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May 21, 2019

Is Spousal Abuse a Felony in California?

If you’ve been arrested for domestic violence, your first question may be, “Is spousal abuse a felony in California?” The straightforward answer is “sometimes,” but it’s important to take a deeper dive into California law to understand the circumstances under which spousal abuse is considered a felony.


“Spousal” Abuse Covers More than Husbands and Wives

If you’ve been arrested on domestic violence charges, your accuser may not even be your spouse. That’s because California law broadly defines those who can be victims of domestic violence. It can certainly be your spouse, but it can also be someone you date, your live-in partner, your fiancée, or the parent of your child. The law encompasses both current and former relationships. In other words, your ex-wife, ex-girlfriend, or ex- fiancée could also be your accuser.

Let’s say that Shawn and Alexis split up a year ago, and that the pair got into a heated argument when Shawn came by to pick up their son, James. Shawn grabbed Alexis by the arm and shoved her. Shawn can be on the hook for domestic violence even though he’s not married to Alexis. If he grabbed a lamp and threw it while James was in the room, he could also be subject to charges of child endangerment.

California domestic violence laws also take into account other types of relationships. If Shawn got into a physical altercation with his brother, sister, mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, or in-laws, he could also be arrested on domestic violence charges.

If that happens to you or a loved one, the first call you make should be to a San Francisco Bay Area spousal abuse attorney. Having the right lawyer by your side can mean the difference between incarceration and freedom, between being able to see your children and having them ripped away from you, and between paying exorbitant fines and keeping your money in your bank account.


Spousal Abuse Covers More than Physical Violence

When asking, “Is spousal abuse a felony in California?”, it’s important to understand the range of acts that falls under the umbrella of domestic violence. Spousal abuse can involve hitting, punching, or kicking the other person, but it can also revolve around non-consensual sex, threats, or intimidation.

Let’s say that Shawn and Alexis stayed together, but that Shawn became very controlling. Maybe he prevented Alexis from seeing her family and friends, or perhaps he insisted that she text him every half hour. It could be that he made her turn over her paycheck and only gave her a small allowance. Or maybe Shawn called Alexis names and told her that she was worthless. These types of behaviors can constitute emotional abuse, which is also a crime under California’s domestic violence laws.


How California Prioritizes Combatting Spousal Abuse

While “spousal abuse” isn’t a specific crime in California, the state prioritizes combatting domestic violence. There’s a provision in the California Penal Code that created the Spousal Abuser Prosecution Program, a California Department of Justice initiative designed to help fund and train dedicated district attorney and city attorney office personnel so that they can follow a domestic violence case from arraignment to completion.

These funds can also be used to enhance prosecution efforts. For example, an office can assign a single domestic violence counselor to be a liaison throughout a case. They can also use the money for specially trained investigators and prosecutors, reduced caseloads for those working on domestic violence cases, and coordination among counseling centers, task forces, and community service agencies.

The law goes on to say that offices that receive state funds have to adopt harsh policies when it comes to domestic violence cases. For example, the prosecutor must fight against pretrial release and argue in favor of pretrial detention. In addition, the prosecutor must do their best to convince the court to  give someone convicted of spousal abuse the harshest possible sentence. This is why you need a Bay Area spousal abuse attorney who understands the nuances of the law. They can advocate for your release, arrange for a lesser plea agreement, mount a rigorous defense, and generally help you avoid harsh penalties.


Misdemeanor vs. Felony Spousal Abuse Charges in California

There isn’t a crime called “spousal abuse” in California, so when answering the question, “Is spousal abuse a felony in California?”, it’s important to look at the types of charges that can be brought.

If Shawn shoved Alexis and Alexis was not injured, then that is considered battery under California law. Battery is a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and up to $2,000 in fines. When a conviction results in probation or a suspended sentence, though, the person convicted is required to complete a year-long treatment or counseling program. They may also be ordered to pay up to $5,000 to a battered women’s shelter, and to pay for the victim’s counseling. The second time around, the person convicted has to spend two days in jail, though the rest of their sentence can be suspended or they can be given probation.

However, if Shawn shoved Alexis and Alexis was injured, then Shawn is likely to be arrested for bodily injury inflicted on an intimate partner. The term “injury” is defined very broadly in California law. It can mean a broken bone requiring medical attention or it can mean a bruise. Under the law, even putting your hands around the other person’s neck and restricting their breathing – even if they aren’t injured – constitutes bodily injury.

