California domestic violence laws make it a crime to harm (or threaten to harm) your current or former:
- co-parent, or
- dating or intimate partner.
Two of the most common domestic violence crimes are for:
- Penal Code 243(e)(1) “domestic battery” (a misdemeanor) or
- Penal Code 273.5, “inflicting corporal injury on an intimate partner” (a felony or a misdemeanor)
Penalties for domestic violence in California
- Batterer’s intervention program (domestic violence classes),
- Fines and/or victim restitution,
- A restraining order (also known as a protective order),
- Loss of custody rights,
- Loss of California gun rights,
- A criminal record, and
- Deportation or inadmissibility to the U.S. for non-citizens.
Most of these consequences apply even if you are sentenced to:
Defenses to domestic violence charges in California
- It was an accident;
- You did not cause the injuries;
- You acted in self-defense or defense of another person; or
- The victim falsely accused you of domestic violence.
Sometimes we can convince the district attorney not to pursue a criminal case at all. Or we may be able to negotiate a plea bargain to a lesser charge where you get treatment instead of jail.
In this article, our California criminal defense lawyers will discuss:
- 1. What is the legal definition of “domestic violence” in California?
- 2. Who counts as a victim of domestic violence under California law?
- 3. What are the common California domestic violence crimes and penalties?
- 3.1. Penal Code 273.5, corporal injury to a spouse or inhabitant
- 3.2. Penal Code 243(e)(1), domestic battery
- 3.3. Penal Code 273d, child abuse
- 3.4. Penal Code 273a, child endangerment
- 3.5. Penal Code 270, child neglect/failure to provide care
- 3.6. Penal Code 368, elder abuse
- 3.7. Penal Code 422, criminal threats
- 3.8. Penal Code 646.9, stalking
- 3.9. Penal Code 591, damaging a telephone line
- 3.10. Penal Code 601, aggravated trespass
- 3.11. Penal Code 647(j)(4), revenge porn
- 3.12. Penal Code 653.2, posting harmful information on the internet
- 4. Is domestic abuse a felony?
- 5. When can a defendant in a domestic violence case receive probation instead of jail time?
- 6. What are additional consequences of a California domestic violence conviction?
- 6.1. Mandatory minimum jail time
- 6.2. Payment of victim restitution & domestic violence fund
- 6.3. Participation in a “batterers’ program”
- 6.4. Permanent criminal record
- 6.5. Loss of custody rights
- 6.6. Loss of gun rights
- 6.7. Restraining orders
- 6.8. Immigration consequences
- 7. How do I fight California domestic violence charges?
- 8. How can a California domestic violence lawyer help?
- 9. What are resources for domestic violence victims?
1. What is the legal definition of “domestic violence” in California?
California Penal Code 13700 defines “domestic violence” as abuse committed against an intimate partner.1 You commit “abuse” when you intentionally or recklessly use, or threaten the use of, physical force against an intimate partner. 2
2. Who counts as a victim?
2.1. For purposes of criminal law
California law defines “domestic violence” as abuse against an “intimate partner.” An “intimate partner” is defined as:
- A current or former spouse,
- A current or former registered domestic partner,3
- A current or former fiancé(e),
- A current or former live-in romantic partner (a “cohabitant”),4
- A person with whom you have, or have had, a child, or
- Someone you are seriously dating or were in a dating relationship with in the past.5
2.2. For purposes of custody disputes
The California Family Code has a longer list of people who can be considered victims of domestic violence. In addition to partners in an intimate relationship, victims can include:
- Your child,6 or
- Any other person related by to you by consanguinity (blood) or affinity (marriage) within the second degree, including:
- Brothers and sisters,
- Half-brothers and half-sisters,
- Step-brothers and step-sisters,
- Aunts and uncles, and
- Nephews and nieces.7
These additional categories are important for purposes of California custody laws, discussed in Section 5.5, below.
3. What are the common domestic violence crimes and penalties?
Common crimes of “domestic violence” in California include
- threats, and
Some of these offenses are misdemeanors. Others are felonies.
