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Misdemeanor vs Felony Domestic Violence Charges in Los Angeles

Posted by Sam Israels | Apr 26, 2020

Under California law, domestic violence is generally defined as a physical assault against a current or former spouse, cohabitant, boyfriend, girlfriend, a person who has a child with victim, or another type of relationship described under the domestic violence statute.

A domestic violence crime includes a physical assault, like pushing, shoving, slapping, choking, and also any type of sexual assault. Domestic violence offenses are essentially and assault and battery, or a sexual related crime.

After anyone is arrested for a domestic violence crime, the case is frequently known as a California “wobbler,” meaning the prosecutor can either file misdemeanor or felony charges. The decision on how to file the case depends on various factors and the defendant's criminal record.

In California, there are various domestic violence statutes that describe different type of incidents. In Los Angeles, the most common case filed is domestic battery under California Penal Code 243(e)(1), which is always a misdemeanor.

Another common case is corporal injury to a spouse under Penal Code 273.5 PC, which is a “wobbler” and can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony offense.

How the case is filed is significant for a defendant. This is due to the differences between misdemeanor and felony crime punishments in California.  It should be noted it's not uncommon for an initial filing of a felony domestic violence to be later reduced to a misdemeanor.

Anyone charged with domestic violence in Los Angeles needs to have a clear understanding between misdemeanor and felony offenses and how this crucial filing decision will impact the case as it proceeds through the court process.

To give readers more useful information about misdemeanor and felony Los Angeles domestic violence cases, our criminal defense lawyers are providing a review below.

What's the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and Felony?

A felony offense is the most serious crime in California. If convicted, a defendant could be facing imprisonment in a state prison. Additionally, a felony conviction will mean a defendant will be placed on supervised probation and required to meet with a Los Angeles County probation officer every month.

The judge might also impose some jail time as a condition of felony probation. Further, a felony conviction carries harsh collateral consequences, such as a loss of gun rights and a potentially losing a professional license.

For undocumented immigrants, a felony conviction could carry immigration consequences, such as deportation or denial of citizenship.

By contrast, a misdemeanor offense only carries a penalty of up to one year in a Los Angeles County jail and a fine up to $1,000. Most people who are convicted of a misdemeanor are placed on informal probation with no regular meeting with a probation officer. However, it's is possible the judge might impose some jail time as a condition of misdemeanor probation.

Domestic Violence “Wobblers” in Los Angeles

As stated, some domestic violence charges are “wobblers,” that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. A prosecutor will normally consider various factors to make their decision, such as the circumstances of the case and defendant's criminal record.

There are some cases where the judge will reduce a felony case to a misdemeanor. Often, there is a fine line between a misdemeanor or felony domestic violence case.

To be found guilty of domestic violence, there must be some type of abuse against someone with whom they have had a relationship with, but it doesn't always have to be a family member or a spouse.

California's domestic violence laws describe this crime as an act against as spouse, ex-spouse, co-habitant, roommate, people in a dating relationship, parent of defendant's child, and more.

There are numerous different factors that determine how domestic violence crimes are filed and punished. These factors include the severity of the case, type of injuries, exact nature of the relationship, defendant's prior criminal history, among others.

Misdemeanor and Felony Domestic Violence Cases in Los Angeles

California Penal Code 243(e)(1) domestic battery is a probably the most common domestic violence charge in Los Angeles. This offense is described as a battery against a spouse, ex-spouse, cohabitant, parent, or someone defendant dated. To be charged, there is no requirement of visible injuries and domestic battery is always a misdemeanor crime.

California Penal Code 273.5, corporal injury to a spouse, is also a fairly common charge in Los Angeles. This offense is described as infliction of a physical injury on spouse, ex-spouse, cohabitant, etc. PC 273.5 is a known as a California “wobbler,” and in some cases, the prosecutor will file or reduce the charges to a misdemeanor if there are no serious injuries.

In many Los Angeles domestic violence cases, someone is arrested for the more serious charge of corporal injury to a spouse in violation of Penal Code 273.5. However, before their arraignment, the filing Deputy will examine the all the details in the police report in order to decide exactly what type of charges to file.

If the victim sustained visible injuries, or the defendant has prior domestic violence cases, the prosecutor will typically file felony charges. If the victim suffered serious or great bodily injury (CALCRIM 3160), the penalties can be enhanced.

Criminal threats under California Penal Code 422 is defined as threatening another person with serious harm. PC 422 is another “wobbler” offense that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony crime.

If convicted of PC 422 as a misdemeanor, the penalties include up to one year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. If convicted of criminal threats (CALCRIM 1300) as a felony, the penalties include up to four years in a state prison and a will be considered a “strike” under California's Three Strikes law.

Stalking under Penal Code 646.9 stalking is defined as repeated harassment or threats against someone to a level where they are in fear of their own safety, or immediate family. Stalking (CALCRIM 1301) is yet another “wobbler” offense. A misdemeanor conviction could result in up to one year in county jail, or up to three years in state prison if convicted for a felony crime.

Other Los Angeles domestic violence crimes include elder abuse under Penal Code 368, child abuse under Penal Code 273d, and aggravated trespassing under Penal Code 601.

What Factors Determine the Type of Domestic Violence Charge?

The Los Angeles County prosecutor reviews a wide range of different factors in order to decide whether to file a domestic violence case as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. One primary consideration is the severity of injuries suffered by the victim.

Also, they will examine any prior reports of abuse from the victim or others against the defendant. Another major factor is whether the defendant has prior domestic violence convictions.

If you have been accused of committing any type of domestic-related crime, contact our experienced Los Angeles domestic violence attorneys to examine the details and legal options.

Cron, Israels & Stark is a criminal defense law firm located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025. We also have an office at 401 Wilshire Blvd #1200, Santa Monica, CA 90401. 

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About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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