Last year, the California legislature amended Penal Code section 273.5, corporal injury on a spouse. The new changes expanded the definition of whom can be classified as a victim. Now included under the statute: former fiances and fiancees, current and former dating partners, mother or father of the defendant's child.
The changes have widened the scope of who can be accused of committing an act of domestic violence. The authors of the bill projected that it could increase convictions under the law by 10%. It is too early to tell, however, if there have been more criminal filings as a result of the change. Nevertheless, a domestic violence charge remains a serious crime.
Treating domestic violence differently than other violent crimes has been entrenched in California law since 1945. There is data, and tragic anecdotal stories, showing that victims of domestic violence can experience mental trauma for years, if not indefinitely unto death. Thus, there is a strong public interest in treating domestic violence crimes differently.
All people accused of committing a PC 273.5 act of domestic violence are not guilty. There have been cases of false accusations or self-defense.
To be convicted under the law, the People have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:
(1) willfully inflicted a physical injury on an intimate partner; and
(2) as a result, the act caused the victim to experience a traumatic condition.
We already discussed how the term "intimate partner" was expanded by AB 16. A "traumatic condition" is a visible injury. If both elements can be proven, an accused can face serious penalties.
PC 273.5 is a "wobbler," offense, meaning that it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. If a defendant is convicted of the misdemeanor, he or she faces a maximum of one-year (1) in jail, and a fine of $6,000. If a defendant is convicted of the felony, he or she faces a maximum four-year (4) prison sentence.
There also could be consequences related to a state license or a person's immigration status. One cannot forget that it also carries a social stigma. People accused of committing an act of domestic violence should consult with a criminal defense attorney. Changes in the law, possible defenses, and analysis of a particular case can be discussed.