Domestic violence is an issue not to be taken lightly, as it affects thousands of individuals throughout California and across the United States. It is essential for everyone to feel safe in their home and be unafraid to report any abuse that occurs. Rightly, law enforcement and prosecutors take these charges seriously and often aggressively pursue charges against the accused. Unfortunately, domestic violence is often a complex issue and, too frequently, charges are filed without cause or prematurely. When this occurs, anyone falsely accused is likely to go through immense stress as they face harsh public opinion and the legal system.
Criminal charges in Orange County, especially domestic violence charges, can be terrifying. Effectively facing these charges generally requires an attorney who is understanding of both your situation and the law. The Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann, APC, focuses exclusively on criminal defense cases, taking great pride in ensuring that our clients are afforded a fair and competent defense if they have been charged with domestic violence. As an experienced Orange County criminal defense law firm with more than 20 years of history defending clients in California, our office is ready to help you navigate this challenging process.
Although many people may think they know what constitutes domestic violence, it is important to understand exactly what domestic violence is. Domestic violence is also known as domestic abuse, intimate partner violence, or relationship abuse. It is characterized by violent or aggressive behavior used by someone in a relationship to gain or maintain control and power over another. Some limit domestic violence situations to a heterosexual relationship, where the man is the abuser, but this is far from the only circumstance that is considered domestic violence. Regardless of sex, race, education, age, marital status, or position in the family, anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence. According to Family Code Section 6211, you can be charged with domestic violence if you have been accused of abusing:
Similar to the wide range of people who can be involved in domestic violence situations, there is a wide range of actions that are considered domestic violence under the law. Although the most recognizable is some form of physical abuse, charges are not limited to instances where physical contact is made. In addition to recklessly or intentionally attempting to harm, or harming, someone, the following actions can be charged as domestic violence:
Domestic violence laws are often vague, allowing a lot of room for law enforcement and prosecutors to bring charges against those who deserve to be penalized. Unfortunately, this vagueness can result in charges being brought when the situation does not really fall under the purview of domestic violence.
There are numerous charges that fall under the domestic violence portion of the law, but some of the violations are more common than others. Some of the more common crimes in California include:
To be convicted of these crimes, one of the factors that must be proven is that the accused acted willfully. This does not mean that the person intended to break the law or inflict injury on the person. Instead, it means the action that they committed was done intentionally.
Most domestic violence charges are considered wobblers. This means that they can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case and the criminal history of the defendant. In most instances, domestic violence is charged as a misdemeanor. However, the charges can be elevated to a felony if:
Since there are a number of different penal codes that are classified as domestic violence, there is a wide range of penalties that can be applied in these cases. Different crimes, even if they are both charged as misdemeanors, can carry different severities of punishments.
A conviction of Penal Code 273.5, or corporal injury to a spouse or inhabitant, will generally carry the harshest penalties. If charged as a misdemeanor, penalties can include up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $6,000. If charged as a felony, the penalties can include two, three, or four years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $6,000.
Alternatively, a conviction of Penal Code 243(e)(1) can result in up to one year in county jail and/or a maximum fine of up to $2,000. In some instances, you may be able to avoid jail time if the judge sentences you to summary probation, or misdemeanor probation. Probation most frequently lasts for 12 months but can be extended to 24 months, and any violation can result in you being remanded to jail. If probation is granted, the defendant may also be required to attend a batterer’s intervention program.
There are, however, penalties that can affect your life even outside of jail or prison time and fines. Unless expunged, your criminal record will also be publicly available. Potential employers or other personal connections will be able to find this information. If a restraining order has been issued, you may be required to change your habits or even move to a new home to comply with the order. A misdemeanor domestic violence conviction can negatively affect your gun ownership rights, as some crimes will result in a 10-year ban on owning or possessing a firearm. If the charge is filed as a felony, the ban will be for life.
Speaking with a domestic violence attorney can help you understand the charges that have been brought against you and the potential penalties that you are facing
Domestic violence accusations are likely to trigger criminal and civil legal issues, but they will also complicate family law matters during issues like divorce and child custody.
