California laws against violence are stringent, more so if violence happens in an intimate relationship. Domestic violence is a highly punishable crime in the state and could leave the defendant spending years behind bars and paying hefty fines. Domestic battery is one of the most common forms of domestic violence in California. It is an offense that will affect many aspects of your life, including your professional and social life.
Because of the nature of this offense, it is possible to be accused of domestic battery falsely. That is why at San Jose Criminal Attorney Law Firm, we offer legal help to those facing such charges. Our goal is to ensure that justice is served in the end. We also ensure that your rights are protected throughout the legal process. If, therefore, you or your loved one is facing California domestic battery charges, get in touch with us if you are in San Jose.
Legal Meaning of Domestic Battery
California laws against domestic battery are under Section 243(e) (1). It is a more common offense under the domestic violence bracket. The crime occurs when the crime of battery is committed against a person with whom the defendant has or had an intimate relationship. You could be accused of domestic battery if you unlawfully and willfully touched your intimate partner and inflicted violence or force against them.
The people against whom the crime of domestic battery can be committed include the following:
- A current or past spouse
- A current or previous cohabitant
- The current fiancée (e) of the previous one
- A person with whom you have or used to have a serious dating relationship
- A mother or father of your child
Note that one can still face charges for domestic battery even if their victim did not suffer any form of injury. All the prosecutor will need to prove is that the defendant used violence or force against their victim.
To understand the offense of domestic battery even better, let us look at the basics of the offense, which the prosecutor must prove before a court for a defendant to be found guilty:
- That the defendant willfully touched a person
- That the touch was offensive or harmful
- That the person the defendant touched is a person with whom he/she is or was in an intimate relationship
Let us discuss this further to get the actual meaning.
Willfully: As used in this definition, willfully means that the touching was done willingly or on purpose. Note that this does not mean that the defendant had the intention of breaking any law or bringing harm to another person.
Example: If two cohabitants, Jason and Mary, get involved in a severe argument one afternoon, and Mary threatens to leave. Jason tries to restrain her physically, and in the process of trying to free herself, Mary suffers a dislocated arm. Jason could be culpable of domestic battery even though he did not intend to cause Mary any injury. The facts of this case are that he had used bodily force on her. It shows an act that was done willfully and in an invasive manner.
Offensive or harmful touch: Domestic battery is quite different from most domestic violence offenses because the court can still find you guilty of the crime even though you didn’t hurt the other person. The prosecutor will only need to prove that you touched another person in an invasive or harmful manner. An offensive or harmful touch does not cause any pain or injury. All that matters is that the touch was done angrily or disrespectfully.
It means that pushing a person in anger could amount to a domestic battery if you have or had an intimate relationship with that person. Even if the offender is smaller in size than the victim, the court can still find you guilty of the offense because the touch was done angrily and in a powerful way.
Note that the law does not specify the part of the body the offender needs to have touched to be found guilty of spousal battery. It doesn’t even mention if the offender needs to touch the victim’s body part. It means that you could still be convicted if you violently touched something that is closely connected or attached to the victim.
Example: If Jason and Mary got into a heated argument in a club or party, and Mary angrily hits a glass of whiskey off Jason's hand. In the state of California, this could amount to a domestic battery as it satisfies the offensive touch element of the crime since that glass had a connection to the victim's body.
Against a close/intimate partner: As mentioned above, a person might only be charged with domestic battery if they direct their actions to someone with whom they have or had an intimate relationship. The people the law accepts as intimate partners are those that appear in the list above.
Note that most of these relations are quick to prove, such as the other parent, fiancée, fiancé, and spouse. However, there are instances it could be challenging to determine whether the defendant and the victim are or were in an intimate relationship. It is, for example, in cases where the two were cohabiting or were, at one time, in a courting relationship.
Example: Jason and Mary get into an argument at 4 in the morning outside Jason's apartment. In the process, Jason slaps Mary hard across her face. Some neighbors have seen this, and so, they report it to the authorities. Jason is detained and accused of spousal battery. In his defense, Jason cites no evidence that he was in an intimate relationship with Mary. But witnesses come up to testify that they heard Jason call Mary his girl. That and the point that Mary was in his house at 4 in the morning could be used as evidence to establish that the two were in a dating relationship.
Again, California law accepts the fact that a person could be cohabiting with more than one partner at a go.
Domestic Battery vs. Domestic Violence
A person can get confused between two similar legal terms, such as domestic violence and domestic battery. Domestic violence is a general term that refers to all types of abuse that could be committed against an intimate partner. Domestic battery is not part of those offenses under the broad umbrella of domestic violence.
