How Is "Corporal Injury on an Intimate Partner" Defined in California?
For the prosecution to gain a conviction on the charge of corporal injury on an intimate partner, they must prove beyond all reasonable doubt all the elements of the crime as defined in California Penal Code Section 273.5.
The elements of the crime include the following:
- The defendant inflicted a bodily injury on another person.
- The defendant acted "willfully" in what he/she did.
- The injury led to a "traumatic condition."
- The victim was a current or former "intimate partner."
Note that "willfully" does not mean you intended to break the law or intended to hurt the other person. It merely means that the action itself was intentional (not accidental.)
It also must have been an action likely to result in physical injury, that any reasonable person would know endangered the other person. And the action must have been unlawful as well.
PC 273.5 has nothing to do with "psychological injuries" but only with bodily, physical injuries.
What is a "traumatic condition" in the language of the statute? The law uses this term "traumatic" much more broadly than does "common talk." Virtually any injury resulting from the use of physical force can qualify, even if that injury is relatively minor. It could be a serious bone fracture or marks from an attempted strangulation, or it could be a small bruise or sprain, or a black eye.
The traumatic condition must be proved to be the result of the injury inflicted. It must be the direct/substantial cause or the natural/probable result of the action of the perpetrator. It must also be a condition that would not have occurred otherwise.
Finally, to count as a domestic violence crime and a violation of PC 273.5, it must have been committed against an "intimate partner." This term includes spouses, fiancees, cohabitants, the parent of your child, and those you are dating. It also includes anyone with whom you formerly had such a relationship. Also note that one can, legally at least, have multiple intimate partners simultaneously.
PC 273.5 (corporal injury of an intimate partner) can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of the case, the severity of the injury involved, and the defendant's past criminal history.
Charged as a misdemeanor, PC 273.5 is punishable by:
- Up to 12 months if jail time.
- Summary probation.
- A fine of up to $6,000.
- Victim restitution.
As a felony, corporal injury is punishable by:
- From 2 to 4 years in prison.
- Formal probation.
- A fine of up to $6,000.
- Victim restitution.
Often, a restraining/protective order that disallows any contact with the victim for as long as 10 years is also a part of a felony conviction for PC 273.5.
The above listed penalties increase in severity under certain circumstances. First, if it is a repeat offense or if you have a different domestic violence or assault and/or battery crime on your record, you face:
- A fine of up to $10,000 instead of just $6,000. (The prior must be within 7 years for these enhancements to count.)
- A prison sentence of up to 5 years instead of 4.
Also, if "great bodily injury" was inflicted, you can be sentenced to an additional 3 to 5 years in state prison.
Obviously, with penalties as severe as these looming, you will want the benefit of the strongest possible defense and of the most experienced defense attorney. At Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys, we understand the gravity of a PC 273.5 charge and know how to maximize your chances of a favorable outcome.
Other Possible Consequences of a PC 273.5 Conviction
When you are convicted of corporal injury of an intimate partner, you will likely be assigned to probation, in place of jail/prison time or following it. It could also be a part of the conditions of a suspended sentence, so that keeping all of your probation terms will be necessary to avoid re-arrest and incarceration.
PC 273.5 probation will include such elements as these:
- Your probation will only begin after completing at least 15 days in jail if you have a relevant prior on your record.
- You must pay as much as $5,000 to a state-approved "battered woman's shelter."
- You must attend a state-approved "batterer's treatment program."
- You must make full victim restitution, including medical and counseling expenses.
- You must not commit any new crimes while on probation.
- You must stay in contact with your probation officer and inform him/her of any chances of address or employment.
- You cannot violate any restraining order by trying to make contact with the victim.
Also note that a conviction for willful corporal injury of an intimate partner will be a strike under our state's Three Strikes Law if great bodily injury was inflicted. That means that a future felony conviction could lead to a doubled jail or prison sentence (for a 2nd strike) or 25 years to life in state prison (for a 3rd strike.)
Finally, there may also be immigration consequences to non-citizens convicted of PC 273.5. As it is considered a crime of "moral turptitude," it can lead to being barred from future immigration benefits or even result in deportation (even of legal residents.)
Common Defense Strategies
We at Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys understand how to show any or all of the elements of the crime of corporal injury of an intimate partner to be false or unproveable. We can anticipate the next move of the prosecution and counter it effectively.
We can build a positive defense in your favor through solid evidence and convincing testimony, as well as challenge the evidence an argument of the opposing side.
