San Diego Criminal Attorney is a top-rated criminal defense law firm serving clients throughout San Diego and Southern California. Attorneys with a proven track record of success are available 24/7 to handle any type of domestic battery case under California law. If you are facing domestic battery charges, the dedicated team at San Diego Criminal Attorney is ready to come to your defense. The sentencing, penalties, and punishment for domestic violence crimes in California vary, making it critical to hire an expert attorney well-versed in domestic battery laws to ensure you receive the minimum possible sentence.

Domestic Battery According to the California Penal Code

In California law, Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC legally defines domestic battery as intentional and unlawful physical contact that causes harm or offense. To be considered a domestic battery, this physical contact must be committed toward an intimate partner. According to the California Penal Code, “intimate partner” can include the offender’s current or former spouse, a person with whom the offender currently cohabitates or former cohabitated, the offender’s current or former fiancée, the offender’s current or former significant other, or the mother or father of the offender’s child.

The victim does not have to suffer any visible injury from this physical contact for the defendant to be charged with domestic battery; for an offense to qualify as domestic battery, prosecutors need to prove that the defendant used violence or force against a person with whom they have a current or former intimate relationship as specified in the Penal Code of California. If the prosecution successfully demonstrates that the defendant used forceful or violent touch against a current or former intimate partner, regardless of whether that touch left a physical injury on the victim, the defendant could be faced with a domestic battery conviction that will leave a permanent mark on their criminal record.

How is Domestic Battery Classified Under California Law?

Domestic battery is a crime that is classified as a misdemeanor under California law. A domestic battery misdemeanor conviction can carry a maximum fine of two thousand dollars, imprisonment of up to a year in county jail, misdemeanor probation of up to five years, or a combination of a fine, imprisonment, and/or probation. Misdemeanor probation, which is also called summary or informal probation, is different from California felony probation, also known as formal probation.

Misdemeanor summary probation is an alternative to time in a county jail that permits offenders to serve most, or sometimes all, of their sentence under court supervision in compliance with specific conditions. On average, this type of probation lasts between one to three years, with a maximum of five years. On the other hand, felony probation is an alternative to state prison, which typically lasts three to five years. Whereas those on misdemeanor probation report directly to the court on a periodic basis to keep track of their ongoing progress, offenders on felony probation receive an assigned probation officer to whom they must report on a more frequent, regular basis.

Qualifying for Misdemeanor Summary Probation

Almost anyone facing a conviction of a misdemeanor, such as a domestic battery, could receive misdemeanor summary probation instead of jail time. Those who qualify are considered low-risk, such as a juvenile or first-time offender. Depending on the case made by the defendant’s lawyer and the judge's decision, it is also possible for people with prior convictions to qualify for misdemeanor probation in place of jail time or with a reduced jail sentence. It is common for those facing a domestic battery charge to be considered for probation, and an experienced attorney familiar with California domestic battery charges can increase your likelihood of receiving probation rather than jail time.

The purpose of probation is to protect the general public, as well as to rehabilitate both the offender and the victim of a domestic battery. A judge can grant misdemeanor summary probation during sentencing, or it can be agreed to as part of the plea agreement between the defendant’s attorney and the prosecutor. Typically, this type of probation does not carry jail time; however, if the judge gives a probation sentence that does include jail time, that time will be significantly shorter than the maximum potential misdemeanor sentence in county jail.

What does Misdemeanor Summary Probation Entail?

In addition to regularly reporting progress to the court, a person on probation for a domestic battery charge must maintain compliance with certain conditions assigned by the court. These conditions may include restitution payments, community service, and/or court-ordered counseling sessions. Under California law, completion of a one-year batterer’s treatment program is a requirement as a condition of probation for anyone convicted of domestic battery.  This is a weekly domestic violence class that combines counseling and education. It focuses on identifying the causes of domestic abuse, delving into the effects of that abuse on its victims, and looks at the necessary changes that need to be made to prevent ongoing or future domestic abuse.

If an offender receives a probation sentence for domestic battery, it is possible that the court might decide that the offender must pay as much as five thousand dollars to a shelter for battered women and/or cover reasonable expenses to the victim directly resulting from the misdemeanor (including counseling costs). In the case that the judge assigns these fines to the offender, these would take the place of the two thousand dollar fine that can be assigned in the case of domestic battery. It is important that an offender who receives probation meets all the requirements assigned by the court; otherwise, they could be sent to jail for violating the terms of their probation.

