What You Need to Know About Domestic Battery in California
Domestic abuse is a varied and complicated issue to navigate both socially and legally. Here is everything you need to know about domestic battery penalties in California and possible defenses.
Domestic Violence vs Domestic Battery
Domestic violence and domestic battery are similar but different crimes, with very different legal defenses and punishments. In California, for a crime to constitute domestic violence, the victim must have suffered an injury. California Penal Code 273.5 establishes domestic violence as inflicting corporal injury, defined as any physical injury, on a current or former:
- co-parent, or
- dating partner.
While victims of domestic violence are typically thought of as women, it is important to know that anyone may be a victim of domestic violence, regardless of gender identity or presentation.
Domestic violence is known as a “wobbler” offense. Wobbler offenses may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the offender’s criminal history and details of the case. A misdemeanor domestic violence charge may earn maximum sentencing of one year in county jail, and/or a maximum fine of $6,000. A felony domestic violence charge may result in maximum sentencing of four years in state prison and/or a maximum fine of $6,000. Repeat offenses may result in larger fines and higher sentencing, up to five years in prison, and/or $10,000 in fines.
In addition to the fines and sentencing above, there may be additional consequences for perpetrators of domestic violence, including but not limited to:
- Mandatory participation in a “batterer’s intervention program” (domestic violence classes),
- Payment of fines and/or victim restitution,
- A restraining order (also known as a protective order),
- Loss of custody rights,
- Loss of California gun rights,
- A permanent criminal record, and
- Immigration consequences for non-citizens, such as deportation or inadmissibility to the United States.
Legal defenses to domestic violence include claims that:
- The defendant acted in self-defense or defense of another person,
- Injury to the accuser was accidental, or
- The defendant was falsely accused.
California Penal Code 243(e)(1) defines domestic battery as using force or violence against a cohabitant, the other parent of an individual’s child, or a current or former spouse, fiancé, fiancée, or dating partner.
A domestic battery conviction is a misdemeanor punishable by:
- domestic violence classes, and
- up to one year in county jail.
Domestic battery is under the larger umbrella term of domestic violence in California. However, one important difference between domestic violence and the domestic battery is that an individual may be convicted of domestic battery even without causing pain to or injuring the alleged victim, so long as the defendant used “force” or “violence” against the person.
California Statute of Limitations for Domestic Battery
In California, domestic battery is considered to be a type of domestic violence for the purposes of statutes of limitation. Prior to 2019, the statute of limitations for domestic violence was three years. However, due to Senate Bill No. 273, the statute of limitations in California for domestic violence charges increased to five years after the incident. This change affects incidents that occurred on or after January 1st, 2020.
Related: Domestic Violence Laws in California
Domestic battery can take on many forms and be inflicted by any individual. Some examples include:
- a woman pushing her boyfriend during a fight
- a man, frustrated with his ex-wife, grabbing her by her shirt and ripping it
- a girl slapping her fiancé across the face
Legal Defenses to Domestic Battery
Experienced attorneys can use several strategies to contest domestic battery cases. These strategies include showing that the action was in self-defense. Defendants may be able to claim that the domestic battery charge was in self-defense if the defendant:
- believed that they were in “imminent danger,”
- believed that force was necessary to stop the danger, and
- used an appropriate level of force in defense.
The defendant may also defend their claim by stating that the action was not a willful act. An action is not considered to be a willful act if it is not done with the intent to harm the partner. For example, take the couple John and Cindy. They were arguing, and John threw a plate against a wall. Shards from the plate ricochet and cut Cindy on the hand. John may challenge a domestic battery case in this instance, arguing that he did not mean to hurt Cindy. Finally, the defendant may have been falsely accused. There may be cases where intimate partners make false statements out of anger, jealousy, or a desire for revenge. In these cases, defendants may cite a false accusation as a defense in court.