Though most of these crimes are California “wobbler” offenses. A “wobbler” is a crime that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on:
- The circumstances of the offense,
- The seriousness of the alleged victim’s injuries (if any), and
- Your criminal record (if any).8
(For more discussion, see our page on Is domestic violence a felony?)
Some of the most common crimes of domestic violence are discussed in brief, below. For more information on each of these offenses, please click on the highlighted link(s).
3.1. Penal Code 273.5, corporal injury to a spouse or inhabitant
Penal Code 273.5 makes it illegal to inflict a “corporal injury” that results in even a slight physical injury to an intimate partner.
PC 273.5 is a felony. Possible penalties for a first offense range from one (1) year in county jail to up to four (4) years in California state prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines.
3.2. Penal Code 243(e)(1), domestic battery
Penal Code 243(e)(1) – California’s domestic battery law — makes it a misdemeanor to inflict force or physical violence on an intimate partner. Unlike Penal Code 273.5, this California domestic violence law does not require a visible injury.
Domestic battery is a misdemeanor. Punishment can include a
- fine of up to $2,000, and/or
- up to one (1) year in county jail.
If domestic battery causes a serious injury, it becomes a felony. Under Penal Code 672, this carries up to four (4) years in state prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines.
3.3. Penal Code 273d, child abuse
Penal Code 273d PC California’s “child abuse” law, makes it a crime to inflict corporal punishment or injury on a child. Reasonable spankings are excluded, but any punishment that is cruel or causes injury is considered child abuse in California.
Child abuse resulting in a traumatic condition carries (without a sentencing enhancement):
- up to six (6) years in state prison and/or
- up to $6,000 in fines
3.4. Penal Code 273a, child endangerment
Penal Code 273a PC California’s child endangerment law, makes it a crime to willfully cause or allow a child in your care to:
- suffer harm, or
- have their safety or health endangered.
- A mother who permits her boyfriend to beat her 6-year-old, or
- A parent who operates a dangerous meth lab in the same home where their child lives.
If the child is at risk of great bodily injury, the crime is a “wobbler.” The felony penalties include up to six (6) years in prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines. The misdemeanor penalties are up to 1 year in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines.9
If the child is not at risk of great bodily harm, child endangerment is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six (6) months in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines.
3.5. Penal Code 270, child neglect/failure to provide care
California’s “child neglect” law, Penal Code 270 PC, makes it a crime for a parent to willfully fail to provide necessities (like food, shelter, medical care, clothing, etc.) to their minor child.
Child neglect is usually a misdemeanor. It can be punished by
- a fine of up to $2,000 and/or
- up to one (1) year in county jail.
Child neglect can be a felony in cases where a parent refuses to provide care after a court declared them a parent. Penalties can be:
- one (1) year plus one (1) day in state prison and/or
- a fine of up to $2,000.
3.6. Penal Code 368, elder abuse
Penal Code 368 PC, California’s law on elder abuse, makes it a “wobbler” to inflict any of the following on a victim 65 years of age or older:
- Physical abuse,
- Emotional abuse,
- Endangerment, or
- Financial fraud.
As a misdemeanor, elder abuse can be punished by up to one (1) year in jail. As a domestic violence felony, elder abuse penalties can include up to four (4) years in state prison and/or $10,000 in fines.
3.7. Penal Code 422, criminal threats
California’s “criminal threats” law, Penal Code 422 PC, makes it a crime to threaten someone with serious harm. PC 422 may be charged as a
- a misdemeanor or
- a felony.
As a misdemeanor, criminal threats can be punished by up to one (1) year in jail.
As a domestic violence felony, potential penalties can include up to four (4) years in prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines (plus a possible one (1) year enhancement). Also, a felony conviction is a serious felony that counts as a strike under California’s “Three Strikes” law per Penal Code 1192.7: Accruing three strikes carries at least twenty-five (25) years in prison.
3.8. Penal Code 646.9, stalking
Penal Code 646.9, California’s “stalking” law, prohibits:
- Harassing or threatening another person,
- To the point at which the person fears for their safety or the safety of their family members.
Stalking can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on your criminal history.