We always fight first and foremost for a dismissal or acquittal, using such defense strategies as listed just below. But we also have well seasoned negotiating skills and know how and when to work for a favorable plea deal to reduce the charge and/or sentence.
- Lack of Intent
To be convicted of PC 273.5, it must be shown that your actions that led to an injury of the plaintiff were "willful," meaning "intentional." In the midst of an intense argument or even in the ordinary course of your daily life, it is possible for an accident to happen that results in an injury. That is not domestic violence. But also realize that reckless disregard for the safety of others that results in injury will still expose you to a conviction for corporal injury of an intimate partner. An accident, however, is not a crime.
- Defense of Self or Others
One of the most commonly used defenses against PC 273.5 and other domestic violence charges is self-defense. Occasionally, a defense of others argument will be used, and will follow the same principles as self-defense but simply applied to the other person you were trying to defend.
In order for a self-defense argument to hold, you must have genuinely believed (true or not) that you were in imminent danger of physical injury from the other person. That belief must have been "reasonable" under the circumstances. And you must have used only so much force as was needed to eliminate the danger at hand.
- False Charges
It is exceedingly common for false, fabricated, or highly exaggerated charges of all manner of domestic violence crimes, including of PC 273.5, to be filed. Often, a desire for revenge, jealousy over someone "moving on" to a new relationship, or a simple misunderstanding can lead to an accusation. It is also common for false charges to be raised during a divorce or child custody case in order to gain full and sole custody of a child.
At Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys, we know how to uncover the truth when false accusations are cast at you. We are skilled at cross-examining witnesses and showing where their stories lack sufficient evidence.
About "Reluctant Witnesses"
In PC 273.5 and other domestic violence cases, it is relatively common for witnesses (especially the plaintiff) to become "reluctant" and seek to avoid testifying.
The accuser may suddenly recant his/her story or may simply indicate he/she does not wish to press charges anymore or appear in court.
This does NOT mean you automatically win your case. Understand that the state/prosecution has the power to subpoena witnesses to testify in court and to carry on the case even without the consent of the original accuser.
Here are 3 common scenarios involving reluctant witnesses:
- Plaintiff Wants to Drop the Charges
Suddenly, the accuser may decide he/she no longer wants to press any charges on the matter. But the prosecutor will suspect witness intimidation or emotional manipulation, and will want to proceed regardless of the accuser's stated desired, if the prosecutor feels he has a strong enough case.
But even if the prosecution can continue the case, his case will likely be weaker without the plaintiff's cooperation. This often leads to a reduced charge or sentence.
- The Plaintiff Refuses to Testify
Sometimes, there is no declaration of not pressing charges by the accuser, but nonetheless, he/she refuses to appear in court, the prosecutor will most likely issue a subpoena to force the victim to testify.
If the alleged victim refuses to honor the subpoena, the presiding judge can issue a "bench warrant" to arrest him/her and physically force him/her to appear in court.
But of course, there is not way anyone can force a victim to say specific things in the witness booth, or even to speak at all.
- The Accuser Cannot Be Brought to Court
A third scenario is when the accuser has fled justice, is in hiding, or is in another state outside of California police jurisdiction. If there is no way to bring the alleged victim to court, even by subpoena power, then the prosecutor likely cannot continue the case.
That is because hearsay evidence is not allowed, it must be direct from an actual witness. And the accused must have the opportunity to confront and cross-examine (via his/her lawyer) the person accusing him/her in court. It will not do to simply bring in statements made out of court by the accuser.
Two Related Charges
Finally, we should mention two related charges that often come up in PC 273.5 cases:
- Domestic Battery (PC 243.e1): This is any unlawful touching of an intimate partner in a harmful or offensive way (but without injury). It is possible to get a reduction to this charge when the prosecution's case is weak.
- Disturbing the Peace (PC 415): Sometimes, a PC 273.5 charge can be reduced even further, to a PC 415 (disturbing the peace) charge. This is a misdemeanor and a relatively minor offense.
Contact Us Today For Help
At Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys, we possess the hard-earned legal knowledge and experience it takes to tackle any California corporal injury defense case.
We have a long track record of success in these types of cases that speaks for itself, and we will know how to build you the strongest possible defense.
For a free consultation on the details of your case, contact us 24/7/365 at (562) 308-7807. Or, see us in-person at our office located in Long Beach, CA.