A domestic battery offense is always a misdemeanor in the state of California. A domestic violence charge, on the other hand, is a wobbler, which means that the court could convict it as either a felony or a misdemeanor. It all depends on the facts of the case and the amount of injury sustained by the victim.
Again, the domestic battery does not require the victim to suffer any form of injury. Still, in domestic violence cases, proof of damage is a must for the offender to be found guilty of the offense. An offensive or harmful touch is all the prosecutor needs to prove to find a person guilty of spousal battery.
Penalties for California Domestic Battery
California's domestic battery offense is a misdemeanor. If a person is found guilty of the offense, here are the punishments they are likely to face:
- A maximum of one year in jail
- A fine of not more than $2,000
- Misdemeanor probation
Misdemeanor probation is a jail alternative given to less-risky offenders. Almost anyone that faces a misdemeanor conviction in the state of California can get probation. The court designs the probation program for the following purposes::
- To protect the members of the public against the offender
- To restore the victim
- To rehabilitate the offender
The people who are likely to get misdemeanor probation are juvenile offenders and first-time criminal offenders. However, sometimes, the court can decide to give offenders with prior convictions misdemeanor probation.
It is prevalent for people facing domestic battery charges in California to get probation. If you are lucky to get out on parole, you will still have specific conditions by which to abide. Court-imposed probation conditions could be few or more, depending on the judge and the severity of the offense. You may, for instance, be required to complete a batterer’s rehabilitation program for a minimum period of one year.
In addition to that, the court might require you to pay the following, instead of the standard fine of $2000:
- A maximum of $5,000 to the state’s battered women's shelter
- All the expenses the victim might have incurred as a direct result of that offense. It might include the cost for their counseling services
In addition to that, if you get a domestic battery conviction for the second or more times, and the court has placed you on probation, you may be obligated to serve some time in jail for a minimum of 48 hours. The court will only take this penalty away if there is a good reason why you shouldn’t serve time behind bars.
Does a Domestic Battery Conviction Have Any Immigration Consequences?
Generally, California considers domestic battery as a minor crime. It means that its potential punishments are not so severe when compared to other crimes the court could convict as felonies. However, offenders who are non-citizens should be careful about certain offenses like these as they could have potential consequences on immigration if one faces a conviction of such a crime in California.
Domestic battery is an offense under domestic violence, which appears in the class of deportable crimes under the Federal Immigration statutes. What this means is that even though the offender is a legal immigrant, they could face deportation if the court finds them guilty of the offense.
Note that all spousal violence sentences carry severe immigration consequences. That is why it is advisable to talk to a skilled criminal defense attorney immediately if you are facing such a conviction, and you are an immigrant.
Possible Legal Defenses against Charges for California Domestic Battery
However, minor domestic violence offense may sound; it can significantly affect different aspects of your life. A person convicted of a domestic battery may, for instance, have a hard time getting along with members of their family. It could affect your career, too, as well as give you a criminal record that could make it hard for you to find suitable employment. For that reason, fighting spousal battery charges is an excellent idea. To do that, you need the services of a competent criminal defense attorney. The good thing is that there are several defense strategies that your attorney can use in your defense. Some of these are:
You acted in self-defense or defense of others:
In most cases involving the use of violence or excessive force, a person could cite self-defense or defense of others as the reason why they acted the way they did. A person could, for instance, be forced to use excess force to defend themselves or a loved one from imminent danger. However, the court will only accept this as a defense against domestic battery accusations if it satisfies the following conditions:
- That you had a good reason to believe that you or another person was in immediate danger of being touched illegally or of suffering physical injury
- That you had a strong reason to think that using quick force at that instant was needed to defend yourself or the other person against that danger
- That you didn’t use more power than required to protect yourself or the other person
If your attorney can prove these facts, you may not be found guilty of domestic battery, and so, the court may drop your charges.
You didn’t act willfully
Willfulness is one of the factors that should be proven by the prosecutor for the offender to be found guilty of spousal battery. It means that the court may not find you guilty of the offense if there is proof that you didn’t act willfully. If it was an accidental touch, for instance, the court might acquit you of the charges. If, for example, out of anger, John throws a water glass against the wall, then a part of the broken glass comes from the wall and cuts his wife’s hand. John may not be guilty of domestic battery since he didn’t willfully injure his wife with the glass.
