Domestic violence is a serious crime in California, and Los Angeles in particular, and attracts severe penalties. To save yourself from a conviction of domestic violence, you may need the services of professional attorneys who are specialized in criminal defense. If you are charged with domestic violence in Los Angeles, the LA Criminal Defense Attorney is ready to get in touch with you and help fight your charges in court. In this article, we will review the different types of domestic violence offenses, the possible penalties and legal defenses in California.
Domestic Violence as a Crime
Criminal law covers a wide range of illegal conducts that are punishable by sanctions such as fines and imprisonment. The state, under criminal law, is mandated to govern crimes and criminal offenses. This means that the state issues criminal charges and not the victim. Domestic violence is one of such offenses.
Domestic violence is arguably one of the major concerns to families in California. The manifestation of this kind of abuse could be confusing since the abuser may not be aware that they are inflicting abuse on the other person. On the other hand, the victims of domestic violence may not take action if they don’t understand that what they are experiencing in the relationship is indeed, domestic violence.
What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence refers to the violent acts committed by a family or household member against another. They include child abuse or mistreatment of one spouse to the other. It describes all the violent offenses committed against an intimate partner, family members, or individuals within a household. Anyone involved in domestic violence attempts to exert control over the offended party.
According to the United States Department of justice office on violence against women, domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in a relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner.
California PEN 13700 defines domestic violence as abuse against a minor or an adult, a current or former spouse, a cohabitant or former cohabitant, or any person with whom the defendant has had an engagement relationship that may or may not have led to having a child. Abuse, in this case, is the reckless or intentional causing of bodily injury to another person, or placing them in a position of getting serious bodily harm or injuries.
Brief Background of Domestic Violence
The above definition characterizes domestic violence as a form of criminal act that involves a relationship between the abuser and the victim. The law has provided an exhausted list of who can constitute a victim. This means that the victim of domestic violence does not have to be a spouse or any intimate partner.
Children, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties, grandparents, grandchildren, nephew and nieces are also considered to be victims in the act of domestic violence.
Acts of domestic violence can be physical, sexual, psychological, financial abuse, isolation from the world, destruction of property, all with the intention of inflicting fear on the victim.
Most people view domestic violence as a form of crime that has not been given much needed attention either by the police or even the courts. This is due to the fact that domestic violence happens in the confines of a home where the husband is considered as the head of the home and whatever he says goes. However, with civil societies coming out to outright speak of the ills of domestic violence, institutions have started giving it attention especially where children are involved or sexual abuse and physical attacks tend to live a permanent scar on the victims. These outcries have created a space where domestic violence is discussed and courts and the police put to task to address such ills when confronted with it. Victims of domestic violence can now be offered assurance and protection from perpetrators of such criminal acts.
Forms of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence offense can manifest itself in various forms as follows.
This is a form of abuse where there is actual force and physical harm on the victim. It is more cognizable since the result of the violence is manifested on the injuries inflicted on the victim. Any form of injury is considered violence; hence slaps on the face and punches are considered domestic violence.
The abuser attacks the self worth of the victim. This can be done through insults, humiliations, or even criticism. This form of abuse is however manifested by a combination of other abuse such as physical or sexual abuse.
The abuser uses sexual assault, rape or even sexual harassment to violate the right of the victim. This form of abuse is common especially in an intimate relationship. However, victims such as children can fall prey of such abuse.
This abuse is common in a family set up. The abuser tends to withhold financial support to the victim or persons under his care. It’s a form of abuse that is known mostly to gain control of the victim, making the victim to be under the mercies of the abuser. If children are involved, then it becomes an offense of neglect.
This form of abuse is meant to create fear on the victim. Such abuse can be in form of threats or intimidation all to create fear on the victim. It’s also a form of abuse that is meant to maintain control over the victim. The abuse can be locking the victim in the house, isolating the victim from the world, or even emotional blackmail.
The Laws and Types of Domestic Violence
California domestic violence laws tend to prevent violent acts against intimate or familial relationships. You are charged with domestic violence when the actions are directed to people with whom you have different kinds of relationships. These relationships are illustrated under Penal code 13700 domestic violence laws and family code 6211.
