The law firm of Domestic Violence Attorney is ready to take on cases all over Orange County in the state of California. We specialize in cases of domestic violence and are ready to handle domestic battery charges in any type of case.

How is Domestic Battery Defined in California Law?

Domestic battery is a crime that is one of the most common crimes of domestic violence in California. The specific section of the law is Penal Code 243(e)(1) and is defined as offensive or harmful touching that is willful and/or unlawful and committed by the defendant against any person with whom they have “a close relationship”. This relationship is defined as a spouse/partner or former spouse/partner, a fiancée or former fiancée, a co-parent of their child, any co-habitant or former co-habitant, and any person with whom the defendant is currently or once was intimate with (such as a girlfriend or boyfriend).

Domestic battery is also sometimes referred to as “spousal battery”. Charges of domestic battery can be pursued even if the victim was not actually injured. The only criterion is that the defendant used either violence or force against the victim.

The basic elements of domestic battery are:

  1. The defendant made the willful decision to initiate physical contact with someone else.
  2. This act of touching was deemed offensive and/or harmful.
  3. The victim of said touching was someone the defendant had a close relationship with or formerly had a close relationship with.

Domestic battery is distinct from the related crime of corporal injury on a spouse, cohabitant, or fellow parent. This is also a crime of domestic violence though these charges require that the victim actually suffer some kind of physical injury in order for the prosecution (also referred to as the District Attorney, or DA) to pursue said charges.

Under PC 243(e)(1), the key word “willfully" means the defendant acted with specific purpose and did so of their own volition. That means that they meant to make physical contact with the victim and that no one else forced them to do so. Furthermore, the defendant did not need to have meant to have broken the law and/or caused physical harm to someone else. That means that one of the most noticeable aspects of the crime of domestic battery is that a conviction of this offense can be upheld even if the accused (also referred to as the “defendant”) did not cause an actual physical injury to another person. The concept of hurting the victim in this particular crime is based more on the defendant’s actions than the state of the victim.

That means that the defendant needs to have made actual physical contact with the victim. If only threats of violence were made, the crime would be considered criminal threats, another domestic violence charge. Therefore, the touching has to be deemed “harmful or offensive”. This does not mean that it caused injury or pain; it only means that this harmful or offensive physical contact was done in an angry or disrespectful way. Domestic battery is essentially a specific type of simple battery (Penal Code 242 pc) under California law.

Domestic battery is also complicated by the fact that it is not even totally certain whether the defendant must touch the victim’s actual body. The law is somewhat ambiguous in this aspect and there are cases where the defendant touched, in a harmful or offensive manner that was disrespectful or angry, something that was merely “attached to or closely connected with” the victim.

Charges Related to Domestic Battery

Simple domestic battery is distinct from, but related to, the crime that is delineated under California Penal Code 273.5 pc: intentional infliction of corporal injury. This is also a very common domestic violence charge in the state of California. It is essentially an extension of the crime of domestic battery, whereby the offense is actionable if the defendant willfully and criminally caused bodily injury on an intimate partner. That essentially means that the difference between domestic battery and intentional infliction of corporal injury is that the defendant had to mean to cause some kind of injury when they made physical contact with the victim. Remember that simple domestic battery does not require any kind of physical injury to be prosecuted by the DA’s office. As such, intentional infliction of corporal injury is a more serious crime than domestic battery.

Furthermore, there is also the crime of aggravated battery which is delineated under California Penal Code 243(d) pc. Aggravated battery is also related to domestic battery, but it too is a more serious crime and requires the following criteria to differentiate it from simple domestic battery:

  1. The defendant must have inflicted serious harm (otherwise known as “great bodily harm”) on the victim.
  2. The defendant must have attacked a victim that is not necessarily an intimate partner or former intimate partner; that is to say, the victim can be anyone, even a total stranger to the defendant.

