All domestic violence charges are serious. However, felonies can result in tougher penalties than misdemeanors, including higher fines and longer prison sentences. Additionally, due to the controversial “Three Strikes” sentencing law enacted in 1994, felony convictions create unique legal hazards for defendants in California. Despite major reforms to the law in 2012, each serious or violent felony conviction still counts as a “strike” against the offender – and once three strikes are accumulated, the defendant must be sentenced to 25 years to life. For these reasons, it’s important for defendants who have been charged with domestic violence crimes to understand when and why they can be prosecuted for felonies. A Ventura criminal defense lawyer of Bamieh & De Smeth explains when domestic violence is a felony in California, and discusses the consequences that can result from a conviction.

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Examples of Domestic Violence Crimes in CA

First, it’s important to understand that unlike DUI or manslaughter, which are specific criminal offenses, “domestic violence” (DV) is a name given to a broader group of crimes, similar to the way the phrase “white collar crimes” describes a broad collection of financial offenses. Though domestic violence (which is also called spousal abuse, domestic abuse, or intimate partner violence) is often associated with assault, there are actually numerous offenses that can take on a DV element if perpetrated against a cohabitant, close relative, spouse, girlfriend, or boyfriend, including former spouses and romantic partners, like an ex-wife or ex-husband. Depending on the circumstances, these crimes can include:

  • Aggravated Trespass – Cal. Penal Code § 601
  • Child Abuse – Cal. Penal Code § 273d
  • Child Endangerment – Cal. Penal Code 273a
  • Criminal Threats – Cal. Penal Code § 422
  • Domestic Battery – Cal. Penal Code § 243(e)(1)
  • Elder Abuse – Cal. Penal Code § 368
  • Rape – Cal. Penal Code § 261
  • Sexual Battery – Cal. Penal Code § 243.4
  • Simple Assault – Cal. Penal Code § 240
  • Spousal Rape – Cal. Penal Code § 262
  • Willful Infliction of Corporal Injury – Cal. Penal Code § 273.5

Some of these crimes are misdemeanors, while several are treated as felonies. Most, however, are “wobblers”: crimes that can be tried as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the circumstances. The next section explains which are which, and what the penalties can be if the defendant is convicted.

Looking at the defendant’s criminal history and other variables, a skilled defense attorney may be able to persuade the prosecutor that the defendant should be tried for a misdemeanor rather than a felony, which is one of the reasons it is so crucial to have an experienced assault defense attorney on your side if you have been accused of domestic or spousal abuse in California. This is especially true of defendants with prior felony convictions in light of California’s punitive Three Strikes sentencing law, which threatens repeat offenders with decades of incarceration or even a life prison sentence.

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When is Domestic Abuse a Felony, Misdemeanor, or Wobbler?

The following DV crimes are misdemeanors in California:

  • Domestic Battery
  • Simple Assault

In comparison, the following DV offenses are felonies:

  • Rape
  • Spousal Rape

Finally, the following offenses are wobblers – which, to reiterate, means crimes that can be treated as misdemeanors or felonies on a case-by-case basis:

  • Child Abuse
  • Child Endangerment
  • Criminal Threats
  • Elder Abuse
  • Sexual Battery
  • Willful Infliction of Corporal Injury

Unlike many other states, which often have fine and sentencing ranges for entire groups of crimes – for example, the same maximum fine for all misdemeanors of a certain “class” or “degree” – California’s criminal statutes create different fines and sentences specific to each offense. Penalties for the DV offenses listed above may include the following:

  • Misdemeanors
    • Aggravated Trespass – Up to 1 year, up to $2,000
    • Child Abuse – Up to 1 year, up to $6,000
    • Child Endangerment – Up to 6 months, up to $1,000
    • Criminal Threats –  Up to 1 year, up to $1,000
    • Domestic Battery – Up to 1 year, up to $2,000
    • Elder Abuse – Up to 1 year, up to $6,000
    • Sexual Battery – Up to 1 year, up to $2,000
    • Simple Assault – Up to 6 months, up to $1,000
    • Willful Infliction of Corporal Injury – Up to 1 year, up to $6,000
  • Felonies
    • Aggravated Trespass – 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years, up to $2,000
    • Child Abuse – 2, 4, or 6 years, up to $6,000
    • Child Endangerment – 2, 4, or 6 years, up to $10,000
    • Criminal Threats – Up to 3 years, up to $10,000
    • Elder Abuse – 2, 3, or 4 years, up to $10,000
    • Rape – 3, 6, or 8 years, up to $10,000
    • Sexual Battery – 2, 3, or 4 years, up to $10,000
    • Spousal Rape – 3, 6, or 8 years, up to $10,000
    • Willful Infliction of Corporal Injury – 2, 3, or 4 years, up to $6,000

Many of these sentences can be enhanced under certain circumstances. For example, the sentence for rape can be up to 13 years long if the victim was under the age of 14 at the time of the offense. Additionally, the defendant may be placed on probation and/or be required to pay restitution. Further, certain sex crimes will result in mandatory placement on the sex offender registry. It is in your best interests to contact a Ventura sex crimes attorney immediately if you have been charged with a DV sex offense.

Ventura Criminal Defense Attorneys for Spousal Abuse Charges

The Oxnard criminal attorneys of The Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC have more than 22 years of legal experience representing defendants accused of misdemeanor and felony DV offenses. We handle criminal cases throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, and are qualified to represent juveniles in addition to adult defendants. If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with domestic violence crimes in California, contact our law offices right away at (805) 643-5555 for a free and confidential legal consultation.