Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Fighting a Domestic Violence Case in Orange County, California

Stock image "borrowed" from Linkedin.com

The Orange County District Attorney's office takes allegations of domestic violence seriously.  You should, too.  If you're accused of domestic violence in Orange County, call us immediately to discuss your options.  Retaining a knowledgeable, local criminal defense attorney can help assure that your rights are protected as you navigate the criminal justice system.  

"Domestic Violence" is a broad term.  It applies generally to any crime that occurs between members of the same family, spouses, cohabitants (people who live together) and people who are in a dating relationship, or who have recently ended a romantic relationship with each other.  It can even apply to crimes that we don't typically think of as being "violent".   

Domestic violence cases are complicated and emotional by nature.  It's often difficult (or impossible) to identify the aggressor. Alcohol is almost always a factor. More often than not, the case is based on the word of one witness against the defendant, with little or no physical evidence.

There is a popular misconception that victims of domestic violence have the choice of either pressing charges or dismissing the case.  This is false.  The victim does not "press charges", the DA does.  Similarly, the victim cannot simply "dismiss the case" (since he or she did not file the charges in the first place).  Again, the decision regarding whether or not to dismiss a domestic violence case rests entirely with the DA.  It is very common for prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against a defendant even after the "victim" states that he or she fabricated the entire story.  

Battery Against a Spouse or Cohabitant 

The most common charge that we typically see filed in Orange County domestic violence cases is PC 242(e), popularly known as, "Battery against a spouse or cohabitant".  That title can be a little misleading because, as mentioned above, this code section can apply even if the parties are not technically married or living together, as long they are in a dating relationship or formerly dated each other.  

"Battery" is defined as, "unlawful use of force or violence".  This can include pushing, slapping, punching or any other offensive physical contact.  Battery can be accomplished even if no part of the defendant's body actually made contact with the victim's body. 

Violating PC 242(e) is a misdemeanor.  It carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.  Once the court includes all the mandatory fees, assessments and surcharges, that fine can quadruple.  

Anyone convicted of violating PC 242(e) in California is also required to complete a mandatory, one-year "batterer's treatment program".  The BTP is essentially anger management counseling for individuals who have committed violent crimes against family members.   

A conviction for PC 242(e) will make you ineligible to possess firearms under federal law.  It may have implications for professional licenses and security clearances.  As a crime of "moral tupitude", any domestic violence conviction will also have serious immigration consequences.  

Willful Infliction of Corporal Injury Upon Spouse or Cohabitant

Domestic violence that results in injury to the victim can be prosecuted under PC 273.5.  That code section is a "wobbler" under California law -- it can be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony at the discretion of the prosecutor.  If it is charged as a felony, the maximum penalty is 4 years in prison for a first offense, plus a $6,000 fine.  

Just like with PC 242(e), a conviction will include the mandatory, one-year counseling program and will make the defendant ineligible to possess firearms.  

False Imprisonment

False imprisonment is defined in PC 236 as, "the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another."  Depending on the circumstances, it may be punishable by up to 3 years in prison.

This offense is usually charged along with PC 242 or PC 273.5 when one party prevents another from leaving the room during an argument.  

Vandalism

Under PC 594, vandalism includes defacing, damaging or destroying property that belongs to someone else.  Courts have consistently ruled that a person is guilty of vandalism even when the defendant destroys his or her own community property.  In California, "community property" includes almost everything that is acquired by either partner during the time that they are married, regardless of who actually earned the money or purchased the item.

Here's a common situation:  A & B are married in California.  A is a lazy, worthless deadbeat.  B works hard every day to bring home food and money to support the family.  B purchases a TV for the house a week after they get married.  One day, B gets tired of subsidizing A's lethargic lifestyle and B smashes the TV (that B purchased with the money that B earned).  B is guilty of vandalism, because the TV was community property regardless of who actually earned the money and paid for it.

Dissuading a Witness 

Section 136.1 of the California Penal Code defines "intimidation of witnesses and victims". Preventing a witness from testifying in court or from reporting a crime to the police can be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of the case.  A violation can be punished by up to four years in prison.

Defenses to Domestic Violence Charges

As mentioned above, domestic violence cases are complicated by their nature.  People get emotional and they say things they don't mean.  Those statements get misinterpreted, misquoted, exaggerated, and included in police reports.  Overzealous prosecutors take those police reports and run with them.  By the time cooler heads eventually prevail, the train might have left the proverbial station.  Dad's in jail, he's been fired from his job, and the whole family is punished over an "incident" that may or may not have actually happened. Alleged victims are often reluctant to correct or retract their previous statements to police because they're afraid of being arrested for filing a false report.

An experienced, local criminal defense attorney can help put the pieces back together.  We will gather the facts, analyze the evidence, speak with the witnesses, and help you understand your options.  We will appear with you in court and negotiate with the DA to ensure that you aren't intimidated by the criminal justice system.  We will stand by your side to protect your rights and to help you achieve the best result possible for your case.

If you or a loved one has questions about domestic violence in or around Orange County, call us for a free attorney consultation.  (714) 505-2468.  Ask for John.  Thanks for reading.

Orange County Domestic Violence Lawyer