Misdemeanor stalking can be punished by up to one (1) year in jail. As a felony, stalking penalties can include up to five (5) years in prison and/or $10,000 in fines.
3.9. Penal Code 591, damaging a telephone line
Penal Code 591 PC is California’s law on damaging a telephone line. It makes it a crime to maliciously cut or otherwise damage a phone line or phone equipment. An example is a domestic abuser who prevents their victim from making a phone call.
PC 591 can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. If charged as a felony, penalties can include
- a fine of up to $10,000 and/or
- up to three (3) years in prison.
3.10. Penal Code 601, aggravated trespass
You commit Penal Code 601 PC “aggravated trespass” when you:
- Make a criminal threat, and
- Within the next 30 days enter that person’s home or workplace to carry it out.
Aggravated trespass can be either
- a misdemeanor or
- a felony.
Punishment for a felony violation can include up to three (3) years in jail and/or $2,000 in fines.
3.11. Penal Code 647(j)(4), revenge porn
The misdemeanor crime of “revenge porn” — PC 647(j)(4) — is a type of “cyber-harassment.” It occurs when you:
- Intentionally distribute sexual photos of another person (such as an ex-girlfriend or ex-wife),
- With the intent to cause that person emotional distress.
Revenge porn can be punished by
- a fine of up to $1,000 (or $2,000 for subsequent offenses) and
- up to one (1) year in county jail.
3.12. Penal Code 653.2, posting harmful information on the internet
PC 653.2 – posting harmful info on the internet – is a relatively new misdemeanor offense. Also known as “indirect electronic harassment” or “cyber-stalking,” it consists of:
- Posting or emailing harmful information about someone,
- With the intent of causing other people to harass that person.
PC 653.2 is often charged when someone uses the internet to get revenge on the other party in a domestic dispute.
It can be punished by
- a fine of up to $1,000 and/or
- up to one (1) year in jail.
4. Is domestic abuse a felony?
One type of domestic abuse is always a felony in California: Corporal injury to a spouse or inhabitant (PC 273.5).
The following domestic abuse-related offenses can be felonies or misdemeanors depending on the case. These “wobbler” offenses include:
- Child abuse (PC 273d)
- Child endangerment (PC 273a)
- Elder abuse (PC 368)
- Criminal threats (PC 422)
- Stalking (PC 646.9)
- Damaging a phone line (PC 591)
- Aggravated trespass (PC 601)
Scroll up to the previous section for specific penalties for these crimes.
5. When can a defendant in a domestic violence case receive probation instead of jail time?
A judge may be willing to sentence you to probation for domestic violence if:
- It is your first offense, or
- The victim’s injuries are not significant.
Probation is more likely when the case is prosecuted as a misdemeanor. This is because felony domestic violence charges are typically brought only when the victim suffers a significant injury.
Even if the judge sentences you to probation, many of the consequences listed below will still apply.
However, you will be sentenced to a minimum of jail time. In exchange, you will be subject to conditions, such as the ones set forth in Section 6, below.
If you violate any probation conditions, the judge can revoke probation and send you to prison or jail.
6. What are additional consequences of a California domestic violence conviction?
A conviction for battery or abuse often results in more than just incarceration and a fine. Additional consequences of a California domestic violence conviction can include some or all of the following:
6.1. Mandatory minimum jail time
Most California counties impose a minimum jail sentence of 30 days for a domestic violence conviction. This is true even if the domestic violence charge is a misdemeanor and it is your first offense.
6.2. Payment of victim restitution & domestic violence fund
If you are convicted of domestic violence, you may be ordered to pay victim “restitution” in California. Such restitution can include the victim’s:
- Medical bills,
- Mental health/psychiatric/psychological counseling,
- Lost wages, and/or
- Property damage.
You will also have to pay $500 to fund domestic violence programs in California.10
6.3. Participation in a “batterers’ program”
If you are convicted of domestic violence, judges will almost always require you to attend a year-long treatment and counseling program.11
This is true even if you are sentenced to
in lieu of all or part of your sentence.
