Domestic violence is one of the most misunderstood crimes that an individual can be charged with. There are numerous misconceptions that the public has regarding domestic violence charges that limits the otherwise broad definition of what exactly constitutes domestic violence from a legal perspective.
Understanding who can be considered a victim or assailant, what types of crimes constitute domestic violence versus other charges (assault, battery, kidnapping), and what the possible punishments are is critical to a thorough understanding of what may happen if you have been accused of committing domestic violence crimes.
San Diego law enforcement takes domestic violence allegations seriously, and the local D.A.’s office will aggressively pursue charges against those they think are guilty of domestic abuse. Don’t be passive if you someone is accusing you of spousal abuse. Call the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC today to discuss your case.
Domestic Violence Crimes in California
Increased awareness of domestic violence, as well as newly implemented programs for victims have contributed significantly to an increase in prosecuting domestic violence offenders in recent years. Moreover, advents in technology are also making help more accessible and available to those who find themselves in danger.
Although many domestic violence allegations have merit and are characterized by serious injury and criminal conduct, there are also, unfortunately, many false reports that can effectively ruin innocent people’s lives. Individuals have many motivations for falsifying information that may lead to unsubstantiated claims of domestic violence, chief among these, child custody disputes, divorce leverage, property battles, and sheer thoughtlessness of the possible repercussions of false allegations. Even those allegations that are based in truth require the prosecutor to prove many, many things, some of which can be difficult to present to a jury. Understanding the definition of domestic violence, in addition to related conduct that may constitute other crimes, is critical in understanding the types of charges that may be filed against you if you are suspected of committing domestic violence.
Under California law, domestic violence is an action that constitutes abuse against a person that the offender is related to in some way. The definition of “abuse” extends to actual or attempted injury, and the relationship, though generally a romantic relationship, extends to those sharing a home, those that previously shared a home, had children together, or otherwise had a relationship. With this broad definition in mind, some of the misconceptions about domestic violence can be addressed.
Myth 1: You have to be related to one another for your actions to constitute domestic violence.
Domestic violence includes abuse committed against all of the following:
- An adult or a minor who is a spouse,
- Former spouse,
- Former cohabitant, or
- Person with whom the suspect has had a child or is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship.
For purposes of this subdivision, “cohabitant” means two unrelated adult persons living together for a substantial period of time, resulting in some permanency of relationship. Factors that may determine whether persons are cohabiting include, but are not limited to:
- Sexual relations between the parties while sharing the same living quarters,
- Sharing of income or expenses,
- Joint use or ownership of property,
- Whether the parties hold themselves out as husband and wife,
- The continuity of the relationship, and
- The length of the relationship.
As is apparent from this broad definition, domestic violence against a cohabitant can include a large range of individuals in one’s life.
Myth 2: Only women can be victims of domestic violence.
Not only is this untrue, but increased awareness and de-stigmatization efforts regarding domestic violence offenses have made more men than ever admit they have been domestically abused by their partners. Domestic violence is one of the most under-reported crimes due to the sensitive nature of an individual’s relationship and, typically, out of fear of retribution for speaking up. More recently, however, reporting has increased significantly by both men and women, likely due to the rapidly improving resources for those in danger.
Myth 3: Domestic violence requires physical contact to be criminal.
Though this is usually true, you can be convicted of domestic violence charges in California without any actual physical contact or injury. Harassment, stalking, false imprisonment, kidnapping, throwing items, destroying personal property, financial abuse, and mental, emotional, and verbal abuse has also constituted domestic violence in California.
Myth 4: There has to be a restraining order against you for your actions to constitute domestic violence.
Although many domestic violence victims may have outstanding restraining orders (sometimes referred to as “orders of protection”) against their assailants, this is in no way required as a prerequisite to being charged with domestic violence. Many domestic violence crimes, regardless of the truth or falsity of the allegations, will result in restraining orders being placed at least temporarily; an alleged victim may even petition the court on an emergent basis to impose a restraining order right away following an alleged incident.
