The Domestic Violence Threshold
Domestic violence is one of the lesser-understood types of California criminal charges, in part because so many different actions can be considered domestic violence and there doesn't necessarily need to be hard proof of violence. A prosecuting attorney can file domestic violence charges off of very little evidence, even in cases where the victim was never harmed. The defensive statement of “I didn't lay a hand on her” isn't good enough in a court of law. Many actions can land someone behind bars for domestic violence including something called offensive touching.
California laws on domestic violence offenses such as assault and spousal battery employ relatively broad definitions of what's a punishable offense. You might have come across the term “offensive touching” and could be wondering what that means. At first glance, offensive touching might not seem like a criminal offense in and of itself. Can simply touching someone result in criminal charges? In California, the answer is yes. Offensive touching is the intentional touching or contacting of a person where that touching or contact is meant to be violent or forceful in any way. We aren't talking about accidental touching or touching that wasn't meant to be violent or forceful. The intent is a key element here.
The less serious California domestic violence charge is domestic battery, which does not require the victim be injured. Rather, domestic battery is loosely defined as the intentional use of force or violence or attempt to use force or violence against someone who you are or were in a close relationship with or related to either through blood or marriage. You can be charged with domestic battery for offensive touching. If you willfully inflict a traumatic condition (i.e. an injury) on the victim, you could be charged with corporal injury on a spouse, under California PC 273.5. This is a felony offense with harsh consequences.
Each case is different, but examples of offensive touching include forcefully brushing past someone in an argument or grabbing someone's shirt during a fight. These are arguably commonplace actions but ones that the State of California can define as domestic violence. To make matter worse, it is not uncommon for victims to exaggerate or falsify instances of touch or contact during an altercation with the intent of sending the alleged abuser to jail. Because the police don't need to see bruises or cuts on the victim to arrest someone, they typically err on the side of caution and arrest the alleged aggressor.
Under California PC 243(e)(1), domestic battery is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to one year in a county jail. Additional consequences of a domestic battery conviction can also include participation in a batterers' intervention program, victim restitution, or making payments to a battered women's shelter. Battery resulting in an injury can be charged as aggravated battery, which carries a stricter sentence.
In order to convict you of domestic battery, the prosecution must prove you used force or violence against the victim. Even if the victim was left unscathed, the prosecutor could prove you used force or violence or attempted to. Defending yourself against these charges can be difficult to do.
Whether you harmed the victim or not—or even came into contact with him or her—you can face criminal charges for domestic violence in California. Despite the broad-reaching legal definition of domestic battery and harmful touching more specifically, it might seem like the odds are against you. You can be convicted of a crime for offensive touching even if you did not harm the victim, but there might be a defense you could raise. You are innocent until proven guilty, and harmful touching—in the absence of any proof of injury—can be difficult for the prosecution to prove. Take advantage of this by talking to an attorney about your case. A knowledgeable California criminal defense attorney with experience in domestic violence defense can explain your charges and go over the elements the prosecution must prove to convict you. From that point, you can make an informed decision about how you want to proceed with your case.
Facing domestic violence charges is stressful, but attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team can help. Experienced in domestic violence defense, our Visalia area legal team can advocate on your behalf in court and aggressively fight your charges. Attorney Martens has over ten years experience in criminal defense working in Tulare, Fresno, and Kings County and won't be afraid to take your case all the way to trial. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.