Most people believe that domestic violence offenses involve physical violence and bodily injury. But California law has a much looser definition of domestic violence. Offenses are not defined by the offense itself, but rather by the relationship between the defendant and the victim. If the relationship fits any of the circumstances that are described in California Family Code Section 6211, the offense qualifies as a domestic violence offense.
The following relationships are qualified under California law:
- The defendant is the current or former spouse of the victim
- The defendant is the current or former cohabitant of the victim
- The defendant is the current or former boyfriend or girlfriend of the victim
- The defendant is the parent of the victim
- The defendant co-parents a child with the victim
- The defendant is a close blood relative of the victim
Domestic violence offenses are unique in California. The state law has provided minimum sentencing requirements for defendants convicted of any domestic violence offense, regardless of the severity of the offense. Under Penal Code Section 594, vandalism can be considered a domestic violence crime.
When Vandalism Qualifies as a Domestic Violence Offense
The California Penal Code Section 594 defines vandalism as a “wobbler” offense. “Wobbler” offenses are offenses that can be charged either as misdemeanors or felonies. Generally, whether the vandalism offense is charged as a misdemeanor or felony depends on the judge and the degree of vandalism.
People v. Cates was a case brought before the California Court of Appeals to contest this. The Court of Appeals ruled that vandalism can be considered a domestic violence crime when the involved parties have one of the previously outlined relationships. Regardless of whether the vandalism was classed as a misdemeanor or felony, the perpetrator would need to meet California’s minimum domestic violence sentencing requirements. They would also need to pay restitution for the damages caused by the vandalism.
When a person is charged with vandalism that is not domestically related, they may meet eligibility requirements for court diversion. But if the charge meets domestic violence definitions based on the previously outlined criteria, the statute doesn’t apply. Domestic violence vandalism charges will not be eligible for a court diversion.
Vandalism is defined as the intentional malicious destruction or defacing of an individual’s personal property without the owner’s consent. To convict a person of vandalism, the prosecutor is required to provide proof that the defendant defaced or destroyed property both intentionally and maliciously.
Even if the destroyed property was jointly owned by both the defendant and the victim, the vandalism charge can still apply. California Penal Code Section 594 covers property that another person jointly owns.
Several different defenses are possible for people charged with a domestic violence vandalism crime. If the person can prove that the property was destroyed by accident rather than intentionally, they have a valid defense.
The minimum sentencing requirements for domestic violence offenses may seem harsh, but they exist to rehabilitate offenders and protect victims. A defendant may attempt to remove the domestic violence part of the vandalism charge, although legally accomplishing this is difficult when domestic violence crimes are so clearly defined by California law.
Minimum sentencing requirements only apply if the defendant is given probation instead of jail time.