What a Domestic Battery Charge Means for an Immigrant

The consequences of a criminal conviction of domestic battery can be very serious for an immigrant, even if they are legally documented. Domestic battery is a crime of domestic violence, meaning that federal immigration law labels it as an offense that can incur deportation. Furthermore, California’s domestic violence laws are especially strict for immigrants who are not legal US citizens. As an immigrant, a conviction of this offense may result directly in deportation proceedings. This makes it very important for any immigrant to fight a domestic violence charge and to have an experienced and aggressive attorney on their side who knows immigration law as well as domestic violence law.

The Difference Between Domestic Battery and Domestic Assault in California

In California, both domestic battery and domestic assault fall under the category of domestic violence. Each charge involves the willful touching of a current or former intimate partner that is either forceful or violent; however, according to California Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC, a conviction of domestic battery does not require visible physical injury to the victim. On the other hand, California Penal Code 273.5 PC states that domestic assault is specifically concerned with corporal injury against an intimate partner (including any level of physical injury, whether serious or not). Therefore, the difference between domestic battery and domestic assault is whether or not the victim suffered a visible physical injury from the incident.

While domestic battery is considered a misdemeanor, domestic assault is a felony conviction, meaning it carries a punishment of a fine of as much as six thousand dollars, up to a year in a county jail, as many as four years in state prison, or a combination of a fine and time in jail or prison. Most offenders charged with domestic violence in California receive a thirty-day minimum jail sentence, even if the charge is a misdemeanor and a first offense. However, the difference between being charged with domestic battery--a misdemeanor--and domestic assault--a felony--is significant. This affects the potential time behind bars, fines, probation, and the offender’s criminal record.

Domestic violence is often a “wobbler” offense in California law, meaning that the judge can decide whether to charge the defendant with a misdemeanor or felony. This depends on a few factors, such as the circumstances surrounding the action, the severity of the victim’s injuries (if an injury was sustained), and the defendant’s criminal history (if they have past offenses). An attorney with a strong knowledge of the California Penal Code on domestic violence can make the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor charge.

Domestic Violence Laws in California

California domestic violence laws make the use of physical force toward an intimate partner illegal. This can fall under Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC, domestic battery, or Penal Code 273.5 PC, corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant, also known as domestic assault. However, these are not the only laws regarding domestic violence in the California Penal Code.

These are the other most common domestic violence crimes in California:

  • Penal Code 273d PC Child Abuse: Under this law, it is a crime to inflict physical injury or punishment upon a child, excluding reasonable spankings. Under this law, physical punishment and injury to a child can include any physical contact considered cruel or that leaves a visible injury. Penalties for this crime can consist of up to a year in a county jail or as many as three years in state prison.

  • Penal Code 273a PC Child Endangerment: This California law makes it illegal to knowingly and/or willfully let a child under your care to have their health or safety put in danger or to suffer harm. This crime is considered a misdemeanor, and it could be punished with up to six months of jail time.

  • Penal Code 368 PC Elder Abuse: This law makes it a crime to commit neglect, abuse (either physically or emotionally), financial fraud, or endangerment on a victim of age sixty-five or older. This charge is also a wobbler in California law, and therefore can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances. As a misdemeanor, it can be met with up to a year in county jail, and as a felony, it can carry as many as four years in state prison.

  • Penal Code 422 PC Criminal Threats: Under this California law, it is a crime to threaten another person with harm resulting in physical injury or death. A person who makes a criminal threat can be charged whether or not they actually have the means to carry out the threat, and this is yet another wobbler crime in California. A felony offender can face a maximum of four years in state prison, whereas a misdemeanor incurs up to a year in county jail.

  • Penal Code 243(d) PC Aggravated Battery: This law makes it illegal to use violent or offensive force resulting in bodily injury to another person. This is different from domestic battery because the victim does not have to be an intimate partner, and because the victim must have suffered visible and serious physical injury. In some cases involving domestic violence, it is possible that the prosecution will try to charge the defendant with aggravated battery rather than domestic battery if they can prove that injury was caused to the victim by the action. This is another wobbler case that can receive up to a year in county jail as a misdemeanor or as many as four in state prison as a felony.

What a Prosecutor Must Prove for a Domestic Battery Charge

For a prosecutor to charge a defendant with domestic battery, they need to prove these circumstances to the jury:

  1. The offender willfully made physical contact with someone else.
  2. That physical contact was in some way offensive or violent.
  3. The person touched was a former or current intimate partner.

All three of these are essential conditions in convicting someone of domestic battery. Without all three of these conditions having been proven, the defendant cannot be charged with domestic battery in the state of California.

What Qualifies a Touch as Willful?

Before anything else, the prosecutor must demonstrate that the defendant acted willfully and with the specific intention of causing detrimental effect to the person touched or with the explicit knowledge that their touch would result in a detrimental effect. Because a domestic battery charge does not involve visible physical injury to the victim, the prosecutor does not have to prove that the defendant intended to inflict specific harm, but rather that the defendant committed an intentional act of physical contact that they knew would have detrimental consequences for the victim.

