When you initially think of the words “domestic violence,” it may conjure up images in your mind of a marital situation gone awry, neighbors calling 911, police responding to a messy scene and then calling for paramedics because of injuries requiring immediate medical attention. While that scenario certainly qualifies as one example of “domestic violence” there are many other instances in which a person may find themselves facing criminal domestic violence charges under far less egregious circumstances.
Domestic violence cases are aggressively prosecuted by District Attorney’s offices throughout the state. In fact, many prosecuting agencies have devoted substantial resources to form vertical units composed of experienced attorneys and investigators who are dedicated to handling these types of cases exclusively. This is especially true in Riverside County. Prosecutors can and frequently do pursue domestic violence cases even when the alleged victim wants to “drop the charges,” and even in situations where the alleged victim later offers a different version of events regarding the incident in question.
In California, “domestic violence” is broadly defined as abuse or threats of abuse between individuals who are currently or were previously involved in an intimate relationship with one another. This includes, spouses, domestic partners, those who are dating or were previously in a dating relationship, current and former cohabitants, and/or those who have children together.
“Domestic violence” is a “wobbler” offense, meaning that it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending upon the specific circumstances involved in each case. The decision to file felony versus misdemeanor charges depends largely on three things: (1) the egregiousness of the alleged conduct involved; (2) the extent of the injury suffered by the alleged victim; and (3) the alleged perpetrator’s prior criminal history, if any. These same three factors will also have a significant impact on what the precise criminal penalties will be in each case. Of significance in domestic violence cases particularly is whether there has there been any history of domestic violence related conduct with the alleged victim in the past, or with anyone else. It is important to note that in California, the term “domestic violence” covers a broad spectrum of conduct including physical assault, threatening and/or stalking behavior, as well as verbal/emotional/psychological abuse where the alleged victim and the accused have or previously had an intimate relationship with one another. If there has been a prior history of domestic violence conduct, it quite possible that such evidence may be used against you in the current domestic violence case, regardless of whether the prior incident(s) were previously reported to law enforcement or prosecuted in court. This is true regardless of whether the current domestic violence charges are filed as misdemeanors or felonies.
When charged as misdemeanors, domestic violence offenses are commonly referred to as “domestic battery” or “spousal battery” cases and are generally charged by prosecuting agencies as violations of Penal Code section 243 subdivision (e), subsection (1). “Domestic battery” is broadly defined as the willful and unlawful use of force or violence against a spouse, domestic partner, current or former dating partner, current or former cohabitant, and/or those who have children together. This crime carries a maximum possible custody term of one year in the county jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000, plus court costs. A conviction for domestic battery, or any domestic violence related offense, also requires attendance and completion of a fifty-two-week batterer’s treatment program as a term and condition of misdemeanor probation. This is an education-based counseling program designed to address the causes of domestic violence behaviors, the effects that domestic abuse has on others, and how to make changes to prevent these situations from occurring in the future. Failure to participate or successfully complete this program typically results in a violation of probation being filed and the imposition of additional penalties, up to and including additional time in custody.
It is important to remember that the prosecutor does not have to prove that the willful and unlawful use of force or violence caused any injury to the alleged victim whatsoever for you to be convicted of misdemeanor domestic battery! For example, assume that a woman pushes her boyfriend during a heated dispute. Assume the boyfriend is not injured, and even later says that it was all a big misunderstanding and he does not want charges to be filed against his girlfriend. Under these circumstances, the woman can still be charged, prosecuted and convicted of misdemeanor domestic battery, even though her actions caused no injury or physical harm to her boyfriend, and even though he wants the charges dropped, dismissed, or not filed in the first place.
When filed as felonies, domestic violence offenses are generally charged by prosecuting agencies as violations of Penal Code section 273.5 subdivision (a). This section prohibits infliction of any injury resulting in a “traumatic condition” upon a spouse, domestic partner, current or former dating partner, current or former cohabitant, and/or those who have children together. A “traumatic condition” can be any external or internal wound or injury to the body resulting from the application of physical force, regardless of how minor or serious. Examples include everything from bruises and scratches to broken bones and concussions. As a felony, this offense carries a maximum possible punishment of one year in county jail or up to four years in state prison, and/or a fine of $6,000, plus court costs. A felony domestic violence conviction also requires attendance and completion of a fifty-two-week batterer’s treatment program as a term and condition of misdemeanor probation. This is an education-based counseling program designed to address the causes of domestic violence behaviors, the effects that domestic abuse has on others, and how to make changes to prevent these situations from occurring in the future. Failure to participate or successfully complete this program typically results in a violation of probation being filed and the imposition of additional penalties, up to and including additional time in custody.
Enhanced penalties and punishments are available in certain types of domestic violence situations. This include cases where an individual has suffered a prior conviction(s) for a domestic violence offense (regardless of whether the prior conviction was for a felony or a misdemeanor), as well as certain other specified criminal offenses, within seven years of the current domestic violence incident. This also includes cases where serious bodily injury results and the prosecution elects to file a special allegation pursuant to Penal Code section 12022.7, et seq. This is a serious enhancement that should not be taken lightly for many reasons. If proven, this allegation will not only likely add additional custody time to your sentence, it also has the effect of making the underlying conviction a strike pursuant to California’s Three Strikes Law. Having a strike on your record carries the collateral consequence of potentially doubling any sentence you may receive in conjunction with any other felony convictions that may occur in the future. This is true even if you later apply to have the underlying conviction expunged pursuant to Penal Code section 1203.4, et seq., and that request is granted. If the expunged conviction is a “strike” offense, it will still count as a strike for purposes of enhanced punishment in the future. Enhanced penalties are also available and likely to be imposed in circumstances where it is alleged that a weapon or firearm was used in conjunction with a domestic violence offense.
