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As a state policy, California takes domestic violence seriously. Both the statutes on the books and the manner in which courts enforce those laws expose one accused of such a crime to severe penalties. The following is a brief overview of how DV is handled in the California legal system.
Who may be Charged
Many people are surprised to learn the scope of DV laws. Not only can a spouse be charged but any of the following relationships are considered domestic:
• Spouse or former spouse
• Roommate or former roommate
• Someone you are dating or formerly dated
• Parent of your child
• Relative such as parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and first cousins
What is Abuse
According to California Family Code Section 6203, abuse is defined as:
“For purposes of this act, “abuse” means any of the following:
(a) Intentionally or recklessly to cause or attempt to cause bodily injury.
(b) Sexual assault.
(c) To place a person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to that person or another.”
Misdemeanor or Felony
DV cases are handled in California by a special prosecutor’s division that handles only these types of cases. It will be up to the assigned prosecutor to determine if your case will be pursued as a misdemeanor or felony. The primary factors in that determination are the nature of the circumstances of the alleged present crime and any history of violence or criminal behavior in the past.
Importantly, even if the alleged victim recants the accusation, as often happens in DV incidents when the emotion of the moment subsides, the prosecution may nonetheless continue to pursue the charges.
If there were only threats or minor injuries with no priors, there is a good chance you will be charged with a misdemeanor, but the penalties can include:
• No contact order with the victim
• 52 week domestic violence class
• 40 hours community service
• Fine, fees and restitution
• Up to 6 months in jail
• 3 years of probation
If serious injuries were involved or a previous DV incident, you will almost certainly be looking at a felony. A felony carries similar penalties as a misdemeanor but with jail time of 3 months to 3 years possible.
Other Potential Consequences
Depending on the specific circumstances, a conviction for DV could result in loss of custody rights, loss of gun rights and immigration consequences for non-citizens, such as deportation or non-admissibility to the United States.
Defenses to DV
If you’re charged with DV, it is important to retain experienced counsel as soon as possible. Potential defenses include the incident was an accident, the injuries reported resulted from something other than the defendant’s actions, self-defense or a false accusation. The facts of the matter will be thoroughly explored and the best possible defense will be mounted, which may include a plea to a lesser charge and/or an alternative to jail time.
One option may be a pre-trial diversion program if the defendant qualifies. If so, successful completion of the program may result in dismissal of the charges.