Debunking the Myths: Understanding the Consequences
The crime of “domestic violence” actually encompasses several possible criminal charges. The most common is Corporal Injury on a Spouse or Inhabitant, what is the title for what most of us associate with “domestic violence” generally. There are also the similar crimes of Domestic Battery and Criminal Threats, neither of which requires proof that an actual injury was sustained by the alleged victim. These crimes may be charged individually, or in conjunction with one another depending on the circumstances surrounding the allegations.
Of these several possible charges, a suspect may be charged with one or many of these offenses, most of which are serious felonies. For violent crimes, especially those including weapons, a convicted offender may face decades in prison, the loss of their ability to own weapons in the future, and may be required to attend certain counseling sessions. For sexual crimes, the convicted offender will be required to register as a sex offender, significantly limiting the offender’s ability to find work, pursue education, or even find a place to live. Any misdemeanor or felony, of course, can affect a person’s professional and personal life, but domestic violence charges are viewed as particularly damaging to society, and are very difficult to get away from if convicted.
Broadly speaking, the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony charge in California is how long the possible sentence is for the crime. A misdemeanor crime will generally be characterized by jail terms of less than a year and fines in an amount less than $6,000. Felony convictions, on the other hand, may lead to many more years in prison, and typically make an offender ineligible for expungement of their conviction or deferred sentencing for any future criminal acts.
Another thing to consider is that California follows the “three strikes” rule regarding violent offenses. Subsequent domestic violence acts are extremely serious and may lead to a lifetime in prison if you have prior convictions, whether they were domestic violence charges or some other crime. As such, if you have been accused of committing domestic violence and have a prior criminal history, it is especially important that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.
Possible Defenses to Domestic Violence Allegations
Domestic violence cases often quickly turn into a “he-said-she-said” debate that makes it difficult for the prosecutors to prove their case. However, in cases where the alleged assailant is male, even in today’s society, it is easy for a jury to assume that the man overpowered the woman in some way. Plus, there is a general consensus that we would like to believe that people do not make up hurtful stories such as those that involve domestic violence, so a victim’s word is often taken over the alleged assailant’s word.
This does not necessarily have to be the case. A skillful defense attorney knows how to navigate a criminal trial such that relevant evidence regarding the alleged victim’s character, history, relationships, and prior actions may be relevant and included in the testimony. Ongoing custody battles, for instance, may be proof of a motive for the alleged victim to lie in order to obtain custody of the couple’s children. Even if the alleged victim is telling the truth, there are many other defenses to domestic violence charges such as:
- Self defense (the alleged victim may have been the initial aggressor)
- Necessity to protect others (such as children)
- Witnesses may be able to testify that you were not the aggressor or that the circumstances were being misrepresented
- You are not a “cohabitant” for the purposes of the law (though, in that case, prosecutors may charge you with simple assault and battery which can still carry both misdemeanor and felony charges)
- Your actions were misconstrued or not directed to the alleged victim
Regardless of the truth or falsity of the allegations against you, mere suspicion of domestic violence involvement can have a significant impact on your life. Though defenses are certainly available, it is critical to have the assistance of a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer in San Diego on your side.
San Diego, California Domestic Violence Criminal Defense Attorney
Being accused of any crime is terrifying, especially when you are innocent. At the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC, it is Attorney Bajaj’s job to ensure that the police and prosecutors follow the strict rules set for properly interrogating, disciplining, and charging alleged offenders and to ensure that your legal rights are protected from arrest through trial.
A dismissal of charges may occur when these rules are not followed and your legal rights or access to legal assistance has been compromised. In situations where dismissals are not possible, Attorney Bajaj’s experience assists him in successfully navigating pleas when appropriate, lessening sentences for first time offenders, and granting leniency due to circumstances for subsequent offenders. Regardless of your criminal history and the charges you are currently facing, Mr. Bajaj can help.
Reach out to his San Diego office today if you have been accused of a domestic violence crime or any criminal offense in the State of California.