Is Domestic Violence Always a Felony in California?

Domestic Violence is not always a Felony

Domestic violence charges always have serious consequences in California. But is a domestic violence conviction automatically a felony? Or can it sometimes be charged as a misdemeanor instead?

The answer depends on the specific circumstances of the case. There are certain situations where domestic violence reaches the felony level in California. But there are also many domestic violence cases that remain as misdemeanors.

In this article, we’ll break down the key factors that distinguish felony from misdemeanor domestic violence in California. We’ll also discuss the penalties for felony domestic violence and what options may be available to fight these charges.

When Does Domestic Violence Become a Felony in California?

Let’s start by getting familiar with how California law defines domestic violence.

The Legal Definition of Domestic Violence

Under California Penal Code §13700, “domestic violence” means abuse committed against an intimate partner, like a spouse, cohabitant, boyfriend or girlfriend, or someone you have a child with.

Abuse covers physically injuring or placing someone in reasonable fear of serious bodily injury. Threats, stalking, and other forms of abuse also fall under the domestic violence definition.

Now let’s see what leads domestic violence charges to rise above misdemeanors into the felony territory.

Domestic Violence Inflicting Serious Injuries

If domestic violence results in grave bodily harm like broken bones, loss of consciousness, significant wounds, or require major surgery, it can be charged as a felony under California Penal Code §273.5.  Even cuts and bruising we have seen the District Attorney file Domestic Violence as a Felony.  

Use of Deadly Weapons

Domestic violence involving threats or attacks with lethal weapons like guns, knives, bats, or axes can also face felony charges. Even grabbing hold of an everyday object like a lamp or vase to attack a partner could warrant a felony.

Prior Domestic Violence Convictions

If the defendant was convicted of domestic violence within the last 7 years or has prior convictions for certain other violent felonies, a new domestic violence charge may be elevated to a felony.

So, in these kinds of situations, the domestic violence charge reaches the felony level rather than staying as a misdemeanor.

What Are the Penalties for Felony Domestic Violence Convictions?

Felony convictions lead to much more severe sentences than misdemeanor domestic violence charges.

Let’s examine some of the most serious felony penalties defendants can face.

Years in California State Prison

Felony domestic violence can mean facing years locked away in state prison.

Defendants sentenced to 2, 3, or even 4 years in prison have little hope of retaining their jobs, housing, or relationships. And they often struggle with the psychological impact of long incarceration.

Upon release, they may have trouble finding new jobs and housing with a violent felony on their records. So, the impacts stretch far beyond just the years behind bars.

Long Probation Sentences

Even with suspended prison sentences, felony domestic violence charges often come with 5 or more years of formal, supervised felony probation.

This probation comes with strict rules defendants must comply with to avoid having suspended prison time imposed. Rules cover things like:

  • Mandatory counseling programs
  • Stay away orders protecting victims
  • Restitution payments to victims
  • Restrictions on owning weapons

Violating these probation terms can easily land defendants serving the full suspended prison sentence.

Immigration Consequences

Felony domestic violence creates severe immigration consequences, too. These convictions can invalidate lawful immigration status.

They can also permanently bar defendants from re-entering the US in the future if they get deported after serving felony time.

So it’s clear felony penalties go far beyond just time behind bars. The impact on someone’s entire life is massive.

Fighting Felony Domestic Violence Charges in California

Facing felony prosecution for domestic violence is an intimidating position to be in. But experienced criminal defense attorneys can often negotiate better outcomes by:

Identifying Weaknesses in the Prosecution’s Case

Your defense team will thoroughly examine if there are fightable elements like:

  • Insufficient evidence proving injuries inflicted
  • Witness credibility issues
  • Unclear source of injuries

Exploiting reasonable doubts over what happened disrupts the prosecution’s efforts to prove charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

Plea Bargaining Felonies Down to Misdemeanors

In many domestic violence cases with some gray area over what truly happened, prosecutors may agree to reduce felony charges down to misdemeanors to secure a conviction rather than risk outright acquittal at trial.