This is when spousal abuse can be a felony in California. If you’ve been accused of “corporal injury” – the legal term for bodily injury – and the alleged victim is your current or former spouse or partner, you’ll be charged with a felony. The law states that, for a first offense, a conviction can carry a sentence of up to a year in county jail or a prison term of two, three, or four years. If convicted, you can also be fined up to $6,000 and be required to pay a battered women’s shelter up to $5,000.


Subsequent Convictions Have Grave Consequences

An initial felony conviction for spousal abuse can be devastating, but subsequent convictions carry even greater penalties. For example, if you have been convicted of domestic violence in the previous seven years, you can receive up to a year in county jail or a prison sentence of two, four, or five years, along with a fine of up to $10,000. However, that doesn’t mean that jail or prison is inevitable. The California Penal Code specifically addresses conditions of probation for those who have previous convictions.

If you had a prior spousal abuse conviction within the previous seven years and receive probation, then the law says that you must spend a minimum of 15 days in county jail. If you had two or more prior domestic violence convictions in the previous seven years and receive probation, then you are required to serve at least 60 days in county jail.

Mounting a successful defense against spousal abuse charges – particularly when you have prior convictions – requires experience and finesse. You need a Bay Area domestic violence attorney who understands the court system and can take a cleareyed approach to assessing your case. In order to do so, your lawyer will likely review the police report to glean relevant details that can be used in your defense. They’ll listen to the 911 recording to see if it aligns with the police report, look for witnesses who can corroborate your account of the incident, and evaluate the alleged victim’s supposed injuries. That’s why, if you’ve been arrested for spousal abuse, you need to call Silver Law Firm right away.


How Restraining Orders Can Ruin Your Life

When you ask, “Is spousal abuse a felony in California?”, it’s also important to question the role that restraining orders play in domestic violence arrests and in felony bodily injury convictions. A felony conviction mandates the court to issue a restraining order that – depending on the judge’s discretion – can last for up to ten years.

There are a few different types of restraining orders that intersect with domestic violence accusations and convictions. For example, the police officers who show up at your door can ask a judge for an emergency protective order. This type of restraining order can stay in effect for up to a week and likely means that you can’t go back to your house, get your belongings, or see your children or pets.

A temporary restraining order is requested by your accuser, and, if granted, remains in effect until your court hearing. This could take two to three weeks or even longer. A permanent restraining order can follow a temporary restraining order, and can last for up to five years. After that, your accuser can go back to court and ask for another permanent restraining order.

Given that California law empowers district attorneys to seek harsh penalties for those convicted of spousal abuse, chances are good that they’ll try to wrangle for a very stringent restraining order. Your Bay Area domestic violence attorney can work to negotiate the fewest restrictions possible.


Domestic Violence Defenses

While negotiating a restraining order is one aspect of defending against felony spousal abuse charges, there are many other steps that can lead to a favorable outcome in your case. Your San Francisco Bay Area domestic violence attorney will construct a defense designed to convince the district attorney that their case isn’t winnable and to drop the charges against you. If that seems like an improbable outcome, then your attorney will likely negotiate a plea agreement to a lesser charge.

Your attorney may use one or a combination of these defenses:

  • Your accuser lied. Maybe your accuser was trying to punish you or get even with you for some perceived injustice.
  • Your accuser wasn’t hurt. Perhaps your accuser did not suffer the injuries that they claimed to have suffered.
  • The injury was from another incident. It could be that the injury happened when your accuser was at work or that it occurred prior to the reported incident.
  • It was an accident. Perhaps your accuser was injured and you were present, but you didn’t intend to hurt them. California’s felony bodily injury law prohibits “willful” infliction of corporal injury. If you didn’t mean to hurt your accuser, it’s not a violation of that law.
  • You acted in self-defense. Maybe your accuser was actually the perpetrator and called the police to turn the tables on you.
  • Police misconduct. It could be that the police violated your rights or conducted an unlawful search, making any evidence found inadmissible in court.

It is always up to you whether or not to accept a plea agreement, but doing so can allow you to avoid the harsh penalties associated with a domestic violence conviction. If your case goes to trial, then your lawyer will work with these defenses and others to sow doubt into the minds of jurors so that they will return a verdict of “not guilty.” If you agree to a plea agreement or are convicted at trial, then your attorney will advocate on your behalf during sentencing to ensure that you receive the fewest possible penalties.

If you’ve been arrested for spousal abuse, then time is not on your side. You need an attorney who will advocate on your behalf every step of the way. Silver Law Firm has experienced domestic violence attorneys who will do just that. Call Silver Law Firm today.



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