanor battery, and an attempt at corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant. These might be avenues for compromise between the parties in return for a suspended sentence with conditions.

Three very common defenses to this charge are accident, self defense, or being falsely accused of the crime. To raise self defense, one must show that they were in immediate danger of bodily harm or death. If the defendant is raising an accident as a defense, the issue of willfulness of the injury and trauma is raised within the facts that gave rise to them. As per being falsely accused, that unfortunate and unconscionable issue is seen every day in every domestic violence courtroom in California. That’s why we have defense attorneys and jury trials. Call us if you’ve been accused of corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant.

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