Every crime in California is defined by a specific code section. Our attorneys explain the law, penalties and best defense strategies for every major crime in California.
What Is Corporal Injury?
In criminal law, the term corporal injury refers to any physical injury that causes a traumatic condition. This typically means a visible or verifiable injury, whether slight or severe.
The existence of a corporal injury can be an element of a violent crime such as assault or battery. In California, it is an element of the domestic violence crime of corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant (Penal Code 273.5 PC). The infliction of a corporal injury makes the offense more serious than simple domestic battery.
Most states have changed their criminal and civil laws to remove old and imprecise phrases like “corporal injury.” California’s domestic violence laws are some of the few in the country that still use the term.
A corporal injury is a physical wound that was inflicted by force.
The amount of force does not matter. It also does not matter if the force was inflicted using a weapon or even a firearm. It does not even matter whether the force caused a minor or a great bodily injury. All that matters is that the force produced a traumatic injury of some sort on the victim’s body.
Examples of a corporal injury can include:
Examples do not include:
Very few states in the U.S. still use the phrase “corporal injury” in criminal laws that prohibit assault.
One of the few that still does is Rhode Island. Their statute prohibiting simple assault or battery does not define what either term means.1 Instead, the definitions of simple assault or battery comes from common law, where courts create workable rules to fill in the gaps left by vague legislation. The common law definition of an assault in the state is “a physical act of a threatening nature or an offer of corporal injury” which puts a reasonable person in imminent fear of bodily harm.2
Far more states have changed their criminal laws to take out old phrases like “corporal injury” and replace them with more precise elements of the crime.
Oregon is one of these states. Like Rhode Island, Oregon’s criminal statutes outlawing assault used to draw from common law rules to define the term “assault.” In 1959, this was “an act which reasonably puts one in fear of corporal injury.”3
Since then, Oregon’s legislature has passed new laws detailing assault. These statutes no longer use “corporal injuries” to distinguish between types of assault crimes. Instead, the laws use:
A few more states use “corporal injury” as an element for a civil lawsuit for compensation after an assault or battery.
Florida and Michigan are 2 of these states. Both define civil assault as including an unlawful offer of corporal injury by force.5
In California, the infliction of corporal injuries on a spouse or cohabitant is a crime under California Penal Code Section 273.5 (PC 273.5). It is more severe than spousal battery under PC 243.
Under this California law, a corporal injury is any physical injury that led to a traumatic condition if:
A traumatic condition is any type of bodily injury, no matter how severe, that was directly caused by physical force. It also includes injuries caused by strangulation or suffocation.7
For example: John punches his wife Mary in the arm. Hours later, Mary develops a bruise at the point of contact.
Defendants who cause a corporal injury on any of the following alleged victims can be charged under PC 273.5:
These criminal charges are wobblers. If pursued as a misdemeanor, they carry:
If prosecuted as a felony, the potential penalties of a conviction will be:
This is significantly more severe than if the violence did not cause a corporal injury. In those cases, the charge would be for spousal or domestic battery under PC 243. This offense prohibits the willful use of unlawful force or violence on an intimate partner.
Spousal battery is always a misdemeanor. Convictions carry:
If there is a prior conviction for domestic abuse on the defendant’s criminal history, especially if it was for a prior domestic violence case, it can lead to sentencing enhancements.
Additionally, domestic violence offenses can lead to the following legal problems:
Defendants who have been accused of inflicting corporal injury on someone else can raise legal defenses to combat the criminal charge. Some of the most common defense strategies include:
A skilled criminal defense attorney from a local law office or law firm can help defendants raise these defendants and try for an acquittal.
Additionally, a criminal defense lawyer can fight domestic violence charges by presenting evidence that can prevent the prosecutor from proving his or her case beyond a reasonable doubt. They can also aim to mitigate the penalties of a conviction by:
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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