If you cause physical harm to your spouse or cohabitant through violence, you commit the crime of inflicting corporal injury on a spouse. California law is strict when it comes to domestic violence offenders. Even causing a minor, visible injury to your spouse or partner can lead to charges under California PC 273.5.

A conviction for this crime can have severe and long-lasting consequences, including jail time, fines, and a criminal record. If you or a loved one is facing charges under this law, seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

At the Restraining Order Law Firm, we understand the potential impact of a PC 273.5 conviction and will work diligently to build a strong defense to fight your charges. Our law firm is dedicated to providing legal guidance and representation to clients facing criminal charges in Los Angeles, California.

The Meaning of Causing "Corporal Injury to a Spouse" under California Law

Per California PC 273.5, corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant happens when you willfully inflict bodily harm on your current or former spouse, resulting in a traumatic condition. The laws require that the injury cause a visible bodily injury, such as a wound, bruise, or any other physical injury that causes pain or impairment.

One crime element, "spouse," refers to a legally married partner, including a same-sex spouse. However, PC 273.5 also covers current or former cohabitants in a domestic relationship, individuals who have a child together, or individuals who are or were engaged in a dating relationship.

Another element the prosecutor must show the judge is that you “willfully” inflicted an injury on the plaintiff. "Wilful" means that you intend to cause harm or injury to the victim. The injury doesn't need to be severe or permanent, but it must be more than minor or insignificant.

Furthermore, the injury must be visible, meaning it can be observed through physical examination or other means such as photographs. A visible bodily injury can include bruises, cuts, broken bones, or any other physical harm that causes pain or impairs the victim's well-being.

The Meaning of Legal Terms Involved in PC 273.5 Cases

Below are terms and concepts you should understand when handling your Penal Code 273.5 case:

What "Willfully" Means

As mentioned above, "willfully" means that you intentionally and purposefully inflicted an injury on your spouse. It requires a voluntary and conscious decision to engage in the behavior that caused the injury.

For example, when arguing about marital property, Mark, in a fit of anger, intentionally punches Sarah in the face, causing visible injuries. If he faces charges, his acts could be considered willful. This is because Mark made a conscious decision to inflict harm on Sarah.

"Traumatic condition"

The term "traumatic condition" refers to the physical state resulting from the act of corporal injury. It signifies that the victim has suffered either minor or serious harm. A traumatic condition is characterized by visible bodily injuries that cause pain or impairment of bodily functions. Traumatic conditions include:

  • Visible injuries from suffocation or strangulation.
  • A bruise.
  • A sprain.
  • Hemorrhage.
  • A concussion.
  • A broken bone.

For example, John and Lisa are married. One night, Lisa shouts at John, who picks up a baseball bat and repeatedly strikes Lisa. Lisa sustained multiple bruises and a fractured bone. If John faces charges, the judge could consider this traumatic condition because it is visible, causes pain, and impairs her normal bodily functions.

Direct Physical Force Must have Caused the Traumatic Condition

In the context of PC 273.5 violations, the traumatic condition must be the direct result of physical force applied by the perpetrator. This means that the injury must stem directly from your actions.

For example, Alex and Emily, ex-spouses, engage in a heated argument when Emily visits Alex’s house to pick up her items. The duo begins pushing each other, and Emily pushes Alex against the wall, causing him to hit his head and suffer a concussion. The concussion, a traumatic condition, is directly linked to the physical force Emily exerted.

An "Intimate Partner"

The term "intimate partner" has a broad legal definition regarding "Corporal Injury on a Spouse." It encompasses various types of relationships beyond just spouses, including:

  • Current or former intimate partners.
  • Cohabitants in a domestic relationship.
  • Individuals who have a child together.
  • Individuals who are or were engaged in a dating relationship.

The Difference Between Domestic Violence And Corporal Injury

When handling legal matters involving domestic violence, you should understand the distinction between corporal injury and domestic violence. Under California law, corporal injury and domestic violence are separate but closely related concepts. While they often overlap, they have distinct legal definitions and implications.

As discussed earlier, corporal injury refers to causing a traumatic condition or physical injury to an intimate partner. It focuses on the physical harm inflicted on an intimate partner, regardless of the relationship between the individuals involved. The focus is on the direct physical force leading to a traumatic condition.

On the other hand, domestic violence is a broader term encompassing various abusive behaviors within intimate relationships. It includes not only physical abuse but also emotional, sexual, and psychological abuse. Domestic violence can involve threats, intimidation, coercion, stalking, and other harmful conduct that may not necessarily result in physical injury.

The key distinction lies in the scope and nature of the abusive behavior. While corporal injury specifically refers to physical harm, domestic violence encompasses a wider range of abusive actions that may or may not involve physical injury.

