Review of the Surge in Domestic Violence Cases in California During COVID-19 Pandemic
As California residents are navigating living with the coronavirus and the extended quarantine, domestic violence cases are skyrocketing.
Put simply, the coronavirus pandemic is having major implications on relationships with the increased stress and conflict, creating a:
- sharp increase in domestic violence incidents,
- significant rising divorce rates.
The numbers aren't not good. Pandemic lockdowns, isolation, and quarantine turned homes not just into shelters but at times into pressure cookers for domestic violence.
Social distancing, remote work, school closures, restricted travel, and closures of health clinics and community centers exacerbated domestic violence opportunities and triggers.
In other words, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown our routine lives into chaos, forcing major life changes.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing a more detailed review below.
Pandemic Within a Pandemic
A December 2020 New England Journal of Medicine article calls the surge in domestic violence a pandemic within a pandemic.
A Johns Hopkins Medicine post indicates an increase in awful murder-suicide rates, in which the male partner kills the female partner before killing himself.
A National Institutes of Health research summary confirms that each of these pandemic conditions acts as contributors to domestic violence incidents:
- economic stress;
- disaster-related instability;
- increased exposure to exploitative relationships;
- increased opportunity for coercive control;
- reduced support options;
- increased child neglect;
- increased negative coping mechanisms like alcohol and drugs;
- concealing of signs of abuse; and
- disruption of reporting relationships.
Domestic Violence Charges in California
Pandemic-spawned domestic violence is a significant criminal justice concern.
California, like other states, treats domestic violence seriously, under a wide range of potential charges.
After all, California was the locus of the twin-fatality O.J. Simpson domestic violence matter, stimulating domestic violence justice reform.
Every domestic violence incident in unique. Every case has different circumstances and evidence. There are a wide range of different factors used by prosecutors when they are making a decision on exactly what charges to file.
At this stage, early intervention into your case by an experienced criminal lawyer can make a dramatic difference on the outcome.
A skilled lawyer might be able to persuade the prosecutor to file a lesser charges or even get the case dismissed.
The most common domestic violence related charges in California include:
- Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC – domestic battery,
- Penal Code 273.5 PC – corporal injury to a spouse,
- Penal Code 273d PC – child abuse,
- Penal Code 273a PC – child endangerment,
- Penal Code 368 PC – elder abuse,
- Penal Code 422 PC – criminal threats,
- Penal Code 136.1 PC – dissuading a witness,
- Penal Code 646.9 PC – stalking,
- Penal Code 653m PC – making annoying phone calls,
- Penal Code 273.6 PC – violating a restraining order.
Domestic battery is among the most common California domestic violence charges on the court docket.
Spousal abuse charges, not just for physical violence but for other misconduct like threatening, stalking, and harassing, can be more severe.
Prosecutor's charging discretion
Given the wide range of potential charges, prosecutors may have significant discretion to charge greater or lesser domestic violence offenses depending on the circumstances.
Pandemic conditions may influence prosecutors to either elevate or reduce domestic violence charges.
That discretion makes all the more significant to retain a criminal defense lawyer early in the court process. Charging discretion works two ways, up and down.
Your lawyer's skilled advocacy aggressively challenging false allegations can:
- discourage a prosecutor from elevating the charge, or
- also encourage the prosecutor to reduce or dismiss the charge.
Obviously, every domestic violence case is unique and will depend on the circumstances of the incident.
Consequences of a California Domestic Violence Conviction
The penalties for a domestic-violence conviction depend on the specific crime, whether a felony or misdemeanor, and other circumstances such as prior convictions.
- Among the most common convictions, a Penal Code 243(e)(1) first-offense conviction for domestic battery is a misdemeanor carrying up to six months in county jail;
- Courts, though, typically order little to no jail time but stiff terms of probation in those first-offense cases;
- Domestic battery with injury, punishable under Penal Code 273.5 corporal injury to spouse, can result in a felony conviction punishable by up to four years of imprisonment;
- Domestic violence is also a deportable offense for an undocumented immigrant.
Fines, court cost, and victim restitution
Another consequence of a California domestic violence conviction is that the batterer is likely to have to pay fines, court costs, and restitution to the victim under Penal Code 1203.097:
- fine for a misdemeanor domestic battery conviction is up to $2,000, and
- felony domestic battery conviction is up to $6,000;
- courts also routinely impose a $500 fee to fund domestic violence programs;
- restitution, which is mandatory whenever the sentence includes probation, could require substantial payments for the victim's medical treatment, counseling, wage loss, temporary housing, and any other direct victim loss.
We might be able to challenge the prosecutor's overreaching restitution claims at a court hearing, including helping you prove an inability to pay.
Domestic Violence Batterers' Intervention Class – PC 1023.097
Post-conviction education programming is another consequence.
Under California Penal Code 1203.097, a court convicting of domestic violence must require the batterer to attend and pay for a Batterers' Intervention Program (BIP).
This class is a rigorous, weekly, year-long, same-gender program, free of chemical influence, and taught by program staff with special knowledge of domestic abuse, that includes:
- a written agreement with the defendant for program compliance;
- strategies holding the defendant accountable for the violence;
- definitions of physical, emotional, sexual, economic, and verbal abuse;
- techniques for stopping abuse;
- education on gender roles and socialization;
- education on the dynamics of power and control;
- education on the effects of abuse on children and others;
- periodic progress reports on attendance and compliance; and
- final evaluation of the defendant's progress.
How Can I Fight California Domestic Violence Charges?
Because those who commit domestic violence sometimes have mental-health issues, diversion from a criminal court proceeding into a mental-health treatment program may be possible and warranted.
California Penal Code 1001.36 authorizes the criminal court to hold criminal charges while the defendant completes treatment and then dismiss the charges.
But one charged with domestic violence must first qualify for diversion and then must timely apply, convincing the court to exercise its discretion.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can help you evaluate whether diversion is possible and wise, and help qualify for and document completion of the program.
Also, there are many other common defenses we can use against domestic violence charges, including:
- accidental injury or injuries not the result of defendant's conduct,
- self-defense or defense of others argument,
- false allegation.
Plea bargains, pre-trial diversion, prefiling intervention
Our experienced defense lawyers might also be able to negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges.
Prosecutors typically have significant discretion to increase or decrease charges and plea bargain or dismiss charges, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We might also convince the prosecutor to allow a defendant a pre-trial diversion program or a deferred entry of judgment (DEJ).
Further, through a process called prefiling intervention, we might be able to persuade the prosecutor to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges before court.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-rated criminal defense law firm representing clients throughout Southern California, including LA County, Orange County, Ventura County, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Riverside, and San Bernardino.
Our firm is located at 1999 Avenue of the Stars, 11th Fl., Los Angeles, CA 90067.
Our main office is located in the San Fernando Valley next to the Van Nuys Court at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401.
Call our office for an initial consultation at (877) 781-1570.