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What Constitutes a Felony Domestic Violence Charge

What Constitutes a Felony Domestic Violence Charge

The overarching umbrella of “domestic violence” crimes include both misdemeanor and felony crimes. Many times, a domestic violence arrest can ultimately be charged as a felony due to the injury of the victim. There are not always separate penal code sections for “felony domestic violence” and “misdemeanor domestic violence.” 

California Penal Code 13700

California Penal Code 13700 defines the essential terms relating to all domestic violence charges. These terms are used when deciding what criminal charges to file against a person arrested on a domestic violence crime. 

Under CA Penal Code 13700, “domestic violence” is defined as abuse committed against an adult or a minor who is a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or person with whom the suspect has had a child or is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship. 

A “cohabitant” is an unrelated adult person living with another for a substantial period of time, resulting in some permanency of relationship. Factors that may determine whether persons are cohabiting include:

  • A sexual relationship between the parties 
  • Sharing of income or expenses 
  • Joint ownership of property 
  • Whether the parties hold themselves out as spouses 
  • Whether the parties share a child 
  • The length of the relationship 

Under CA Penal Code 13700, “abuse” is defined as intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury, or placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to himself or herself, or another.

Domestic Violence as a “Wobbler” Crime 

As stated above, many domestic violence arrests can ultimately be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony. 

A “wobbler” crime is one that can be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on certain circumstances and factors. Some of these factors include: 

  • Circumstances around the offense 
  • The injuries to the victim 
  • The defendant’s prior criminal history, if any 
  • If children were present at the time of the incident
  • If a weapon was used 

Crimes that Don’t Fit the CA P.C. 13700 Definition but are Still “Domestic Violence” 

However, like a lot of crimes, the definitions listed under CA Penal Code 13700 are not exhaustive. There are many crimes that fall under the domestic violence umbrella that aren’t necessarily in those definitions. 

For example, elder abuse is a felony crime that falls within the domestic violence category. This can be an adult child abusing their elderly parent or grandparent. This crime is a felony and can still fall within the larger domestic violence category. 

The same can be said for child abuse crimes. These crimes are crimes against children that may or may not be your own. Think about a nanny abusing a child. The child victim is not the nanny’s child, but this crime is a felony and can still fall within the larger domestic violence category. 

Penalty Differences Between Felony and Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Crimes

The biggest difference between a felony and misdemeanor penalty is the amount of time that the defendant will serve in jail or prison. 

In most cases, misdemeanor convictions only require a few days in a county jail; a maximum of 30 days. In contrast, a felony conviction will likely require a minimum of one year, and it will be served in a state prison. 

Other punishments include domestic violence counseling, anger management counseling, child abuse counseling, loss of custody rights, loss of gun ownership rights, and restitution owed to the victim for injuries or property damage. 

Of course, depending on the severity of the crime, the consequences become much harsher and numberable. It is common for felony convictions to include all of the above penalties (when applicable); unlike in a misdemeanor conviction when maybe only one or two penalties are sentenced.

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