As defined earlier, domestic violence under California penal code section 13700 is the founding law in relation to domestic violence, which defines domestic violence as abuse committed against an intimate partner. Abuse in this section, is considered as force which is reckless and intentional against the other party.
The California family law code has however, has expounded the list of victims of domestic violence to include children, any other person that is related to the defendant either by marriage or by blood. Such persons include brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties, nieces and nephews, grandparents and grandchildren.
With the above two sections in mind, domestic violence can be broken down into different crimes such a battery, abuse, threat, and neglect. These crimes are discussed below based on their specific statutes.
- Domestic Battery
The penal code has defined domestic battery as violence or force that is unlawful and inflicted on another person of familial ties.
The law further classifies domestic battery to the specific intimate or familial relationship between the parties involved. According to the penal code, when an assault is committed against a person with whom the defendant has had an intimate relationship with or is currently having an intimate relationship with, then the battery is punishable by a fine or a jail term or both.
Alternatively, if the victim suffers severe injuries, the defendant could be charged with battery offense under the law. This section covers domestic violence victims who suffer serious injuries as a result of the defendant’s actions.
- Intentional Infliction of Corporal Injury
This is a form of crime punishable by law, where the defendant inflicts corporal punishment that makes the victim suffer traumatic condition. This form of criminal act requires a form of familial relationship between the abuser and the victim. This offense requires an actual injury inflicted on the victim.
- Aggravated Battery
The prosecutor can also charge a defendant with aggravated battery under the penal code. This form of battery or crime occurs when serious bodily injury has been inflicted on a person. The act does not require a familial relationship between the parties involved. As long as there is serious body injury on the victim, the offense holds.
- Elder Abuse
Abuse which is inflicted on elderly persons of the society is considered elder abuse. The harm can be mental or physical. The injury inflicted on the victim should be negligent and also willful. The defendant can be prosecuted under section 368 of the penal code if his reckless behavior constitutes injury inflicted on a person 65 years of age or older. Reckless acts that inflict injuries to grandparents or even parents who are elderly are considered offense under this law.
- Corporal Punishment on a Child and Child Abuse
The penal code criminalizes injury inflicted on a child as a form of punishment. Where a child suffers injury in the course of discipline, then it’s considered corporal punishment which is criminal offense under the law. However, reasonable spanking of the child usually is excused. An argument can however arise as to what constitutes reasonable spanking. Any punishment however that inflicts serious injury on a child is considered offense under the law.
It is also an offense to endanger the safety of a child. Guardians or parents with whose care a child has been placed are required to provide a safe environment in which a child or minor can live. A parent therefore who conducts illegal business such as drug trafficking in the same home within which a minor lives in is considered to endanger the life of that child and is liable under the law for punishment.
A parent or guardian who also neglects to provide the basic needs for a minor commits an offense. Such basic needs include food, shelter, education, medical care emotional attention and so on. Children are protected by the law against parents or guardians who are negligent and ignorant of their duties towards the minors placed under their care.
Offenses Related to Domestic Violence
Aggravated trespass or felony trespass is a crime that is common under domestic violence. The defendant must make threats of causing injuries or a severe bodily injury to the victim, in order for this crime to hold. The defendant must also then unlawfully enter the victim’s residence or workplace with the intention of harming them. These threats however must be made within 30 days from the date of the actual offense.
Another common domestic violence offense is that of damaging a telephone or electrical wire. The defendant is considered to commit an act of domestic violence if he willfully cuts a phone wire or disabled phone equipment of the victim. This criminal act can lead to other charges under the law.
Disturbing the peace is also a common offense that can be charged alongside domestic violence charges. However, prosecutors normally reduce domestic battery offense to charges of disturbing the peace as part of a plea bargain. One commits an offense of disturbing the peace if found fighting in public or even making unnecessary and unwanted noise such as hurling insults at someone in public.
A person who is found issuing criminal threats to someone with the intention of harming them is liable for charges under the penal code and a jail term of up to one year.
Any threats or harassments imposed on a victim to the point of inflicting some form of fear on the victim and those around them including family and friends is considered a criminal offense under the penal code.
Where a person intentionally distributes photos of another person on the internet with the intention of causing the victim with emotional distress and fear, then that person is considered to have committed an offense under the law. This is an offense that is meant to cause some form of harassment to the victim.
