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Domestic violence is any act of violence against any romantic partner, family member of member of the same household. Domestic violence can be charged against former spouses or ex-partners and it’s a wobbler which means it can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor depending on how serious the case.

Most domestic violence is between romantic partners such as spouses, or boyfriends and girlfriends, but child abuse and child endangerment also falls under the domestic violence category.

Typical domestic violence crimes and enhancements include:

  • Penal Code section 243(e)(1) – battery without “traumatic condition” – misdemeanor
  • Penal Code section 273.5 – battery with “traumatic condition” –wobbler
    • A “traumatic condition” is any wound, whether internal or external, whether serious or minor.
  • Penal Code section 422 – deadly threats – wobbler
  • Penal Code sections 236-237 – false imprisonment – wobbler
  • Penal Code section 417 – brandishing a weapon or firearm –wobbler
  • Penal Code section 136.1 — witness intimidation — wobbler
  • Penal Code section 591 — maliciously destroying a phone line — wobbler
  • Penal Code section 591.5 — destroying / damaging cell phone while calling police — misdemeanor
  • Penal Code section 273.6 – violation of a domestic violence restraining order – wobbler
  • Penal Code section 12022.7(e) — great bodily injury enhancement

Domestic Violence Process

A typical domestic violence case starts with a 911 call. Once the police arrive, someone will be arrested. Most law enforcement agencies take domestic crimes very seriously and many police officers are trained to always arrest someone on a domestic violence call. Usually the person who calls 911 and/or the person who is injured is perceived as the victim. Although most domestic violence defendants are men, women can be arrested for domestic violence as well.

When a person is arrested, the police will try to force the victim to accept a temporary restraining order. The temporary restraining order lasts five days and prevents the defendant from having any contact with the victim. Restraining orders can complicate cases and play havoc on relationships, especially couples who share the same home or who have children together. You need an attorney who understands how restraining orders work and what can be done to circumvent them.

After a person is arrested for domestic violence, the police prepare a police report that is forwarded to the City Attorney’s office or District Attorney’s office. A prosecutor will review the police report to determine whether to file charges and what charges to file. Misdemeanor domestic violence is usually assigned to the general misdemeanor unit where a misdemeanor prosecutor handles the case. Felony domestic violence cases, however, will be assigned to a special unit knowns as the Domestic Violence Unit or Family Protection Unit. Almost all District Attorney offices have special domestic violence units that prosecute only felony domestic violence cases. One of the best steps in defending domestic violence cases is contacting the prosecutor’s office before charges are filed. In many cases, our attorneys can convince the prosecutor’s office to file misdemeanor charges after a felony arrest and sometimes, we can convince the prosecutors to not file charges at all.

Once a defendant is brought to court, the District Attorney’s office will try to extend the restraining order so that it lasts for the duration of the case, and even longer if the defendant pleads guilty.

Domestic Violence is Serious

Domestic violence is treated seriously by the District Attorney’s Office. Most domestic violence cases are prosecuted even if the victim doesn’t want to press charges. Having been assigned to the Domestic Violence unit as a Deputy District Attorney, Fred Thiagarajah has special insight into why and how domestic violence cases are prosecuted, and uses that specialized knowledge to make sure his clients get the best outcomes.

In true cases of domestic violence, there is a cycle of violence. That means after the initial violence, the abuser starts to be overly nice to the victim and promises that the domestic violence will not happen again. The victim will not want to press charges for a combination of factors — they believe their domestic violence abuser, they love their abuser, they fear their abuser, they’re financially dependent on their domestic violence abuser, they don’t want to split apart the family, etc. However, the cycle of violence usually repeats itself and each time the violence gets worse. In the worst domestic violence cases, the abuser sometimes kills the victim.

Since most real domestic violence victims will lie about what happened, most District Attorney offices will press charges regardless of what the victim wants because they know that the cycle of violence will continue. The problem, though, is that there are several domestic violence cases where the so-called “victim” lies or exaggerates to the police about what happened, and then tells the truth later on. The District Attorney’s office can’t tell the difference between true domestic violence victims and fake domestic violence victims, and so they treat everyone like real domestic violence victims. This makes it very difficult for an innocent person, who has been wrongfully accused of domestic violence, to clear their name.

Domestic Violence Penalties

Sentencing for domestic violence charges vary depending on the charges. Misdemeanor domestic violence convictions carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail, but felony charges can lead to several years in prison. Some domestic violence crimes are also considered strikes. For example, a felony conviction for Penal Code section 422 is always a strike and a felony conviction for Penal Code section 136.1 can be a strike depending on the circumstances. A conviction for Penal Code section 273.5(a) with a Great Bodily Injury (GBI) enhancement attached is also a strike. However, even if there is no GBI enhancement, a conviction for Penal Code section 273.5 can still lead to state prison because it is not subject to the provisions of Penal Code section 1170(h).

Other Consequences

Not only can a domestic violence conviction lead to criminal penalties, but it can also have drastic employment, licensing and immigration consequences. A crime of domestic violence is considered a crime of moral turpitude. Having a domestic violence conviction can prevent a person from finding a job or lead to a person being fired from their current job. Furthermore, many professions that require licensing from a state board, such as doctors, pharmacists, nurses, lawyers, accountants, contractors, teachers, real estate agents and stock brokers, all require background checks. A professional who has a domestic violence conviction on their record risks losing their professional license, or never acquiring it in the first place. Perhaps the most severe impact of a domestic violence conviction involves immigration consequences. Non-citizens who are permanent residents, with green cards, or temporary visitors, with a visa, can be denied admission, denied naturalization or even deported, with a domestic violence conviction on their record. In fact, domestic violence convictions are considered one of the worst convictions for immigration consequences.

The Right Lawyers

Choosing the right criminal defense lawyer will be the most important decision someone can make when facing a domestic violence charge. Many people who face domestic violence charges are good people who made a mistake or exercised poor judgment. There are also some people who have been wrongfully accused of domestic violence, based on a misunderstanding or false evidence. You need an attorney who will listen to your side of the story carefully, who will evaluate the evidence thoroughly, who will negotiate with the judge and the District Attorney’s office skillfully, and who will fight in trial aggressively. You need an attorney from Right Choice Law.

Our experience as former prosecutors gives us an advantage in negotiating cases with our former colleagues and and gives us the trial experience necessary to get the best results for our clients. For an example of our work, please see our case results and read our client testimonials.

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  • “Thank you for all your effort, kindness and knowledge of the law. Thank you for having represented me and for having made this process so easy and painless. Thank you for making the rest of my life a lot more peaceful. Keep up with the good work.”

    - Former Client
  • “I took the court program upon the recommendation of Fred. He helped not only with court but helped me realize I should take this program if I really wanted to live a better life. Today, life is good. Thanks Fred”

    - V.P.
  • “Some attorneys that I spoke to don't even really take the time to truly understand what you have going on. They only care about the facts (which I get), but not the person dealing with the difficult problem. You don't get that feeling with Fred.”

    - Kenny
  • “Fred made it clear to the judge that I was falsely accused. He saved my professional career. I am SO thankful that I was represented by Fred. I highly recommend him.”

    - Former Client
  • “In the end, all charges were dismissed against me. If you want the best criminal defense attorney on your side, Fred Thiagarajah is not the just the Right Choice, he's the only choice.”

    - Former Client
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