If there is proof of a domestic violence conviction, family law judges have some freedom to limit an abuser’s ability to leave the marriage with a favorable outcome in the divorce. Generally, a victim will not be forced to pay spousal support to their abuser, and they are more likely to get a higher percentage of assets in the split.
A domestic violence conviction can also impact child custody, as the courts are not likely to award custody to a parent who is deemed to be a danger to their children. Even without a conviction, domestic violence accusations can allow the accuser to successfully argue for sole custody.
Although these protections were built into the law to protect victims, they can unfortunately be used incorrectly. If you are falsely accused of domestic violence by a partner, there are significant impacts outside of the criminal case. It is important to fight false or misleading accusations to ensure that they do not have impacts on your family law issues. An attorney can help you further understand the potential implications and move forward with protecting yourself from domestic violence accusations.
A defense attorney can examine the circumstances of your case and help you find the most effective defense for the charges that have been brought against you. They can determine information like:
This information can help them craft a defense that offers you the greatest chance of having the charges dismissed or reduced or being found not guilty. The following are potential defense strategies in domestic violence cases:
Regardless of the circumstances, it is crucial that you be open and honest with your attorney. A trustworthy defense attorney can listen without judgment and clearly help you establish what steps should be taken to move forward. Lying about the circumstances of the case could seriously harm your position if the prosecution is able to clearly dispute your claims with the evidence, potentially resulting in even harsher penalties than if you had been honest from the beginning.
Domestic violence crimes are taken seriously under California law, and many prosecutors have taken a stand against dropping domestic violence charges unless the victim recants their allegation. This means that the accusation is no longer in the control of the accuser once law enforcement is involved. In fact, you can be charged with domestic violence even if the other person did not report the incident. The prosecution will rely on the evidence collected and the circumstances reported to determine if charges should be brought and the severity of those charges.
Although this is meant to prevent cases from being dropped if the abuser intimidates or threatens the victim into altering their recollection of events, it can have poor overall effects for those who were falsely accused. The charges can still be dropped in instances where there is not enough evidence or an inconsistency of statements, but it may take longer than if the prosecution dropped the charges as soon as an alleged victim recanted.
A: Although penalties for domestic violence can be severe, there are some instances where a judge may sentence a defendant to probation instead of jail time. A judge may be more willing to use probation as a penalty when it is a first-time offense or the victim’s injuries were not significant. It is also more likely when domestic violence crimes are being prosecuted as a misdemeanor, as felony charges are usually brought when a significant injury occurs.
A: Although criminal punishments in domestic violence cases are often severe, they are far from the only penalties that arise after a conviction. You may be required to pay the victim restitution. In addition, you will need to pay into domestic violence programs in California and will usually be required to attend a batterer’s program. A conviction may also affect your ability to get custody of your children, property division in a divorce, or your right to own a firearm.
A: The burden of proof in obtaining a temporary restraining order is low because the order is limited in duration and may involve a situation that could be extremely dangerous for the person requesting the order. The judge will balance the impact a temporary restraining order has on the accused with the need for the requestor’s safety. For this reason, a temporary restraining order often cannot be stopped, but you will have the opportunity to prevent it from becoming permanent.
A: An accuser can change their statement and recant the accusation of abuse. However, this will not automatically prevent the prosecution from filing charges against the accused. Law enforcement and the prosecution will proceed with investigating the case unless they choose to drop the charges for other reasons, such as a lack of evidence.
A: The penalties that arise after being accused and/or convicted can be severe, even ignoring the emotional toll that can arise due to the situation. An attorney can provide valuable insight into the legal process that will occur once charges have been filed. Having this information will not only help you throughout the criminal case, but it can also support your emotional state as it happens.
The police will aggressively search for evidence in domestic violence cases, so you need a knowledgeable attorney that can defend you just as aggressively. Our team can be a crucial ally during this difficult period, potentially finding routes to lessen your penalties or even have the charges dropped. When you are searching for an Orange County domestic violence lawyer, reach out to the Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann, APC, for a consultation on your case.