Domestic Violence – Myths and Misinformation

January 5, 2009

In recent years, with a rash of tragic incidents and certain hi-profile cases, the consequences and penalties for domestic violence have steadily increased. Police and prosecutors have vigorously pursued and prosecuted such cases. As a result, there has also been misinformation about the nature and circumstance surrounding such a charge.

In California , domestic violence is not only defined as an incident between a husband and wife. California Penal Code Section 273.5, states that:

Any person who willfully inflicts upon a person who is his or her spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or he mother or father of his or her child, corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition, is guilty of a felony, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of up to six thousand dollars ($6,000) or by both that fine and imprisonment.

Depending on the nature and extent of the victim’s injuries, Domestic Violence may be charged as a felony or misdemeanor offense. In the case of a misdemeanor, one may face up to a year in county jail or prison, a fine of $2,000, or both, as well as fines and anger management programs.

Commonly, I see two misconceptions about a Domestic Violence charge:

First, is the belief that if the victim recants or changes his/her original story, the charges will be dropped against the aggressor. Say a husband and wife get into a physical altercation and the police are called. The wife tells the police that the husband punched and kicked her during an argument. The police subsequently conduct an investigation and arrest the husband. The husband is charged with a domestic related battery and has a pending criminal case. The husband and wife often reconcile but still have to deal with the criminal case. The belief that the case will “go away” if the wife recants or changes her original complaint is common, but generally wrong. Domestic Violence is aggressively prosecuted in California, even when the victim recants his or her story. There can be various reasons for this, including that: the prosecutor believes the first story is the accurate one; the prosecutor believes the victim was intimidated or is afraid of proceeding against the aggressor; the case can be established with independent witnesses or other evidence. While having a recalcitrant victim may help a defendant in certain situations, the case will not usually be dismissed simply as a result thereof.

Second, many believe that only men will be arrested and charged with Domestic Violence. It is true that the vast majority of domestic violence arrests are against men. It is also true that there is a bias by police and prosecutors that the woman must be the victim and the man the aggressor. Having said that, women can and do get arrested for Domestic Violence. If the circumstances of the altercation (i.e. her demeanor at the scene; the nature of the injuries to the man) points to the woman, or if there are independent witnesses establishing her culpability, then she likely will be arrested and charged.

The bottom line remains that dealing with such a criminal charge can be complicated enough without the myths and misconceptions that seem to surround this area of law.