Possible Sentencing, Punishment, and Penalties for PC 273.5 Violations

Penal Code 273.5 violations are considered wobbler offenses in California. This means that prosecutors have the discretion to charge the offense as a misdemeanor or felony. Factors that determine the prosecutors’ choice can include the following:

  1. Aggravating factors - Certain aggravating factors can influence the prosecutor's decision to charge the offense as a felony. These may include:
    • The presence of other crimes committed during the incident.
    • The age or vulnerability of the victim.
    • Any history of restraining orders or protective orders involving the parties.
  2. Use of Weapons or Dangerous Instruments - If you used a weapon or any dangerous instrument during the commission of the offense, it increases the likelihood of felony charges.
  3. Prior Criminal Record - If you have faced convictions for similar offenses or have a history of domestic violence, prosecutors are more inclined to pursue felony charges. Repeat offenses indicate a pattern of behavior and may warrant more severe penalties.
  4. The severity of the Injury - If minor injuries, such as bruises or scratches, the prosecutor may lean towards a misdemeanor charge. However, if the injuries are more severe, such as broken bones or significant bodily harm, the likelihood of a felony charge increases.

Generally, a prosecutor will charge a defendant with a felony if the injuries are severe, the defendant has a prior record of domestic violence, or aggravating circumstances are involved. However, a misdemeanor charge may be more likely if the injuries are relatively minor and there are no significant aggravating factors.

Penalties for Misdemeanor Charges

For a PC 273.5 violation charged as a misdemeanor, the potential penalties include the following:

  • A maximum jail sentence of one year.
  • A maximum fine of $6,000.

Felony Penalties

For a PC 273.5 violation charged as a felony, the potential penalties can include the following:

  • A prison term, which ranges from two to four years.
  • Not more than $6,000 in fines.

Felony Penalties with a Criminal History

Even if you have faced a conviction before for a domestic violence offense, the prosecution could charge you with a misdemeanor or felony. However, having prior convictions within the last seven years can increase the penalties for a felony PC 273.5 violation.

These convictions could include the following:

  • Battery on a spouse, Penal Code 243(e).
  • Sexual battery, Penal Code 243.4.
  • Assault with a deadly weapon, Penal Code 245.
  • Assault with a stun gun, Penal Code 244.5.
  • ​​Assault/battery with a caustic chemical Penal Code 244.
  • Assault/battery resulting in serious bodily injury, Penal Code 243(d).
  • Corporal injury on a spouse, Penal Code 273.5.

A Prior Conviction for Battery on an Intimate Partner

A prior felony conviction for battery on a spouse under Penal Code 243(e) can increase your penalties to:

  • Imprisonment for two, three, or four years.
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000.

A Prior Conviction for Other Assault & Battery or Corporal Injury

Having a prior felony conviction for other assault and battery or corporal injury offenses can also have the judge increase your penalties to:

  • A Two, four, or five-year prison sentence.
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000.

Corporal Injury Causing "Great Bodily Injury" — Sentence Enhancement

Penal Code 12022.7 is a sentence enhancement that applies to cases where the offense of corporal injury to a spouse (PC 273.5) involves "great bodily injury." Under PC 12022.7, "great bodily injury" is a significant physical injury greater than minor or moderate harm. A sentence enhancement can add a prison sentence of three, four, or five years to be served consecutively to the sentence for the underlying felony.

Misdemeanor or Felony Probation

In California, a judge may suspend the sentence for a conviction and instead place the defendant on probation. In California, there are two types of probation. The judge imposes these depending on whether the crime was a misdemeanor or felony:

  • Summary probation (for misdemeanors) - Probation for misdemeanors typically lasts one to three years.
  • Formal probation (for felonies) - Probation for felonies typically lasts three to five years. It could also include a jail sentence not exceeding one year.

Probation Conditions

When placed on probation, the court may impose certain conditions you must comply with. These conditions may include:

  • Regular meetings with a probation officer.
  • Fines.
  • Catering to a battered women's shelter for not exceeding $5,000.
  • Completing a 52-week domestic violence education.
  • Restraining orders or no-contact orders.
  • Completion of a batterer's treatment program.
  • Payment of restitution to the victim to compensate them for expenses such as counseling.
  • Not committing other crimes.
  • Community service.
  • Following the terms of a restraining order or protective order, which may prohibit contact with the victim for up to ten years.
  • A jail term not exceeding:
    • Fifteen days if you have been convicted within the past seven years for an assault or domestic violence crime.
    • Sixty days if you have more than two of such priors.
  • Prohibition on possessing firearms or weapons.
  • Mandatory drug or alcohol testing at random.
  • Restriction on travel or association.

Consequences of Violating Probation

If you violate the conditions of your probation, the court can hold a probation violation hearing. At the hearing, the prosecution must present evidence of the alleged violation, and you have the right to present a defense.

The judge will consider the evidence and determine whether you violated the terms of your probation. If the judge finds you in violation, they will decide on the appropriate consequences. After you are found guilty of a probation violation, the judge can:

  • Issue a warning or modify the terms of probation.
  • Imposing additional/ stricter conditions or counseling.
  • Extend the duration of your probation.
  • Revoke probation and impose a maximum jail or prison sentence.

