Definition of a “Traumatic Condition” in a California Domestic Violence Case

A “traumatic condition” in a California domestic violence case is defined as any wound or other bodily injury caused by the direct application of physical force. It does not need to be serious - a minor wound or injury will suffice.

The term mainly arises in domestic violence cases involving Penal Code 273.5, the California statute on corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant. This statute defines “traumatic condition” as:

“a condition of the body, such as a wound, or external or internal injury, including, but not limited to, injury as a result of strangulation or suffocation, whether of a minor or serious nature, caused by a physical force. For purposes of this section, “strangulation” and “suffocation” include impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of a person by applying pressure on the throat or neck.”

Examples of these injuries include:

  • a broken bone,
  • a concussion, and
  • internal bleeding.

Please note that PC 273.5 makes it a crime for a person to willfully inflict corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant.

A violation of this code section is a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as either a California misdemeanor or a felony.

Misdemeanor penalties may include:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $6,000.

Felony penalties may include:

  • imprisonment in the state prison for up to four years, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $6,000.

Please note that a “traumatic condition” is not the same as a “great bodily injury.” The two terms define two different injuries under California law. Significant or substantial injuries are considered great bodily injuries, while insignificant or even moderate injuries are not.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

domestic violence situation between a man and a woman

1. What is a “traumatic condition” in California domestic violence cases?

A “traumatic condition” is defined as any wound or other bodily injury caused by the direct application of physical force. It does not need to be serious - a minor wound or injury will suffice.1

The term mainly arises in domestic violence cases involving Penal Code 273.5, the California statute on corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant.

Some examples of injuries that are “traumatic conditions” are:

  • a broken bone,
  • a concussion,
  • internal bleeding,
  • a sprain,
  • a bruise, or
  • injuries arising from suffocation or strangulation.

Please note that California law states that the phrase “traumatic condition” does not include common terms. This means that in domestic violence cases involving allegations of these injuries, the court must provide jurors with specific instructions on what the phrase means.2

2. Must a traumatic condition be the result of direct physical force?

To prove a case under Penal Code 273.5 PC, the prosecutor must show that the traumatic condition in question was the result of the defendant's direct physical force.3

This typically occurs if:

  • the traumatic condition was a natural and probable result of the force,
  • the force was a direct and substantial cause of the traumatic condition, AND
  • the condition would not have happened without the force.4
man being punched

3. What is corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant per Penal Code 273.5?

California Penal Code 273.5 PC makes it a crime when a person does all of the following:

  1. he willfully inflicts a physical injury,
  2. he inflicts the injury on a current or former intimate partner, and
  3. his physical injury results in a traumatic condition.5

A person acts "willfully" when he does something intentionally. The person does not need to have intended to break the law.6

Under Penal Code PC 273.5, an “intimate partner” may include:

  • the defendant's spouse or former spouse,
  • the defendant's current or former registered domestic partner, or
  • the defendant's cohabitant or former cohabitant (live-in partner).

Examples of corporal injury include:

  • a man squeezes his ex-wife's arm hard enough to leave bruises.
  • a woman pushes her boyfriend into a glass cabinet, leaving him with cuts all over his body.
  • a man punches and kicks his live-in boyfriend, leaving the boyfriend with a broken rib.

4. What are the penalties for violating PC 273.5?

A violation of this code section is a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as either a California misdemeanor or a felony.

Misdemeanor penalties may include:

Felony penalties may include:

5. Is a traumatic condition the same as a “great bodily injury?”

A traumatic condition is not the same thing as a great bodily injury per California criminal law.

Causing someone great bodily harm isn't a crime in and of itself, but it is what's known as a sentencing enhancement.9

This means that if prosecutors convict a person of a criminal offense, and during the commission of the crime the defendant caused another person to suffer great bodily harm, then California Penal Code 12022.7 PC authorizes the judge to impose a lengthier prison sentence than he/she otherwise would have.

"Great bodily injury" (sometimes referred to as "GBI" or "great bodily harm") is a legal term that basically means what it says..."great" bodily injury.10 Significant or substantial injuries fall under this category. By contrast, insignificant or even moderate injuries do not.11

For the most part, what constitutes GBI is determined on a case-by-case basis. Prosecutors, judges, and/or juries consider factors that include (but are not limited to):

  • the severity of the injury,
  • the resulting pain, and/or
  • any required medical care.12

Were you accused of causing a traumatic condition in a California domestic violence case? Call us for help…

domestic violence attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Penal Code 273.5 PC, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.


Legal References:

  1. CALCRIM 840. See also California Penal Code 273.5d PC. That code section states: “traumatic condition” means a condition of the body, such as a wound, or external or internal injury, including, but not limited to, injury as a result of strangulation or suffocation, whether of a minor or serious nature, caused by a physical force. For purposes of this section, “strangulation” and “suffocation” include impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of a person by applying pressure on the throat or neck.

  2. People v. Burns (1948) 88 Cal. App. 2d 867.

  3. California Penal Code 273.5 PC. See also People v. Gutierrez (1985) 171 Cal.App.3d 944.

  4. CALCRIM 840.

  5. California Penal Code 273.5 PC.

  6. See same.

  7. See same.

  8. See same.

  9. California Penal Code 12022.7 PC.

  10. See same.

  11. California Jury Instructions - Criminal. CALJIC 17.20.

  12. People v. Cross (2008) 45 Cal.4th 58.

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