What to Do If You've Been Charged with Felony Domestic Violence in California
May 17, 2017
When Armando Ortega walked into a Yolo County courtroom in April 2016, the consensus among court observers was that prosecutor Deanna Hays had a strong—if not a slam-dunk—case against him. Two years earlier, Ortega’s wife had called 911 following a domestic dispute. She told responding officers that Ortega had accused her of infidelity, angrily read text messages to her, grabbed her by the throat (leaving visible scratches, photographs of which were later displayed for the jury), and thrown her to the floor. Ortega was arrested and later charged with felony domestic violence.
At trial, Ortega’s wife repeated the story she had told police two years earlier. Making matters worse for Ortega, the couple’s son was also put on the stand, testifying for the prosecution. He told the jury essentially the same story as his mother—that he had witnessed the dispute, and that his father had, in fact, inflicted the injuries his mother sustained.
Ortega’s defense attorney, Erica Graves, had a different idea: she argued that, far from being dispositive, the stories told by Ortega’s spouse and son characterized a weak case in which evidence was, at best, “lacking.” To drive home that point, she took the sometimes-risky step of putting her client on the stand.
Ortega remained calm on the witness stand, his answers concise and to the point. Asked by his attorney if he had choked his wife, Ortega responded, “I did not choke her.” Asked why he believed his son testified as he had, Ortega said he believed his wife had told him to lie. Asked by his wife would do that, Ortega said simply, “I believe she was trying to cover something up.” During cross examination, Ortega remained unflappable, refusing to be drawn into a heated back-and-forth with Hays, maintaining the same calm composure he had displayed in direct testimony.
Following one day of deliberations, the jury walked somberly into the courtroom. Asked to deliver their decision about the fate of the former Woodland Highway Patrol Officer, the foreman stunned many in the courtroom: “Not Guilty.”
What Are California’s Laws on Domestic Violence?
A resident of California can be charged domestic violence if he or she commits a criminal act against a spouse or former spouse, a cohabitant or former cohabitant, a parent with whom he or she has a child, or a partner in a dating relationship. Several sections of the California Penal Code can apply to domestic violence cases—prosecutors have discretion as to which criminal charges to pursue based on their perception of the severity of the case, as well as related circumstances.
One of those criminal charges is battery, defined under Section 402 of the Penal Code as "willful and unlawful use of force or violence against the person of another." Under Section 243(e)(1), battery is defined as a crime within one of the familial relationships described above.
Prosecutors can charge a defendant with battery under Section 243(d) if the defendant "inflicted serious bodily injury" on the victim. Alternately, a prosecutor can choose to invoke Section 273.5 of the Penal Code if he believes he can demonstrate the defendant’s “willful conduct” led to a "corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition," again, when one of the same familial relationships exists.
What Are the Penalties for Individuals Convicted of Domestic Violence?
If a defendant is convicted of battery under Section 243(e)(1) of the Penal Code, penalties could include a fine of up to $2,000, and/or imprisonment in the county jail for a period of up to one year. In some cases, a prosecutor can agree to probation and participation in counseling services. If convicted under Section 243(d), a defendant can be sentenced to imprisonment of up to one year in county jail, or two to four years in state prison, along with a restraining order. A felony conviction under Section 273.5 can lead to imprisonment for up to one year in county jail, or two to four years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $6,000. Prosecutors can seek additional penalties if there is a prior conviction for domestic violence.
Arguably, Armando Ortega may well have been convicted of felony domestic violence under California’s Penal Code if his defense attorney had been less experienced, or if she had not committed sufficient time to the details of his case. If you have been charged with a crime in California, it’s critically important to secure the services of the most competent criminal defense attorney you can find.
The Mitchell Law Group has extensive experience defending DUI and criminal cases in the Central Valley area. Michael E. Mitchell is a member of the prestigious National College of DUI Defense and the California DUI Lawyers Association. He is also a certified field sobriety instructor and practitioner. He is committed to providing the best criminal defense for you. To schedule a free consultation, contact us today.
Michael Mitchell is a Fresno attorney who practices in the areas of DUI, personal injury & criminal law. Visit his Google+ profile.