Immigration Consequences

A violation of Penal Code 273.5 can potentially have immigration consequences. A crime is considered deportable if it falls under one of the grounds listed in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), such as crimes involving moral turpitude, aggravated felonies, or certain domestic violence offenses.

Corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant can be considered a deportable crime, which could lead to removal (deportation) proceedings against a non-citizen. As an inadmissible crime, possible consequences include being denied entry into the United States or having difficulty obtaining immigration benefits, such as visas or lawful permanent residency.

Great Bodily Injury Is A “Strike” Offense

If you violate PC 273.5 and cause “great bodily injury” to the complainant, it is a “strike” under California’s “Three Strikes” law. In California, a "strike offense" refers to certain serious or violent crimes subject to enhanced penalties under the state's Three Strikes Law. The Three Strikes Law mandates increased sentences for individuals with prior convictions for serious or violent offenses.

Under the Three Strikes Law, if the court convicts you of a new felony offense classified as a strike offense and you have one or more prior strike convictions, you face enhanced sentencing consequences. If you have two prior convictions for serious or violent felonies, you could be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison if you are convicted of a subsequent felony.

How To Defend Against PC 273.5 Violation Charges

There are many ways that a lawyer can fight your charges and have them dropped or reduced. Each case is unique, and specific legal advice should be sought from a qualified attorney. Below are some common defense strategies that may be used in PC 273.5 cases:

 Self-Defense or the Defense of Others

You can use this legal defense when you reasonably believe that you or another person is in immediate danger of being harmed or unlawfully touched. Self-defense allows you to use reasonable force to protect yourself or others from harm.

In the context of PC 273.5, you could invoke the defense if you caused corporal injury to a spouse or intimate partner but could demonstrate that it was done in self-defense or the defense of others.

Lack of Willfulness

The defense of “lack of willfulness” asserts that the accused did not intend to cause corporal injury to their spouse or intimate partner. To prove a lack of willfulness, your defense attorney may argue that the injury was accidental, unintentional, or resulted from a lawful act without malicious intent.

False Accusation

False accusation is a potential defense in PC 273.5 cases. The defense asserts that the alleged victim has made untrue or fabricated claims of corporal injury against the accused. The complainant could make false allegations by seeking vengeance, jealousy, and anger. Your defense may present evidence and arguments to challenge the credibility and truthfulness of the accuser's statements through:

  • Seeking a legal order to have the plaintiff’s emails, text messages, and social media accounts.
  • Talking to the accuser, their relatives, friends, colleagues, and people they know online.
  • Look into the accuser's and witnesses' pasts to see if anything is relevant to the case.

What Happens If the Plaintiff Refuses to Testify?

Sometimes, the plaintiff decides not to testify or recant their allegations in a domestic violence case. However, this does not imply that the prosecution will drop your charges. Three common scenarios can happen in this situation, including:

The Plaintiff Wants To "Drop The Charges

In a PC 273.5 case, the decision to drop charges rests with the prosecutor, not the accuser. Once charges have been filed, it is up to the prosecutor to determine whether to proceed with the case or dismiss the charges.

The prosecutor may consider the accuser's request to drop the charges, but it does not guarantee automatic dismissal. Before deciding, the prosecutor will consider other factors, such as the available evidence, the seriousness of the alleged offense, and any potential public safety concerns.

The Complainant Refuses To Testify In Court

The accuser's testimony is often crucial in establishing the elements of the offense and proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Without the accuser's testimony, the prosecution's case may weaken. However, the prosecution may still proceed with the case if they have other evidence, such as medical reports, photographs, or witness testimonies, supporting their case. They may also try to introduce the accuser's prior statements to law enforcement or during the initial investigation as evidence.

The Victim Cannot Attend the Court Proceedings

Without the accuser's presence, it may be challenging to establish the elements of the offense and prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. In such situations, the prosecution may seek alternative ways to introduce the accuser's prior statements or testimony through legal procedures such as hearsay exceptions or statements made during the preliminary hearing. However, the defense may challenge the admissibility of such evidence.

Find a Restraining Order Law Firm Near Me

If you are accused of causing physical harm to your spouse, you should seek help from a skilled domestic violence lawyer as soon as possible to increase your chances of avoiding severe penalties. If you're facing charges in Los Angeles, CA, we can provide expert advice and representation at the Restraining Order Law Firm. We will carefully review the details of your case and offer guidance on the best defense strategy.

Our attorneys specialize in domestic violence cases and have many years of experience. We will vigorously defend your rights and explore options to dismiss your case or reduce the charges to a lesser offense, such as spousal battery. Call us at 424-600-7691 to discuss your situation and explore potential defenses that can lead to a favorable outcome for your case.