Domestic Violence Criminal Court Process in Los Angeles

The majority of people that are arrested for domestic violence in Los Angeles County are first-time offenders and don’t know what to expect moving forward. Most have little or no experience dealing with the criminal justice system and have no idea how the complex court process works.

After someone was arrested for domestic violence, the criminal court process is stressful, emotional, confusing, and often will frequently divide family unity. In all Los Angeles County criminal courts, domestic violence and spousal abuse related issues are considered a serious matter by prosecutors and judges.

Most first-time domestic violence charges are filed under California Penal Code 243(e)(1), which is known as “domestic battery” and it’s a misdemeanor offense. See CALCRIM 841 – battery against spouse.

In some domestic violence cases involving serious or great bodily injury to the victim, the case will be filed under California Penal Code 273.5, known as “corporal injury to a spouse,” which is a “wobbler” that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony offense.

Most domestic violence cases start with a verbal argument between spouses, people who are dating, or cohabitating. Next, there is a 911 call to police, who will respond to the scene.

Once police arrive, they will normally separate the couple and start asking questions to figure out what happened, including any history of prior incidents. They will also look for visible signs of an injury.

If police are able to establish probable cause, they are going to make an arrest. This could include one or even both people involved. At this moment, the criminal court process begins.

Anyone who has been arrested for domestic violence should consult with a lawyer immediately to review the case and strategies, including prefiling intervention which is a process that seeks to avoid formal filing of charges.

To give readers a better understanding of the Los Angeles criminal court process in domestic violence cases, our California criminal defense lawyers are providing an outline below.

Arraignment for Domestic Violence Charges

Most defendant’s arrested for a domestic violence case will usually have to post a bond to get released from custody, or they can be released on own recognizance (O.R.).

After a domestic violence arrest, the case will be assigned to a detective from a domestic violence unit, who will conduct a follow-up investigation.  They will make contact with anyone involved to gather evidence against you.

After their investigation is completed, the detective makes a filing recommendation and will send the case to the prosecutor’s office who makes the decision whether to file formal charges. Misdemeanor cases are handled through Los Angeles County City Attorney’s Office. Felony cases are handled by the Los Angeles District Attorney.

It should be noted that it’s critical to retain a domestic violence lawyer early in the court process before the case is submitted to the prosecutor for filing consideration. It may be possible to avoid the formal filing of charges through prefiling intervention.  It’s important to keep in mind it doesn’t matter if the victim wants to just drop the case.

After charges have been filed, the first court appearance in the “arraignment,” where the judge will tell you the specific charges and ask you to enter a plea. In most cases, this means pleading “not guilty.”  Your criminal attorney will be provided with a copy of police report and the complaint against you.

Many domestic violence cases in California are “wobblers,” which means the prosecutor can file the case as either a misdemeanor or felony offense.

If your domestic violence case is filed as a misdemeanor, the judge will require your initial appearance at arraignment in order to serve you personally with a protective order. If charged with felony domestic violence, you are required to personally appear at the arraignment and all future court dates.

Protective & Restraining Orders for Domestic Violence Cases

Most domestic violence cases in Los Angeles involve consideration for the safety of the alleged victim. The prosecutor will typically request a domestic violence protective order that prohibits you from making contact with the victim while the charges are pending. The crime of violating a restraining or protective order is described California Penal Code 273.6

In almost all cases, even if the victim objects, the judge will issue a protective order at the arraignment. However, the judge has the discretion to issue a “level one” protective order that would permit peaceful contact, but they usually initially order a full protective prohibiting any type of contact. Later, if the victim tells the court they want to have contact with you, they can amend the protective order.

Pretrial for Domestic Violence Cases

After you enter a “not guilty” plea at your arraignment, the judge will set a date for a pretrial. It’s not uncommon to have more than one pretrial during the entire course of a domestic violence case.

At the pretrial, your domestic violence lawyer and the prosecutor will exchange discovery and negotiate in an effort to settle the case. At this point, if a prosecutor has reason to believe the evidence is weak, or if they have an uncooperative victim, they will often consider reducing the charges to a lesser offense, or even drop the case.

If negotiations with the prosecutor fail to reach a settlement on the domestic violence case, then the court will set the case for trial.  It should be noted that the vast majority of domestic violence cases in Los Angeles are settled before an actual trial.

Trial for Domestic Violence Cases

At trial, a prosecutor has to be able to prove all the elements of the domestic violence charges beyond a reasonable doubt. It should be noted that even in a situation where the victim is uncooperative, a prosecutor can still take the case to trial.

They can use prior statements from the victim, but with limits. After the prosecutor and criminal attorney present their evidence and cross examine the witnesses, the jury will deliberate in order to make a decision on whether you are guilty or not guilty.

If you were arrested for domestic violence offense, you should consult with our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys to review the details and options moving forward. We have extensive experience and success in all types of domestic violence cases.

Early intervention into your case can be crucial to the outcome. We may be able to negotiate for lesser charges or even get the case dismissed.

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 located at 401 Wilshire Blvd #1200, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Contact us for a free case evaluation at (424) 372-3112.