Domestic violence is a tough charge, and its impact is long reaching. It can affect everything from your employment, interactions with your kids, and your very freedom. In this article, we will be taking a close look at domestic violence accusations and their implications.
Defining Domestic Violence
The law looks at violence accusations differently. For example, two drunks in a bar fight will face different legal consequences from a mugger beating their victim. So, what must be present for violence to be “domestic” in the eyes of the law?
Who Is Involved
In California, domestic violence specifically refers to violence between people in current or former romantic relationships. Some states extend these definitions to other members of the household, but we keep it strictly within that relationship construct. The law isn’t going to use words like “boyfriend” or “girlfriend,” partly because of all the different ways couples may define those words. Essentially, California trusts that a romantic partnership is easy to understand and define in a courtroom.
Using that baseline as a commonsense argument, romantic partners can include:
- Current or ex boyfriends/girlfriends
- Wives, husbands, or divorced couples
- People who have had children together
- Sexual partners
Types of Violence
California generally looks at violence among partners in two ways: battery and corporal injury. Unlike many states, California leaves their definitions broad, which makes it easier to be legally charged for these crimes.
Battery can include any unwanted, rude touching. You can be arrested for pushing a partner out of the way or shoving them into a chair. Even when there is no injury, actions like these are considered battery.
Corporal injury is a physical act that creates physical harm. California is rather strict about this charge. Grabbing a partner by the wrist and leaving a bruise may classify as corporal injury. In this state, it’s best to keep your hands to yourself in any heated exchange.
As with most crimes, intent is an important factor in a charge or a conviction. The battery or corporal injury must be proven as intentional. The partner who violently grabs their lover’s wrist may not have meant to leave a bruise, but they did make that choice to forcefully put their hands on them.
However, accidents do happen, and the law allows for this. Jim and Jen were having a spat that escalated. In the course of the argument, Jen was gesturing broadly, catching Jim in the eye. She got a little frightened, and in a panic, she backed up. Jim noticed that she tripped over a chair and grabbed her wrist to keep her from hitting the ground. Now Jim has a black eye and Jen has a bruised wrist. They both have outward signs of a tussle, but neither of them meant to violently touch the other. In cases like these, corporal injury charges can be dropped.
Violence vs. Abuse
The law tends to treat violence and abuse differently, both in definition and penalties. Violence, as described above, involves direct, physical confrontation. California may also accuse you of violence for making violent threats.
Abuse is more subtle. It involves things like controlling someone’s money; keeping them locked in the house; controlling where they go and who they see; etc. Actions like this are hard to charge criminally. Criminal charges tend to operate pretty linearly. You committed a murder; we have enough evidence to believe you did it; you’re under arrest. Something like taking control of someone’s finances is nebulous. It’s hard to prove, make an arrest, or convict for something like that. Abuse accusations probably won’t lead to an arrest, but they can affect a divorce, which we’ll look at below.
Impact of Domestic Violence Charges
Domestic battery, the “rude touching” that we discussed earlier, is a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are serious. They represent the second most severe form of crime in the U.S. Your criminal record will show any misdemeanors, and they can carry heavy consequences. A domestic battery conviction may result in up to a year in jail and fines of up to $2,000.
Corporal injury is known as a “wobbler” because it can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the situation. Felonies are the most severe types of crimes in the U.S. Even in that middle state, corporal injury is most likely going to be charged as a felony in the case of any visible injury. This includes the bruised wrist we discussed earlier. Even though the charge appears as a felony on your record, the penalties aren’t always going to be extreme.
First-time offenders can be sentenced with up to one year in prison, assuming the injury was mild. Repeat offenses and severe injuries will bump that sentence up to four years.
Of course, a criminal record follows you around and has a huge effect on your life. Background checks will make it harder to get a job. Records also affect your reputation. People may view your record as an indication of your character and judgement, especially with a domestic violence charge.
Accused of domestic violence, you may find a protective order, commonly known as a restraining order, filed against you. Protective orders will limit your access to the accuser. They can bar you from seeing them, calling them, entering their home, etc. Some actions that are already illegal, like threatening someone, are part of a restraining order. This is meant to further discourage the behavior. Protective orders have an impact on gun rights. People with protective orders against them cannot own firearms for the duration of the order.
In California, you can have an emergency protective order filed against you without your knowledge. Called “ex parte” orders, they are filed quickly when your accuser believes that they are in immediate danger. The duration of an ex parte order is short, and you will be notified by the authorities when one is filed. Long-term protective orders can last up to five years. For those, a defendant is able to go to court and have their case heard.
Accusations of domestic violence and abuse can affect the outcome of a divorce. Property division in California is meant to be “communal,” meaning debt and assets are split 50/50. However, if the judge believes you were abusive in the relationship, they can use that to create a steep spousal support payment.
Abuse accusations are going to affect child custody decisions as well. Clearly, when the judge believes that the children aren’t safe at home, they’re going to limit your custody options. You could be forced into supervised visits. Even when you are able to keep the children on your own, your decision-making power could be limited. You might not have a say in matters concerning medical care, schooling, finances, etc.
California police have the power to arrest you for domestic violence based on their own judgements. They don’t need to witness the event, and the arrest doesn’t even need to take place on the day of the alleged assault. Even if your partner swears that you didn’t touch them, cops can arrest you if they believe otherwise.
Laws like these are designed to help protect abuse victims. We know that abused people tend to make up excuses for their abusers, so police are allowed to use their discretion in deciding if an arrest is necessary. This is great news for people who are trapped in abusive homes, but it can also lead to false accusations that harm innocent people.
Talk to a Lawyer
If you’ve been accused of domestic violence or abuse, talk to a lawyer today. A skilled lawyer knows the law, and they can help you craft a defense to help you fight for your job, your reputation, and your very freedom.