In many cases, domestic violence charges arise out of unfortunate circumstances involving emotionally charged situations that are rife with misunderstanding and misinterpretation. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to overreact. In these instances, we understand that you may feel compelled to personally reach out to the alleged victim and talk about the details of the situation that transpired or what has happened in the aftermath. This is especially true in domestic violence situations where the person facing criminal charges and the alleged victim know each other had a pre-existing relationship with one another at some point. Although it may be a difficult temptation to resist, personally contacting the alleged victim in a criminal case is generally NOT an advisable course of action and rarely, if ever, helpful to resolving your criminal case in a manner that is favorable to you. Personal contact is absolutely forbidden under the law in cases where a “no contact” criminal protective order is in place, or where certain temporary and/or permanent restraining orders have issued. Facilitating contact with the alleged victim under these circumstances can be quite damaging not only to the current case, but it could also subject you to further penalties and additional criminal charges being filed against you.
Domestic violence cases are treated very seriously by the courts. A conviction for a domestic violence offense requires a minimum sentence of three years on probation. There is also a very strong likelihood that a criminal protective order will be issued against you during the pendency of the legal proceedings and after the case is resolved. In some instances, these orders may be put in place for up to ten years. In recent years, changes in legislation have resulted in heightened consequences and additional restrictions on your liberties, including the right to own and possess firearms, if you are convicted of any domestic violence related offense, including misdemeanors. Pursuant to Proposition 63, which was passed in 2016, Penal Code section 29810 now outlines the rules and regulations pertaining to the identification and relinquishment of firearms and ammunition following criminal convictions for all felony offenses, and certain misdemeanor crimes, including domestic battery. Failure to adhere to these policies and procedures can result in additional criminal charges and penalties being levied against you. As of January 1, 2019, there is now a lifetime ban on the right to own or possess firearms if convicted of a violation of Penal Code section 273.5 subdivision (a), regardless of whether that conviction is a felony or misdemeanor.
In addition to being ordered to pay substantial fines, if convicted of a domestic violence offense, you will also be ordered to pay restitution to the victim. This includes the cost of any medical bills incurred as a result of the incident, counseling costs, lost wages and property damage expenses, if any. You will also be ordered to perform twenty hours of community service and make payments of up to $5,000 to a battered woman’s shelter. In cases where an individual has suffered a prior conviction for assault or domestic violence within seven years of the current case, there is a mandatory minimum custody sentence of fifteen days in county jail that will be imposed. In cases where an individual has suffered two or such prior convictions, there is a mandatory minimum custody sentence of sixty days that will be imposed.
You absolutely cannot afford to underestimate the widespread implications that this type of conviction could have in your life and for your future. First and foremost, domestic battery is considered a crime of moral turpitude. This means that if convicted, you may also face adverse collateral consequences related to your immigration status, as well as any professional licenses you may be required to have in order to maintain your employment. Even if you are not required to maintain a professional license in order to earn your livelihood, it is common in today’s world for reputable employers to run background checks on individuals who work for them, and those they are considering hiring. As such, even a misdemeanor criminal conviction for domestic battery could impact your ability to maintain your current employment and your ability to obtain more lucrative employment opportunities in the future. Additionally, a domestic violence conviction of any kind can also negatively impact other potential family law matters, including child custody orders. There is simply too much at stake to risk going into any kind of domestic violence criminal proceedings alone.
You absolutely need an experienced advocate who can practically and objectively evaluate the evidence in your case, clearly communicate your options, and one who strives to achieve the best possible outcome for you. As a former prosecutor in the family protection unit at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta, California, Ms. Baldwin has personally handled hundreds of domestic violence related cases ranging from simple assault to serious and violent third strike felony offenses involving the use of deadly/dangerous weapons and allegations of great bodily injury.
Ms. Baldwin knows what questions to ask and understands how to sensibly evaluate the evidence in every domestic violence case, regardless of how minor or serious the allegations are. For instance, was there a call placed to 911 in your case? Are the statements contained in that call going to be admissible in court? Did the law enforcement agents document any alleged injuries with photographs? Did the alleged victim require any medical treatment? Was any part of the incident captured on the police officer’s body worn camera footage? Were there any independent witnesses to the alleged conduct? Has there been a history of domestic violence related conduct involving the alleged victim in the past, or with anyone else?
At the Law Office of Julie Ann Baldwin, APC, we understand that domestic violence cases are highly sensitive and fraught with emotion. We understand that mistakes happen, and we firmly believe everyone is entitled to vigorous, competent and compassionate legal representation. We also understand that the criminal process can be daunting and confusing. In many cases, there are often huge discrepancies between what people think the law is, what they think the law should be, and the reality of what the law truly is. That’s why we are committed to keeping you fully informed throughout the legal process as we work to strategically develop and prepare your defense, with a keen eye toward achieving the most favorable outcome possible for you.
Do not to try to fight “the system” alone. Remember that the legal issues relevant to your case are best identified and addressed early on by a qualified Murrieta defense lawyer. As a former prosecutor at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta, California for the better part of fifteen years, Ms. Baldwin has worked hard to establish her reputation as a trusted, knowledgeable and effective advocate and looks forward to the privilege of putting her skills and experience to work of you.
If you have already been charged or anticipate being charged with domestic violence in the Murrieta area, contact your Murrieta criminal defense lawyer at the Law Office of Julie Ann Baldwin, APC for your free, confidential case consultation now. Your future and your freedom deserve to be taken seriously by an experienced attorney who is committed to quality representation and compassionate advocacy, every step of the way.