For example, James and Lee are dating, and one night when Lee is at James’s house, they get into an argument. Lee gets fed up and tries to leave, but James restrains him to prevent him from leaving. While Lee is fighting to escape his grip, he falls down a flight of stairs. James may be found guilty of domestic battery because he committed a willful, aggressive act of physical violence against Lee, even though he did not technically intend to inflict injury.

What Qualifies as Forceful or Violent Touch?

In addition to proving that the touch was willful, the prosecution must also demonstrate that it was forceful, harmful, offensive, and/or violent in order for the case to be considered a domestic battery. The requirement to make a battery case is to prove that the manner of the touch was aggressive, violent, harmful, or offensive in some way. With a domestic battery charge, it is not necessary that the victim suffers injury from this forceful or violent touch, as long as it is proven to be aggressive or offensive.

For example, Kate takes her fiancée Nick to a concert. After the show, they begin arguing outside the venue, and Kate shoves Nick against her car. The shove does not hurt him because Nick is much bigger than Kate, but Kate touched him in a forceful, violent way, meaning she could potentially be charged with domestic battery.

Who Qualifies as an Intimate Partner in a Domestic Battery Case?

In order for a battery crime to be considered a domestic battery, the unlawful physical contact must be committed toward a current or former intimate partner. Under California law, “intimate partner” includes a spouse, a former spouse, a person with whom the offender is living, a person with whom the offender previously lived, a fiancée, a former fiancée, a parent of the offender’s child, or a person with whom the offender has, or previously had, a dating relationship. It is fairly straightforward to demonstrate a relationship such as a spouse, fiancée, or parent, but legally establishing that two people are in a “dating relationship” or are living together can be trickier. It’s up to the court to decide based on context and evidence. Also, it is possible that an offender is cohabitating with multiple people simultaneously if they are splitting their time between multiple homes.

How to Defend a Battery Charge in California

There are multiple ways to contest a domestic battery charge in California court. These are some of the most frequent legal defenses an attorney might use:

The Action Was Performed in Defense

First, a typical legal defense against a domestic battery charge is to argue that the defendant acted out of self-defense and/or in defense of someone else. For the defendant to argue that their action was intended as defense, they need to demonstrate that they believed that they or another person was in immediate danger of physical injury or of being unlawfully touched. They also must prove that the immediate force used was necessary as self-defense or in defense of another to protect from this perceived immediate harm, and that the force used was reasonably necessary as a defense against the perceived threat. Proving that an action was performed out of defense prevents the prosecution from charging the defendant with domestic battery.

For example, Alex has a fight with Daniel, her son. In a rage, she begins to hit him. Her wife Leslie grabs Alex to restrain her and prevent her from injuring Daniel in her fit of anger. Alex then takes Leslie to court on the accusation of domestic battery, but Leslie pleas innocent because she acted to defend Daniel from the perceived immediate harm posed by Leslie.

The Defendant Did Not Act Willfully

For a charge to be considered a domestic battery, the act must have been committed willfully on the part of the offender. In the case that the defendant can demonstrate that the action was an accident or that there was a misunderstanding on the part of the victim, then the act cannot be legally considered willful. Under California law, proving that a given act was an accident requires demonstrating a lack of criminal intent, a lack of negligence, as well as proof that the offender was acting within the bounds of the law at the time of the event.

For example, Davis gets into a verbal argument with his fiancée Charlotte. In the midst of their verbal altercation, David gets worked up and knocks over a table filled with family photos. A shard of glass from the shattered picture frames cuts Charlotte’s leg. When Charlotte accuses David of domestic violence, his defense is the argument that the glass was not intentionally broken in her direction, and therefore the injury sustained by Charlotte was not the result of a willful action on his part.

This is a False Accusation

It is not uncommon for a defendant to be wrongfully accused of the crime of domestic battery by a current or former intimate partner motivated by feelings of jealousy, anger, or want for revenge. In this scenario, it is very important that a defendant has a strong legal defense and an experienced attorney to prove innocence by the use of relevant evidence and a strong line of questioning.

Find a Lawyer Specializing in Domestic Battery Charges Near Me

Even a misdemeanor charge will leave a permanent mark on your criminal record that can negatively affect the rest of your life. If you are facing a domestic battery charge, you need an aggressive attorney with years of experience with domestic violence laws in California on your side. With our excellent team of attorneys available 24/7, San Diego Criminal Attorney is ready to fight for you. Call our San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer at 619-880-5474 for a free consultation with one of our highly qualified legal experts.

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