Is Domestic Violence a Felony?

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Is domestic violence a felony in California?

In California, domestic violence crimes are defined in several different sections of the penal code. While violations of some of these codes can be prosecuted as misdemeanors, many domestic violence offenses are typically charged and prosecuted as felonies. In my latest article, I take a look at what constitutes domestic violence under California law, and discuss which codes in particular are frequently prosecuted as felony offenses.

Several different crimes specified by separate sections of the California Penal Code are commonly grouped together and referred to as domestic violence. In some circumstances, alleged violations of these laws can result in felony charges for domestic violence.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence entails differing forms of abuse, or threats of abuse in situations between two people who have been in an intimate relationship, or are closely related. The relationship can be created by marriage or blood, but can also be formed between people who live together or previously lived together, have dated each other, or have a child together. Because of the broad standard for what qualifies as a domestic relationship under California law, almost any violent crime can be charged and prosecuted as domestic violence if it is perpetrated against someone with whom the suspect has had sexual relations.

What constitutes domestic violence?

Forms of abuse that qualify as domestic violence according to California’s penal code include:

  • Physically hurting or trying to hurt someone
  • Making someone afraid that they or someone else is about to be hurt
  • Harassment, stalking, destroying someone’s personal property, or disturbing their peace
  • Sexual assault

Although the term “domestic violence” implies violent acts such as striking someone, most any type of offensive physical contact, such as pushing, scratching, pulling hair, or throwing objects can constitute an act of domestic violence. Likewise, threatening acts such as verbal threats, following someone, or preventing them from freely coming and going, can result in domestic violence allegations and charges.

Can domestic violence result in felony charges?

Violations of some domestic violence codes can result in felony charges in California. Violations of the following codes can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony – sometimes called a “wobbler” – depending on the facts of the specific case and the offender’s prior criminal history.

Penal Code 273.5, Corporal Injury to a Spouse or Cohabitant
This code makes it a crime to strike another person and cause a visible injury, even a minor one such as bruising or swelling. Although this is crime can be charged as a misdemeanor, it is usually charged as a felony.

Penal Code 273d, Child Abuse
This code makes it a crime to inflict even minor injuries on a child as the result of “cruel or inhuman” treatment which does not represent reasonable discipline of a child.

Penal Code 273a, Child Endangerment
Offenses under this code include willfully allowing a child under one’s care to be harmed, or putting the child’s health or safety at risk.

In addition to the above codes, certain violations of PC 270 (Child Neglect/Failure to Provide Care), PC 368 (Elder Abuse), and PC 422 (Criminal Threats) can also result in felony domestic violence charges and prosecution.