How Do Domestic Violence Cases Work in California?

Domestic violence can take many forms, forever changing the lives of families and individuals involved in these situations. Seeking legal help for these issues can be intimidating and cause some to feel too overwhelmed to press any charges. However, beginning any proceedings against an abuser is crucial for preventing any more harm. The process of bringing domestic violence cases to light can seem confusing, but understanding these proceedings can help enforce crucial protections for those facing domestic violence.

How Is Domestic Violence Classified in California?

Domestic violence can take many forms:

  • Stalking
  • Threats
  • Abandonment
  • Causing damage to the victim’s possessions
  • Physically harming the victim

Domestic battery and inflicting physical harm on another person are two different sorts of domestic violence as defined by California law. Under California Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC, domestic battery is defined as employing force or aggression against:

  • A cohabitant
  • The other parent of a shared child
  • A current or former spouse, fiancé, fiancée, or dating partner

It is against Penal Code 273.5 PC to inflict corporal injury on:

  • A present or former spouse
  • Cohabitant
  • Fellow parent
  • Dating partner

Prosecutors can charge this violation as either a misdemeanor or a felony because it is a wobbler. Any physical injury to the chest or abdomen is referred to as a “corporal injury.” Domestic violence, domestic abuse, spousal abuse, or bodily injury to a spouse are frequent names for the violation.

What Counts as Domestic Violence in California?

Domestic violence occurs when someone is assaulted or threatened with abuse while in a close relationship (married or domestic partners, dating or used to date, living or lived together, or having a child together). It also occurs when the victim of abuse and the perpetrator are closely connected, either by blood or by marriage. According to domestic violence regulations, abuse includes:

  • Purposefully or carelessly attempting to harm another person physically
  • Sexual assault
  • Inducing a reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily harm to another person (e.g., through threats or promises to harm)
  • Engaging in harassing, stalking, threatening, or violent behavior toward another person
  • Disturbing another person’s peace
  • Damaging another person’s property

Physical abuse does not only involve hitting. Abuse might take the form of:

  • Punching
  • Kicking
  • Pushing
  • Pulling hair
  • Hurling objects
  • Frightening or stalking
  • Preventing someone from moving around freely

Even family pets may be physically abused.

Domestic abuse may not always involve physical harm. Abuse can be psychological, emotional, or verbal (spoken). Abuse can occur without any physical contact being made. Abusers frequently employ various methods to exert control and influence over the abused person. Abuse frequently takes many different forms, but each is considered domestic violence.

Are Physical Injuries Necessary for a Domestic Violence Case?

Not all abuse is physical, and California’s domestic violence statutes reaffirm this by constituting various forms of non-physical abuse as domestic violence. Although physical harm is easier to use as evidence in a domestic violence case, verbal threats, stalking, and even theft can also count as domestic violence. Gathering any evidence necessary for these claims is imperative to building a compelling case. Evidence that can be used in a trial includes the following:

  • Mail
  • Phone records
  • Voicemails
  • Text messages
  • Security camera footage

All these can be helpful when creating a domestic violence claim that does not include physical abuse. In any instance, filing for a protective order should be a necessary first step for any instance of domestic violence. This can help protect the victim from their abuser during the litigation process.


Q: How are domestic violence cases handled in California?

A: Each year, California processes thousands of cases concerning domestic abuse (sometimes referred to as “family” or “intimate partner” violence). While some of these matters are handled by the criminal justice system, others are managed by the juvenile or family courts. The Center for Families, Children & the Courts (CFCC) offers a variety of courses and training to discuss domestic violence in California, including specialized resources for the courts, creating rules, forms, and legislation, and providing educational information to various bureaucratic bodies.

Q: Can a domestic violence case be dismissed in California?

A: Once the victim calls the police, they no longer have control over the situation, regardless of their motivation for regretting or retracting the complaint. If the police are involved, domestic violence charges cannot be dropped. Depending on the evidence and context, the prosecution must decide whether to file charges against the offender for domestic violence. Many prosecutors have a “no drop” policy regarding accusations of domestic violence.

Q: What are the steps in a DV case?

A: A no-contact order may be established once the defendant is arrested to begin a domestic violence case. The claimant must then show up for their arraignment. Then, if the prosecution and defense cannot agree, a hearing will be arranged, and a trial date will be set. When the case reaches the trial stage, it will be debated, and the charges will either be confirmed or withdrawn.

Q: What are the penalties for DV in California?

A: The repercussions of a domestic violence guilty verdict in California can include the following:

  • A minimum sentence of jail time
  • Taking the required “batterer’s intervention program” (domestic violence classes)
  • Providing compensation for fines and/or victim restitution
  • Restraining or protective orders
  • Loss of child visitation rights
  • Loss of California gun ownership
  • A permanent criminal background
  • Immigration repercussions for non-citizens

There can also be other punitive actions, such as an additional jail or prison sentence.

Finding Legal Representation for Domestic Violence Cases

Domestic violence accusations are very serious, and the legal process for handling them is designed to protect victims from further abuse. From creating restraining orders to ensuring that abusers are prevented from causing more harm, California’s prosecution process for domestic violence is aimed at protecting victims as effectively as possible. Choosing a legal team with the sensitivity needed to tackle these cases is essential to providing the same support. At Paula D. Kleinman, APLC, we can provide the knowledge needed to help those seeking protection begin the legal process. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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