Written by attorney William W. Bruzzo

Domestic Violence Cases and Defenses in California

Domestic Violence can be a misdemeanor or felony in the state of California. Penal Code section 273.5 states that "Any person who willfully inflicts upon a person who is his or her spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or the mother or father of his or her child, corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition, is guilty of a felony, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of up to six thousand dollars ($6,000) or by both that fine and imprisonment." These penalties may vary based on the facts and severity of the case. To prove the crime of domestic violence, there must be a willfully inflicted physical injury to the victim that results in a traumatic injury. Physical injury can be inflicted by hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, biting, pushing, strangling, stabbing, etc. The physical injury must be caused willfully and not accidentally. Lastly, the result of the physical injury should be some sort of a traumatic injury such as a scratch, redness, bruising, swelling, broken bones, etc. If these elements are not met, there can be no domestic violence charge. If the above elements are met and you are charged with domestic violence, there are several ways to fight the charges. The most common defense to domestic violence is self-defense. Self-defense can be used when a person hurts another because they were trying to protect themselves. Somewhat related to self-defense is mutual combat. The defense of mutual combat arises when the Defendant initiates the physical altercation but then tries to stop fighting and the other party refuses. In that situation, if the victim suffers injuries, it is not the Defendant's responsibility. Another common defense is an accident. As stated above, the injury must be willfully inflicted, so if someone got hurt accidentally, that is a proper legal defense. Another defense is false accusations. Often, in an emotional situation, people may not think clearly and blame each other for things that did not occur. If there was a false accusation, the victim may be held liable for making this false accusation. If the victim drops charges, the defendant is likely not off the hook and may still be charged with domestic violence. If there is a physical injury and the victim later decides that they do not want the suspect to be charged because they feel bad or love the suspect, it is usually out of the victim's hands and up to the district attorney to prosecute or drop the charges. This is the case because often victims press charges and then get scared that the suspect may retaliate against the victim for pressing charges.

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