As mentioned earlier, a person can accuse you of a crime you didn’t commit falsely. Some people accuse others of falsely out of jealousy, anger, or even a desire to seek revenge. An ex-spouse can, for instance, blame his/her ex-partner of domestic battery when, in the real sense, he/she was not battered. Since domestic battery does not always involve injuries, a person can be wrongly arrested and charged with such an offense.
If this is what has happened in your case, it is advisable to rely on the services of a competent criminal defense attorney. From experience, he/she may know how to handle such a case and the kinds of inquiries to make to gather enough evidence that will make certain that the facts of the case come out eventually.
California Domestic Battery & Related Offenses
Cases involving California domestic battery are not always straightforward. There are several offenses in the state that sometimes are charged in-place-of or alongside this offense. Some of the offenses are, for instance:
Corporal Injury on a Spouse: The law against inflicting corporal injury on one's spouse is under Section 273.5 of California Statutes. The code is another standard part of the state's domestic violence laws. It is used to charge a person who willfully inflicts physical injury on a person with whom they are or were in an intimate relationship.
The main difference between domestic battery and corporal injury on a spouse is that in battery cases, the willful use of force does not have to result in an injury. If some form of physical injury ensues, the offense will no longer be a domestic battery but infliction of corporal damage on an intimate partner.
Again, unlike a domestic battery, which is charged as a misdemeanor in most cases, inflicting a physical injury on a spouse will be convicted as either a felony or a misdemeanor. It all depends on the facts of the matter and the offender's criminal history.
It is to say that inflicting physical injury on your spouse is a far more severe offense than a domestic battery. For that reason, a lot of people prefer to accept fault to a domestic battery than face charges for California Legal Code 273.5.
Aggravated battery: The law against aggravated battery in California is under Section 243(d) of the state laws. Aggravated battery is closely connected to domestic battery in that both are battery offenses, sharing similar elements. The difference between the two is minor. For a person to face an aggravated battery conviction, for instance, the victim needs to have suffered severe physical injuries, which is not always the case with domestic battery.
Again, the aggravated battery can be committed against any person, and not just a close partner like in the case of domestic battery. The other significant difference between these two offenses is that the aggravated battery is a wobbler. It means that it can be convicted as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Domestic battery, on the other hand, is condemned as a misdemeanor much of the time. If you get a felony conviction for aggravated battery, the penalties are severe and could land you in prison for up to four years.
There are instances the prosecutor might try to accuse the offender of aggravated battery other than considering the offense as a simple case of domestic battery. It will happen if the prosecutor is sure that he/she can demonstrate that your actions caused the victim a severe injury.
Elder abuse: California laws against elder abuse are provided under Section 368 of the state Penal Code. According to this law, it is illegal for a person to negligently or willfully cause an older person of ages 65 and above to suffer physical or mental pain unjustifiably. A charge of elder abuse will suffice in place of domestic battery if the alleged victims 65 years of age or above. The same elements of the domestic battery will apply in the case of elder abuse.
However, elder abuse is a more serious offense in the state of California and will call for stiffer punishments if the offender is found guilty. Again, it is a wobbler, and could, therefore, be convicted as a misdemeanor or a felony. If indeed the victim of your abuse is older than 65, and the court gives you a felony conviction, you could face a long time behind bars, to a maximum of four years. The fine would be heftier in this case too and could go up to $6,000.
Things could get worse if the alleged victim suffers serious physical injuries or loses their life. In that case, the offender’s sentence could be increased by between five to seven years.
Disturbing peace: according to Section 415 of California laws, it is illegal for any person to disturb the peace. It could be done by:
- Fighting another person in public
- Making unreasonable and excess noise to cause disturbance to others
- Uttering provocative words in public and directing them to someone else
It is an offense that could go hand-in-hand with California domestic battery. Just like the latter, disturbing peace is a misdemeanor, too, and it carries a full prison sentence of three months. In some instances, the court may charge the offense as an infraction.
If you are lucky, the prosecutor could reduce your charges for a domestic battery offense to those of disturbing peace through a plea bargain. The good thing with this is that a conviction will not carry severe penalties, stigma, or have any immigration consequences, among other things.
Find a San Jose Criminal Attorney Law Firm Near Me
Just like most criminal offenses in the state of California, a domestic battery charge may not be as straightforward as it sounds. You may have questions you need answers for, to avoid a conviction and the consequences of such a conviction. The California Criminal Lawyer Group is the way to go if you are in San Jose, CA. The firm comprises of highly-skilled and experienced criminal defense attorneys who are willing and ready to support, offer advice, and take you through the legal process. Therefore, if you or your loved one is facing a domestic battery charge today, call us at 408-622-0204.