Whether or not a specific injury is considered great bodily harm is a determining factor in the application of the aggravated battery law. Great bodily harm is a frequent enhancement in California criminal law as it relates to all kinds of violent crimes. Its specific definition is an injury that is significant and/or substantial in some way. A mild or even moderate injury would not trigger the great bodily injury enhancement, therefore not meriting an aggravated battery charge.

However, as great bodily injury does not have precise definition, the application of this law is ultimately at the DA’s discretion. The DA’s office frequently will go for the most serious charge in a given situation, particularly if they consider the specific facts of the case (based on the police report, eyewitness accounts, and victim testimony) as well as the criminal history of the defendant. This is doubly true if the defendant has any history of violence or violent crimes in their past. In domestic violence cases, the DA’s office may bump up a domestic battery charge to aggravated battery if they believe they can prove that significant injury occurred.

There are other charges that are related to domestic battery. As California now takes domestic violence cases very seriously, when police are called to a domestic disturbance and there is any evidence, no matter how slight, that domestic battery or domestic violence occurred, they will almost certainly arrest the party they believe responsible. The DA may then tack on any number of related charges to strengthen their case. These may include criminal threats (PC 422), violation of a protective/restraining order (PC 166), stalking (PC 646.9), disabling a telephone/cable line (PC 591), and dissuading a witness from reporting a crime (PC 136.1(b)(1)).

Is Domestic Battery a Misdemeanor or a Felony Charge?

Simple domestic battery under Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC is a misdemeanor charge in California. If the DA secures a conviction, the defendant will face up to one (1) year in a county jail and a maximum fine of two thousand dollars ($2,000) as well as probation. If it is the defendant’s first offense or if they have no history of violent behavior then it is very common for the defendant to receive only probation. This is commonly referred to as a suspended sentence and is entirely at the judge’s discretion. In the case of a suspended sentence, however, the court may toss out the $2,000 fine and instead require the defendant to pay up to five thousand dollars ($5,000) to a battered woman’s shelter as well as all reasonable expenses that the victim incurred as a result of the domestic battery. This will include the cost of counseling to treat the victim’s trauma.

However, if the defendant is convicted of domestic battery for the second or subsequent time with probation as the sentence prescribed by the judge, the defendant will still be required to spend forty-eight (48) hours in the county jail. The defendant may argue that there is good cause to suspend this short jail sentence, but it is entirely at the judge’s discretion.

However, intentional infliction of corporal injury (Penal Code 273.5 pc) is a more serious crime than domestic battery. It is known as a wobbler in California criminal law. A wobbler is any crime that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony (it “wobbles” between felony and misdemeanor). Whether the DA pursues the misdemeanor or felony charges depends on the specific circumstances of the case as well as the arrest record and potential propensity of violence of the defendant.

The penalty for a misdemeanor charge of intentional infliction of corporal injury is a one (1) year sentence in a county correctional institution (jail) and a fine not exceeding six thousand dollars ($6,000). The penalties may also include summary (misdemeanor) probation in lieu of jail time (a suspended sentence). This is at the judge’s discretion.

The felony punishments for intentional infliction of corporal injury on an intimate partner are accordingly more severe. They include two (2), three (3), or four (4) years in prison as well as a fine not exceeding six thousand dollars ($6,000). Furthermore, the judge may impose formal (felony) probation on the defendant. The crime of aggravated battery under California Penal Code 243(d) pc is also a wobbler charge. A felony aggravated battery charge may result in imprisonment of two (2), three (3), or four (4) years in a state prison. The prison sentence may be increased to five (5) years and the fine increased to ten thousand dollars ($10,000) if the defendant has a history of prior domestic violence crimes or if the injury inflicted was a great bodily injury.

The bail amounts for the crime of domestic battery (as determined by the judge at a bail hearing) can be anywhere from twenty thousand dollars ($20,000) to one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000). This of course depends on if it is simple domestic battery or one of the more serious charges of intentional infliction of corporal injury or aggravated battery (as either misdemeanors or felonies) as well as the great bodily injury enhancement. If the charges are not serious, then it is becoming fairly common to release defendants of their own recognizance. This means that a bail bond does not need to be posted.

