During his 8+ year tenure with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, Pat Carey prosecuted almost every kind of crime there is in California. Domestic Violence is generally treated more seriously than other types of abuse. It is important to note that spousal abuse is not limited to abuse committed by a spouse (or former spouse). It also includes acts committed by: someone who lives or lived with the victim; a fiancé or former fiancé; a person the victim is dating or had previously dated; or a parent of the victim’s child.
Spousal abuse also covers more actions and behaviors than just physical abuse. Under California law, the following acts may constitute abuse: An actual or intentional physical injury (e.g., hitting, shoving, pushing, kicking, pulling hair, throwing objects, etc.); Sexual assault; Keeping someone from freely coming and going; Harassing, stalking, following, or scaring someone; Destroying personal property; Physical abuse of family pets; and Making someone fear that he or she is in danger of immediate and serious physical injury.
The list above is not comprehensive, and domestic violence may also take more subtle forms such as verbal, emotional, or psychological abuse. Keep in mind that in addition to all of these forms of abuse, California also makes it a crime to financially abuse an elderly or dependent adult.
The fines for these, and many crimes in California, can justify hiring a talented and well respected lawyer like Pat Carey. Although the maximum fine is listed, you should understand that other fees usually cause these fines to triple or even quadruple. Should you chose to represent yourself or chose a “cheap” lawyer, the results in court could lead to harsher penalties and harsher fines, proving you in fact saved yourself no money at all.
Even more important, with a domestic violence charge, you could be looking at serious jail time. Pat Carey also spent time while a District Attorney filing and prosecuting domestic violence crimes exclusively.
What Are the Criminal Charges for Domestic Violence?
The two most common criminal charges for domestic violence are: 1) corporal injury on a spouse; and 2) spousal battery.
The crime of corporal injury on a spouse/cohabitant is considered a “wobbler offense,” which means that prosecutors may choose to charge the defendant with either a misdemeanor or a felony — though it is generally charged as a felony. This may have a significant effect on the defendant’s punishment. For example, the difference could be as much as serving a few years in prison or 25 years based on California’s “Three Strikes” Law.
To be convicted of corporal injury on a spouse/cohabitant, a prosecutor must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that not only did the defendant intend to inflict a physical injury, but this act ultimately resulted in a “traumatic condition” (major or minor bodily injury) to the victim. This second requirement can be confusing, because it does not require that the defendant intended to cause such injury. Instead, the defendant need only have intended to perform the initial act that eventually caused an injury.
For example, consider a scenario in which the defendant threw a hot cup of coffee at the victim, leaving the victim with serious burns on her face. As long as the defendant intended to throw the cup of coffee (the initial act), it is irrelevant whether or not the defendant actually intended to burn the victim (the serious injury).
Unlike corporal injury on a spouse/cohabitant, the crime of spousal battery does not require that the victim be physically injured. Here, it is enough that there was some physical contact that was forceful and/or unwanted. The victim need not feel any actual discomfort or harm.
For example, if the defendant hits a victim leaving no physical trace of the act, the defendant may still be charged with spousal battery. Therefore, the major difference between corporal injury on a spouse and spousal battery is that a charge of corporal injury requires that the victim sustain an actual and concrete injury. It is important to note that spousal battery is treated as a less serious offense, and charged as a misdemeanor — not a felony.
What Other Legal Actions May Be Involved in a Domestic Violence Case?
Corporal injury on a spouse and spousal battery are crimes, and therefore require a prosecutor to file charges. Once the crime is reported to police, the victim has very little control over the outcome of the case — in fact, he or she is often barred from dropping charges once they have been made.
However, victims of domestic violence may be able to get protection through the civil justice system by asking the court for a domestic violence restraining order. A restraining order is a court order that is intended to help protect victims of abuse from their abusers. In the restraining order, the court may order the restrained person to:
- Not harass, attack, strike, threaten, assault (including sexually), molest, or hit the victim;
- Not follow, stalk, keep them under surveillance, or block the victim’s movements;
- Not destroy the victim’s personal property or otherwise disturb the peace;
- Not contact anyone protected under the order either directly or indirectly (including by phone, email, or other electronic means);
- Stay a specified distance away from the victim, the victim’s home, job, school, vehicle, family pet, and/or the victim’s child’s school;
- Move out of the victim’s house;
- Not possess or purchase any new guns, and to turn in any existing guns to law enforcement (or sell them to a gun dealer);
- Follow court-ordered custody and visitation arrangements;
- Pay child and/or spousal or partner support; and
- Give or return specified property to the victim.
It is important to know that a restraining order issued by a California court is valid in any of the 50 states. Further, it is a crime to violate the conditions specified in the order. If a defendant is found in violation of a restraining order, he or she may face court fines, penalties, and even imprisonment.