Corporal Injury to Spouse or Cohabitant - PC 273.5

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California Penal Code 273.5 criminalizes corporal injury to a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, dating partner, or co-parent. This law only refers to actual physical injuries. The injury need not be severe for a court to convict a defendant under PC 273.5, and even minor injuries are sufficient.

Prosecutors have the option to try the crime as either a misdemeanor or a felony. In most cases, felony charges will involve more severe cases of the alleged abuse. Sometimes individuals may refer to this crime as domestic violence, but it is one of several statutes that involve domestic abuse.

When is Abuse “Domestic?”

Domestic Abuse only refers to violence carried out against individuals involved in specific relationships with the accused. Allegations of abuse that involve the following relationships between the accused and accuser will qualify for the purposes of PC 273.5:

  • Spouses or former spouses
  • Domestic partners or former domestic partners
  • Current fiancés or former fiancés
  • Live-in or cohabiting partners
  • Individuals involved in a serious dating relationship or previously involved in a serious dating relationship
  • Parents who share a common child

Other laws involve violence between parents and children and other types of relationships. PC 273.5 only refers to the above categories of romantic partners. 

The court can review several factors when determining whether the relationship qualifies as “domestic.” If the parties share a residence, are involved in a sexual relationship, jointly own the property, or present themselves as a couple in a serious relationship, any of those facts can help the court establish whether domestic violence laws apply. 

Physical Injuries Under PC 273.5

Physical injuries under this law include minor forms of harm. An altercation that leaves bruises will suffice, as will scratches. More severe harm, such as broken bones, also falls under this law, although the consequences for such incidents will often be more serious.

The statute refers to the harm as a “traumatic condition,” which may include bruises, concussions, bone fractures, internal bleeding, and injuries resulting from attempted strangulation. 

Sentencing and Penalties for Violations of PC 273.5

Prosecutors can seek misdemeanor or felony penalties under PC 273.5. If tried as a misdemeanor, the maximum jail time is one year, and the fines can add up to $6,000. In the case of felonies, the sentence can include at most four years in prison as well as a $6,000 fine. 

Individuals with certain prior convictions may face more severe penalties within the last seven years than would a first-time offender. Violations of the following laws will matter for sentencing purposes:

  • Previous violations of PC 273.5
  • PC 245 assault with a deadly weapon
  • PC 243(d) assault or battery causing severe bodily injury
  • PC 243.4 sexual battery
  • PC 244 assault or battery with a caustic chemical
  • PC 244.5 assault with a stun gun

A past conviction for any of the above will mean that the new offense may lead to a five-year prison term and a $10,000 fine. Past violations of PC 243(e) will lead to a maximum four-year sentence and a $10,000 fine. 

Restraining Orders and PC 273.5

In addition to the sentencing terms, those convicted under PC 273.5 may face a restraining order. Courts use domestic violence restraining orders to protect victims of abuse from future threats, harm, or harassment. The order will likely prevent contact in the form of face-to-face interactions, as well as phone calls, emails, texts, or messages through social media platforms. 

Restraining orders may include terms that force the subject of the order to vacate their home, avoid specific locations where the victim works or spends time, and could impact child custody or contact with the subject’s children. If the parties share common children, the subject will still have to pay child support in many cases, even if they are not permitted to contact their children. 

Further Effects of a Conviction Under PC 273.5

The law includes other penalties for convictions under PC 273.5, including the potential loss of some professional licenses and the right to own a gun. In the case of immigrants, the consequences may be even more severe and can lead to deportation and potentially the inability to return to the United States. 

How to Defend Against Charges for PC 273.5

Each person accused of a crime in the United States is innocent until proven guilty. Charges do not equal convictions, and there are ways to defend against allegations of domestic violence. Some common defenses used in these cases include the following: 

  • The accused accidentally injured the accuser
  • The allegations are false
  • The defendant was acting in self-defense or defense of someone else

False allegations frequently happen in these cases. When a relationship deteriorates or the parties are involved in a custody dispute, one party may attempt to use false abuse accusations as a revenge or litigation tactic. Other defenses may also apply subject to the particular facts involved.

Probation in Domestic Violence Cases

A judge can sentence a defendant convicted of domestic violence to probation. In the case of a misdemeanor conviction, the penalty might include a one-year to a three-year probation period. Courts can order probation in felony cases as well, but typically only in cases of first-time offenders. Judges also have the discretion to order probation for cases where there are mitigating factors. Felony probation will last up to five years, and the sentence may also include time in jail.

Probation terms can vary but will often include:

  • Fines
  • Payment of restitution
  • Participation in domestic violence education courses
  • Community service
  • Payment of funds to support battered women’s shelters
  • Short jail terms of fifteen days for defendants with a prior conviction or 60 days for two or more past convictions

If the defendant breaks the law while on probation or violates the terms, the judge will schedule a hearing. The judge can then institute additional terms or revoke probation and send the defendant to prison. 

Allegations of domestic violence can severely impact a person’s life, even if the defendant is not guilty or where there are mitigating circumstances. The accused will need to take the allegations seriously and find an attorney who can protect their rights and build a strategy for defending against the charges.