Usually the police and courts will issue an Emergency Order of Protection that is valid for seventy-two (72) hours. This is done on behalf of the victim, even if they do not necessarily want it. This means that no contact is allowed by the defendant to the victim. Its violation may result in triggering the application of additional charges of violating a protective order. If the victim wishes to drop the charges, the DA’s office will not dismiss the charges. This is part of California’s official policy on domestic violence cases. Furthermore, if the victim does not want to testify in court, then the DA’s office will attempt to compel them to appear by serving them with a subpoena. Furthermore, according to what is known as Marsy’s Law, even if the victim refuses said subpoena, then the court cannot punish them with jail time. They may levy other penalties, but not jail time.

What Does the Prosecution Have to Prove for a Domestic Battery Conviction?

In ordered to secure a conviction in a charge of domestic battery, or one of its related charges, then the DA must prove that the defendant willfully inflicted harmful and/or offensive violence and/or force on their intimate partner. This means that the DA must prove that the victim is, in fact, an intimate partner. Furthermore, they must prove that said physical contact was harmful and/or offensive. Remember that for a simple domestic battery charge, no pain or harm has to have been inflicted on the victim (this is not true in the related, more serious charges). The DA must only prove that the action was done angrily or disrespectfully.

Furthermore, the point of physical contact must also be evaluated by the DA and their arguments as part of the prosecution’s case. Though it usually means that the physical contact was made on the victim’s body, it can also mean their clothing and/or something attached or connected to the victim was touched in some way. If the defendant grabs the victim’s collar in an angry or disrespectful way or knocks something out of the victim’s hands, then that would be considered domestic battery.

Finally, the prosecution must prove that the action was done willfully. That means that the defendant meant to do it and no one forced the defendant to do so. They were acting of their own free will and volition when they made the physical contact with the victim. However, the DA does not have to prove that the defendant intended to hurt or harm their intimate partner nor that the defendant even had the intention of committing a crime. Domestic battery is a fairly simple crime to assess and determine whether charges are appropriate for a particular situation.

Possible Defense Strategies to a Charge of Domestic Battery

There are several legal defenses that a skilled criminal defense team can use to fight domestic battery charges. Some of the most common and most successful include an argument that the battery was done in self-defense or in defense of another person. This behavior can, under certain conditions, being entirely legal. The defendant must have reasonably believed that they or someone else were in imminent danger of being harmed or aggressively touched in any way. The defendant must have also believed that using force or violence was necessary to stop the imminent danger to themselves or others. Finally, the defendant must have used a proportionate and not excessive amount of force in countering the threat. If those conditions are met, then the defense can prove that domestic battery did not occur. Also, there are cases where a situation of mutual combat can result in a self-defense argument.

Furthermore, an argument can be made that the defendant did not willfully touch the victim. The legal definition of “willfully” is that the defendant meant to do the action. If the act of physical contact was an accident, then it was not done willfully. If it is not done willfully, then the defendant is not guilty of domestic battery.

Finally, the defense may argue that the alleged victim made false accusations. A skilled attorney may impugn the reliability of the alleged victim’s testimony as well as question their motives in making such allegations. The alleged victim could potentially be motivated by jealousy, greed, anger, pettiness, or a need for vengeance. This is especially true with intimate partners. Furthermore, the defense will most likely be successful by questioning the veracity of the victim’s claims; this, in effect, turns the situation in to one where only the two immediate parties know what truly transpired.

Find a Defense Lawyer Near Me

If you find yourself facing domestic battery charges, you may feel helpless and overwhelmed. An experienced and skillful defense attorney specializing in domestic violence has seen this situation countless times. They will know precisely what questions to ask and what evidence to present to give you vindication by proving your innocence. Domestic Violence Attorney of Orange County, California is awaiting your call at 714-888-4833.