The penalties drop significantly when securing a reduction from a felony down to misdemeanor charges.

Alternative Sentencing Programs

California law allows judges to grant probation in lieu of incarceration, even on many felonies. This allows defendants to stay with their families and keep jobs while getting counseling.

Domestic violence charges still produce life-long consequences. But fighting felony charges aggressively at least limits the damage a conviction causes.

If you or someone you know faces domestic violence allegations, speak with an attorney immediately about building their defense strategy. The right defense from the outset makes all the difference in securing the least damaging outcome to the greatest extent possible.

Frequently Asked Questions About Domestic Violence In California

What are the penalties if I’m convicted?

In California, penalties for domestic violence convictions depend on whether it’s a misdemeanor or felony. Misdemeanors have up to 1 year in county jail. Felonies can involve state prison time from 2-4 years. All convictions likely involve probation, domestic violence classes, fines, stay-away orders, and weapon prohibitions.

Could I get deported if I’m not a U.S. citizen?

Yes, a domestic violence conviction, whether a felony or misdemeanor, counts as a crime involving moral turpitude, which can trigger immigration consequences. These vary but can include loss of legal status, inability to apply for legal status, deportation, and a permanent bar from re-entering the U.S.

What are my options for fighting the charges?

An experienced criminal defense attorney can assess if there are weaknesses in the prosecution’s case to potentially get charges dropped or reduced. Common options to fight charges include arguing self-defense, showing lack of injury, attacking the credibility of the alleged victim or witnesses, uncovering false allegations, or pleading to less serious charges.

What Should You Do if You’re Facing Domestic Violence Charges?

Being accused of domestic violence, whether justly or unjustly, is an extremely frightening position to find yourself in. These allegations threaten your freedom, reputation, family relationships, immigration status, career prospects, and overall quality of life all at once.

It’s absolutely vital to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately if you find yourself under investigation or formally charged. An attorney with extensive experience specifically defending California clients against domestic violence accusations can make all the difference.

Here’s exactly what an attorney can start doing right away to protect your rights:

  • Review police reports, victim statements, and all evidence to pinpoint inconsistencies and weaknesses
  • Speak with detectives to defend your side of the story and avoid self-incrimination
  • Negotiate with prosecutors before charges are filed to possibly prevent criminal prosecution altogether
  • Identify and secure any video surveillance or cell phone evidence that may have captured pivotal moments
  • Seek out third-party eyewitnesses who may be able to corroborate self-defense claims

Once charges are filed, skilled trial lawyers know how to exploit every last weakness at preliminary hearings and trials to beat allegations outright. They also can negotiate fiercely with prosecutors to get bargains dropping charges to less serious offenses whenever possible.

At Kolacia Law, our firm has successfully defended good people against false domestic violence accusations for years. Many of our clients escape prosecution altogether once we get involved. In other cases, we’ve won outright dismissals or acquittals at trial. And whenever the best option is a plea deal, we bargain these down to minimize lingering consequences.

So do not wait to call for help if you’re being wrongfully accused. An attorney may very well be the only thing standing between you and years behind bars. Reach out to Kolacia Law and get your defense started immediately.

Author Bio

Daniel Kolacia is the CEO and Managing Partner of Kolacia Law Firm, a Rancho Cucamonga, CA, criminal defense law firm. As a former prosecutor with more than 15 years of experience in criminal defense, he is knowledgeable about both sides of the courtroom, an advantage he uses to help defend his clients. He has zealously represented clients in various legal matters, including white-collar crimes, misdemeanors, felonies, traffic cases, and other criminal charges.

Daniel received his Juris Doctor from the Southwestern University School of Law and is a member of the California Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work and has worked on several high-profile cases featured on Dateline, CNBC, Los Angeles Times, and various local publications.

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