Domestic Violence in California

Creating a highly emotional, complex situation

Domestic violence frequently creates a highly emotional, complex situation that makes the facts of the matter difficult to determine. Law enforcement officials may be presented with contradicting accounts by the parties involved and resort to the easiest solution - make an arrest. Officers are often familiar with the persons involved through previous contact and making an arrest just becomes part of the routine. Typically, when police arrive, they will take a report and examine the alleged victim for any signs of physical contact or "traumatic injury." Some localities now require that police take someone into custody when they merely suspect that domestic violence has occurred. If there are injuries, however slight they might be, police will take photos and provide them to the prosecutor's office to use as evidence.

Circumstances, Proofs, and Penalties

This photographic evidence is needed because California's domestic violence law - Penal Code 273.5 PC - requires that the prosecutor must be able to prove that the defendant inflicted corporal (bodily) injury upon a current or former spouse. They must also prove that the defendant willfully, or intentionally, caused the injury and that the injury resulted in a "traumatic condition."

Under Penal Code 273.5, it is not necessary that the alleged victim actually be married to the defendant, or that the couple involved hold themselves out to the public as husband and wife. Due to the complexity of the circumstances involved, charges of domestic violence can be difficult for a prosecutor to prove. Innocent people can get falsely accused of domestic violence when charges stem from he-said/she-said allegations that have arisen out of highly complex, emotional situations. "Corporal injury" may result from a fight in which both spouses inflicted some sort of physical harm. A defendant's actions can be excused as "self-defense" under these circumstances.

The consequences of domestic violence can be severe. A conviction of Penal Code 273.5 will result in 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 fine and imprisonment.

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