6.4. Permanent criminal record
Perhaps worst of all is that a DV conviction goes on your permanent criminal record.
The conviction will appear anytime someone does a routine background check. This can make it difficult to gain
- state licensing,
- housing or
- other benefits.
6.5. Loss of custody rights
Domestic abusers are usually prohibited from getting custody of their minor children in California. Though they are still often able to obtain visitation rights.
Note that for purposes of determining custody, a criminal conviction is not required for a family law judge to determine there was domestic violence.
Though a judge will definitely decide there was domestic violence if one parent was convicted of a crime of domestic violence against the other parent within the previous five years. See Family Code Section 3044.
6.6. Loss of gun rights
A California domestic violence conviction will almost always result in a loss of the right to own or possess a firearm.
Unfortunately, for the reasons set forth below, there is no way to recover lost gun rights after a domestic violence conviction.
6.6.1. After a misdemeanor conviction
Under California Penal Code 29805, most misdemeanor DV convictions result in a ten-year firearms ban. A misdemeanor conviction of violating Penal Code 273.5 PC (corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant) will carry a lifetime loss of gun rights. See California AB 3129.12
Though if the offense qualifies as a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (“MCDV”) under federal law, a conviction will result in a firearm ban for life.13
6.6.2. After a felony domestic violence conviction
Penal Code 29800 PC is California’s “felon with a firearm” law. It imposes a lifetime firearms ban on people who have been convicted of a felony offense in any
- state or
So if you are convicted of DV as a felony, both California and federal law prohibit you from ever legally possessing a gun.14
6.6.3. Can a pardon or expungement restore gun rights after a domestic violence conviction?
Federal law imposes a lifetime firearms ban after a domestic violence conviction.15 The only way to remove the federal firearms ban is with a Presidential pardon. Though such pardons are seldom granted.
To learn how to apply for a presidential pardon, please see the United States Department of Justice pardon information and instructions.
6.7. Restraining orders
California law allows a victim of domestic violence to apply for an emergency restraining order (also known as an “emergency protective order”). 16
A DV restraining order can be obtained in either civil or criminal court.
No physical harm is required for a protective order.
An alleged victim does not need to have suffered physical harm in order to obtain a protective order against you in California.
The person filing the petition simply needs to prove that:
- You abused or threatened to abuse the petitioner or the petitioner’s minor child, and
- You are an intimate partner or a first- or second-degree relative.17
Violation of a protective or restraining order
California law makes it a crime to violate a restraining order.18
Violation of a protective order is usually a misdemeanor as long as the victim was not hurt.
Common defenses to a charge of violating a protective order include taking the position that:
- The protective order was not legally issued;
- You did not know about the restraining order;
- You did not intentionally violate the order; or
- You were falsely accused.
6.8. Immigration consequences
Many California domestic violence convictions count as an “aggravated felony” or a “crime involving moral turpitude” (“CIMV”) under U.S. immigration law.
Conviction on these charges can subject a non-U.S. citizen to:
- Removal (deportation) from the United States,19 and/or
- Inadmissibility to the United States — including ineligibility to apply for a green card or an adjustment of status (from illegal to legal).20
So before pleading guilty, it is critical that a non-citizen consult with a knowledgeable California domestic violence lawyer.
An experienced California criminal attorney may be able to negotiate a plea bargain that avoids the negative immigration consequences of a domestic violence conviction.
7. How do I fight California domestic violence charges?
7.1. Legal defense strategies
Here at Shouse Law Group, we have represented literally thousands of people accused of domestic violence. In our experience, the following four defenses are very effective with prosecutors, judges, and juries.
- The other person’s injury was the result of an accident;
- The alleged victim’s injuries did not result from your actions;
- You were acting in self-defense or defense of someone else; or
- You are being falsely accused due to:
- Anger or jealousy,
- An attempt to gain the upper hand in divorce or child custody proceedings, or
- Any other reason.
In all of these cases, we would rely on such evidence as eyewitness accounts, surveillance video, and medical records. An expert forensic witness may be able to testify that the accuser’s injuries were self-inflicted or the result of an accident.
