California Domestic Violence Laws

California domestic violence laws make it illegal to use physical force–or to communicate threats of harm–against an intimate partner. These are the most common DV crimes:

Penal Code 273.5 pc Corporal Injury to a Spouse or Cohabitant — Penal Code 273.5 makes it illegal to inflict a “corporal injury” resulting in a “traumatic condition.” A person commits this crime by striking his/her intimate partner in some violent way and causing a visible injury, even a slight one such as swelling or a bruise. This California domestic violence law can be charged if the alleged victim is a current or former spouse or cohabitant or the parent of your child.

Penal Code 243(e)(1)  pc Domestic Battery — Penal Code 243(e)(1) makes it a misdemeanor crime to inflict force or violence on an intimate partner…a category that includes your fiancé, cohabitant, the parent of your child, or your current or former spouse or dating partner. Unlike Penal Code 273.5, this California domestic violence law does not require a visible injury.

Penal Code 273d  pc Child Abuse — Penal Code 273d makes it a crime to inflict “corporal punishment or injury” on a child if it was “cruel or inhuman” and caused an injury (even a slight injury). California child abuse laws allow a parent reasonable latitude to spank a child, but draw the line where the punishment is cruel or injures the child.

Penal Code 273a pc Child Endangerment — Penal Code 273a makes it a crime willfully to allow a child (in your care or custody) to suffer harm or to have his/her safety or health endangered. An example would be a mother who permits her boyfriend to beat her 6-year-old; or a parent who operates a dangerous meth lab in the same home where his/her child lives.

Penal Code 270 PC Child Neglect/Failure to Provide Care — Penal Code 270 makes it a crime for a parent to fail to provide necessities (like food, shelter, medical care, etc.) to his/her minor child, willfully and without a lawful excuse. For example, a mother might be charged with child neglect/failure to provide care for not providing sufficient food to her children.

Penal Code 368 pc Elder Abuse – Penal Code 368 makes it a crime to inflict physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, endangerment or financial fraud on a victim 65 years of age or older. The crime is usually charged against caregivers, but can also be charged against anyone who commits these sorts of offenses against a senior citizen victim.

Penal Code 422 pc Criminal Threats — Penal Code 422 makes it a crime to communicate a threat of serious harm to someone if (1) you intend to put the person in fear, and (2) you actually do put the person in sustained fear. Criminal Threats may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. As a felony, it counts as a strike under California Three Strikes Law.

Penal Code 591 pc Damaging a telephone line — While not strictly speaking a domestic violence crime, Penal Code 591 damaging a telephone line is often charged along with other domestic violence offenses. This law makes it a crime to cut or otherwise damage a phone line or phone equipment. In domestic incidents, there are frequently allegations that the defendant damaged phone equipment in order to prevent the alleged victim from making a phone call. PC 591 may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Penal Code 601 PC Aggravated trespass – Aggravated trespass is a bit like the crime of trespass plus criminal threats. You can be charged with this offense if you make a threat against someone that causes him/her to reasonably fear for his/her physical safety and then, within 30 days, enter his/her home or workplace to carry out the threat. Aggravated trespass is often charged along with other domestic violence offenses. It can be either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Penal Code 647(j)(4) PC Revenge porn – While not traditionally thought of as domestic violence crimes, certain forms of cyber-harassment are increasingly charged along with domestic violence crimes. As troubled romantic relationships increasingly play themselves out online, this will become only more common. PC 647(j)(4) revenge porn is a good example. You can be accused of this misdemeanor offense if you intentionally distribute sexual photos of another person (such as an ex-girlfriend or ex-wife), with the intent to cause him/her emotional distress.

Penal Code 653.2 PC Posting harmful information on the internet – This relatively new offense consists of posting harmful information about someone on the internet or sending such information in an email message, with the intent to incite other people to harass him/her. Posting harmful information on the internet (also known as “indirect electronic harassment”) is often charged against people who attempt to use the internet to get revenge on the other party in a domestic dispute. PC 653.2 is a misdemeanor.

Domestic Violence and Immigration Issues

California domestic violence laws present an especially serious problem for immigrants who are not United States citizens. Most of the DV offenses are crimes of moral turpitude and conviction will cause deportation. If you are a non-citizen accused of some sort of domestic abuse crime, it’s imperative that you fight the case and avoid a criminal conviction. Otherwise you may lose your opportunity to remain in the United States and eventually to naturalize.

California Domestic Violence Penalties & Sentencing

The penalty, punishment and sentencing for crimes under California domestic violence law varies depending on (1) the seriousness of the injuries, if any, and (2) the defendant’s criminal record. But most counties impose a minimum 30 days jail, even for first-time misdemeanor convictions. And judges almost always require the defendant to attend a 52-week domestic batterers class.

Worst of all, a California domestic violence conviction goes on one’s permanent criminal record…and will surface anytime someone does a routine background check. This can make it difficult to gain employment, state licensing and other benefits.

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Domestic Violence in California

Staggering domestic violence statistics for the State of California.

Domestic violence represents both a serious criminal justice and public health problem. Every year in California over 100,000 arrests are made for misdemeanor and felony domestic violence charges while countless additional cases of intimate-partner violence go unreported. The social, economic, and personal costs of domestic violence make it a critical area for evaluating the effectiveness of the justice system response to this crime. Since 1994, California law has required defendants who are convicted and granted probation in domestic violence cases to complete a certified batterer intervention program (BIP). In addition, recognizing the severity of the problem of intimate-partner violence and the unique challenges these cases present, many superior courts in California have adopted specialized procedures for handling domestic violence cases such as using dedicated calendars and holding periodic review hearings with offenders.

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