The law considers it an offense to post harmful, dangerous information on the internet about someone else with the intention of causing some form of harassment on the victim. This type of offense is used by parties to a domestic dispute as a quest for revenge. The criminal act is meant to cause the victim to be disliked by the public.
Penalties for Domestic Violence
Common crimes of domestic violence can either be termed as misdemeanors or felonies.
Possible penalties for domestic violence as a misdemeanor under the penal code can lead to a fine or a maximum jail term of one year. On the other hand, aggravated battery as a felony can carry a maximum jail term of two to four years or a jail term of one year if treated as a misdemeanor.
There are more additional legal consequences for domestic violence charges. These include:
- Mandatory minimum jail term: Courts may sentence the defendant to a minimum jail term of 30 days. This also applies to first time offender;
- Payment of the victim restitution: The defendant may also be ordered to pay the victim “restitution.” Such restitution may include the victim’s medical bill, mental health counseling, lost wages and/or property damage for any destruction on the property;
- Participation in a batterer’s program: The court requires that the batterers should attend a full year treatment and counseling program. This program is meant to help them rehabilitate;
- Permanent criminal record: This is the worst of all penalties. A charge on domestic violence goes into the permanent criminal record of the accused person. This conviction will always appear when one does a background check on the person. It, therefore, makes it difficult for one to gain employment, housing, bank credits or other benefits;
- Loss of custody rights: Any person charged with domestic violence offense risks losing custody rights over their children. The law, however, entitles them to visitation rights;
- Loss of gun right: A domestic violence conviction will result in one losing the right to own or possess a firearm;
- Restraining order: California laws allow a victim of domestic violence to apply for an emergency restraining order. This order gives the victim a legal protective cover from the abuser. The abuser then is not allowed to go anywhere near the victim;
- Immigration consequences: Any foreigner that is charged with a domestic violence offense under California laws risks being deported from the United States to their country of origin or losing their legal eligibility to apply for a green card or adjustment from illegal to legal status.
Defenses of Domestic Violence
Finding an attorney to make a credible defense for you once you have been accused of domestic violence is crucial. There are several legal defenses that a domestic violence attorney can use in your case:
- That the injury on the victim is as a result of an accident
- The injuries on the victim were not part of the abuser’s action
- The defendant was acting in self-defense or defending someone else
- The charge brought against the defendant is a jealousy charge for the victim to gain certain rights over the defendant in a disputed case.
In the above defense strategies, your defense strategy is mainly based on the alleged injuries inflicted by you and the intention behind such allegations. For instance, it is possible to assert that the alleged injuries were caused by an accident, meaning that you aren’t responsible for the injuries, and consequently, you don’t have a case to answer. This is usually the most common defense strategies in domestic violence cases because it could be hard for the victim to provide any evidence linking you to their injuries, and prosecutors have an uphill task of gathering such evidence.
When using the “self-defense or defense of the victim” strategy, you must also show that you or the alleged victim was in imminent danger, you had no option of saving yourself or the victim from the danger other than using force, and the force you used was “just enough” in line with the situation. This, however, may not be a common strategy because domestic violence manifests in an extended period, and it might not be true that you were (or are) acting in self defense or defense for the victim when the victim has been abused for a long period.
A defense lawyer can also negotiate for a plea bargain to a lesser offense. Common offenses a domestic violence defendant may plead for instead of domestic violence are disturbing the peace under section 415 of the penal code and criminal trespass under section 602 of the penal code.
Filling a Domestic Violence Suit
Victims of domestic violence have the recourse of the law by filing suits against the perpetrator. Most acts of domestic violence not only result in criminal liability but also civil liability. This means that while the prosecutor can pursue a criminal suit against the abuser, the victim of domestic violence can also pursue a civil suit against the perpetrator in a civil court for injuries under tort law.
A civil suit under tort law provides the victim of domestic violence with remedies usually in the form of money damages or injunctive relief. Some of the damages available for the victims of domestic violence include lost wages, medical bill, pain and suffering, and punitive damages.
Criminal proceedings against the perpetrator, therefore, do not bar one from pursuing damages in a civil suit. A case in point is the case of Goldman v Simpson where OJ Simpson was acquitted from the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. The family of the victims, however, pursued a civil suit against OJ Simpson for wrongful deaths and the court awarded the victim’s family damages of $33.5 million.