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What Is the Difference Between Felony and Misdemeanor Domestic Violence in California?

Steven R. Andrade Oct. 8, 2021

California takes domestic violence allegations seriously. Unfortunately, there is evidence that domestic violence incidents increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. A domestic violence case could be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the specific circumstances. Our Santa Barbara criminal defense lawyer explains the most important things to know about the differences between felony and misdemeanor domestic violence charges in California.

California Penal Code 273.5: Domestic Violence Is a “Wobbler”

California Penal Code § 273.5 is the state's primary criminal statute for domestic violence. Under the law, an individual can be charged with domestic violence if they “willfully inflict corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition” on a current or former partner. Notably, domestic violence cases charged under California P.C. 273.5 are known as “wobblers.” Also sometimes called “alternative felony/misdemeanor offenses” prosecutors have discretion in handling these cases. They can charge a defendant with a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances.

Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Charges in California

In determining whether domestic violence should be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, California prosecutors are empowered to consider the totality of the circumstances. Misdemeanor charges are most likely when injuries are minor and there is little or no prior history of domestic abuse allegations. That being said, misdemeanor domestic violence under California Penal Code Section 273.5 is still a serious offense. A conviction on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge in Santa Barbara County could result in:

  • A restraining order;

  • Loss of family law rights (child custody/visitation);

  • Monetary penalties; and

  • Jail time.

Felony Domestic Violence Charges in California

In California, prosecutors can charge a defendant with felony domestic violence under Section 273.5 of the state's Penal Code. In general, felony domestic violence charges are reserved for cases in which the victim sustained a significant injury and/or there is a prior history of misconduct. That being said, prosecutors sometimes act aggressively—charging felony domestic violence at the outset of a case. A defense attorney can help you work to get trumped up charges reduced.

Felony domestic violence is a very serious criminal offense in California. If you are charged with felony domestic violence under California Penal Code § 273.5, you could face a maximum $6,000 fine and four years in state prison. Additionally, there may be other sanctions, including a loss of parental rights or a loss of a clean criminal record. It is imperative that you take action to protect your rights after an arrest.

Get Help from A Domestic Violence Defense Attorney in Santa Barbara

At Andrade Law Offices, our Santa Barbara criminal defense attorney is a skilled and reliable advocate for clients. If you are facing felony or misdemeanor domestic violence charges, we are here to help you determine the best course of action. Give us a call today or connect with us directly online for a completely confidential initial legal consultation. With a conveniently located law office in Santa Barbara, we protect the rights of the accused throughout the entire region.