7.2. Plea bargains to lesser charges
We can often negotiate a plea bargain to a lesser offense. This will help you avoid the stigma and negative consequences of a domestic violence conviction.
Two of the most common lesser offenses you may be able to plead to are:
Advantages of pleading to one of these crimes can include:
- Retention of the right to own a firearm,
- No automatic loss of custody rights, and
- No deportation or inadmissibility for non-citizens.
7.3. Pre-trial diversion
Another legal strategy we often pursue is to try to get a pre-trial diversion program or deferred entry of judgment (“DEJ”) for you.
With pretrial diversion, if you successfully complete a batterers’ program, the charges will be dismissed and cease to exist for most purposes.
Eligibility for pretrial diversion depends on:
- The specific charges,
- Where you reside, and
- Your criminal history (if any).
8. How can a California domestic violence lawyer help?
California law enforcement agencies take claims of DV quite seriously.
If you are accused of domestic violence for allegedly hitting or threatening a spouse or child, you may find yourself cut off from family and unable even to go home.
Our criminal defense lawyers include former
- police officers and
We have decades of experience investigating and trying cases of alleged abuse.
We understand how judges decide when to issue a domestic violence restraining order and what punishment is merited.
When we get involved early in a case we can often persuade the prosecutor not to file domestic violence charges. Or we can negotiate a plea bargain that allows you to avoid the negative consequences of a domestic abuse conviction.
If your case does go to jury trial we will make sure your side of the story is presented. Contrary to what you may have heard, it is possible to win a domestic violence case.
9. What are resources for domestic violence victims?
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911. Otherwise, you can find help, information and advocacy in the following places:
- Domestic Violence Organizations in California – California Partnership to End Domestic Violence
- California Domestic Violence Help, Programs and Statistics – DomesticShelters.org
- State Resources: California – WomensLaw.org
- Domestic violence in California: Resources for survivors, advocates, and allies – Blue Shield of California Foundation
- Getting Help – California Courts
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- Resources – National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
- Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)
- File a Police Report in Los Angeles (LAPD)
- California Penal Code 13700(b): “Domestic violence” means abuse committed against an adult or a minor who is a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or person with whom the suspect has had a child or is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship. For purposes of this subdivision, “cohabitant” means two unrelated adult persons living together for a substantial period of time, resulting in some permanency of relationship. Factors that may determine whether persons are cohabiting include, but are not limited to, (1) sexual relations between the parties while sharing the same living quarters, (2) sharing of income or expenses, (3) joint use or ownership of property, (4) whether the parties hold themselves out as spouses, (5) the continuity of the relationship, and (6) the length of the relationship. See also PC 13730. See, for example, People v. Cabrera (Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, 2007) 152 Cal. App. 4th 695; People v. James (Court of Appeal of California, Fifth Appellate District, 2010) 191 Cal. App. 4th 478; People v. Gobert (.
- Penal Code 13700(a) “Abuse” means intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury, or placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to himself or herself, or another. See also People v. Hoover (Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two, 2000)
- California Family Code 297.5 (a) “Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.”
- California Penal Code 13700(b), endnote 1.
- Family Code 6211(e).
- Family Code 6211(f).
- Penal Code 17(b) PC.
- Penal Code 273a(a). See also People v. Rodriquez (
- Penal Code 1203.097(5). See also Welfare and Institutions Code 18304.
- Penal Code 1203.097(6).
- Such crimes include PC 273.5 PC, corporal injury; PC 243(e)(1), domestic battery; PC 243.4, sexual battery; PC 422, criminal threats; PC 646.9, stalking; and PC 273.6, violation of a protective order.
- 18 USC 922(g).
- See, for example, California Code of Civil Procedure 527.6 CCP. See also People v. Jungers (Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, 2005) 127 Cal. App. 4th 698.
- California Penal Code section 273.6 PC.
- Immigration & Nationality Act (“INA”) 237(a)(2)(A)(I), codified at 8 USC 1227 (a)(2)(A)(I).
- INA 212 (a)(2)(A)(i)(I), 8 USC 1182 (a)(2)(A)(i)(I).