Domestic violence is often discussed in the media as if it were a single criminal act. In reality, domestic violence is just the term we use when discussing violence in domestic situations. The violence itself can come in many forms. Harassment is one form of violence that can fall into the category of domestic violence crimes. In order for harassment to be considered domestic violence, it must be aimed at a past or present spouse or registered domestic partner, a past or present girlfriend, boyfriend, fiancé, or cohabitant that is more than a roommate, the parent of your child, or someone else whom you are otherwise closely related to through blood or marriage. The act of harassment itself can be anything from making threatening phone calls to stalking but must be willful and malicious in order for it to be a criminal act. Harassment is legally defined as willfully and knowingly engaging in conduct directed at a specific person and that seriously annoys, torments, or terrorizes the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose. The act must be believable or credible, if it is threatening, and must put the victim in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of their immediate family. Under California Penal Code 646.9, this crime is punishable by up to one year in a county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. In more severe circumstances, you could face a prison sentence.
It is important to note that not all cases of harassment are criminal in nature. A harassment case may be civil, which is an action between two individuals instead of an individual and the state. The person being harassed must take action to gain legal protection from the harasser. A restraining order, also sometimes called a protective order, is typically issued to protect the person being harassed in such cases. The person being restrained isn't necessarily charged with a crime, but he or she could be if they violated the restraining order or were seriously abusive or harmful. A domestic violence restraining order may be issued if the harassment is between two spouses or two people who are otherwise in a domestic relationship. Again, the person being restrained won't necessarily be charged with a crime, but could be if they violated the order. Harassment can result in criminal or civil actions, depending on the severity of the harassment and the actions the victim takes.
Whether or not you will be charged with a crime for your harassment will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case. The protected person is not the one who "presses charges" on you. Any criminal action taken against you will involve law enforcement and/or the district attorney. If you have a restraining order against you and are worried about criminal charges, speak with an attorney about your case. Generally, if you have a civil restraining order against you, you will not be convicted of a crime unless you willfully violate the order in some way.
If you seriously harassed the victim to the extent that they feared for their safety and involved law enforcement, you could face criminal charges, but it is up to the distinct attorney to file those, not the victim. You should know that California takes domestic violence calls seriously and in many cases an officer will make an arrest when responding to a call. They may also help the victim get an emergency protective order issued. Speak with an attorney as soon as you can after being arrested for harassment or any other domestic violence offense. An experienced attorney may be able to have your case dismissed or negotiate a lesser sentence if they are involved in your case early enough.
Similarly, if you do violate a restraining order you have standing, you may wish to consult with an attorney. Violating a restraining order is a serious offense, no matter how slight the violation. If you unintentionally violate the order, however, an experienced attorney may be able to save you from a conviction. Restraining orders are complex legal documents and small details or stipulations can be missed, so make sure you understand the terms and conditions thoroughly and speak with an attorney if you violate the order.
Are you facing harassment charges and have questions about the consequences? Contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team for criminal defense help in Tulare, Fresno or Kings County. Experienced in domestic violence defense, Mr. Martens will work hard to defend your rights in court. With over ten years experience in criminal defense, Attorney Martens has taken over 50 cases to trial and will not be afraid to do the same for you. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.