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Common Defenses in California Domestic Violence Cases

Posted by Alan Eisner | May 10, 2020

Common Defenses in California Domestic Violence Cases
If accused of domestic violence in California, there are many common strategies we can use to fight the charges, such as self-defense.

As with any criminal charge under California law, the best defense, meaning the defense most likely to result in the defendant's acquittal at trial or in convincing the prosecutor to offer an advantageous plea agreement, will differ from case-to-case depending on the particular facts and circumstances of the case.

Whether or not to take a case to trial and argue a legal defense to a jury is also a case specific determination which a defendant must make in consultation with their defense attorney. 

Since the defendant will ultimately suffer the consequences if a defense is unsuccessful, the defendant must weigh their risk tolerance after being informed realistically of the chances of success by defense counsel. 

In Los Angeles County, prosecutors and law enforcement agencies will aggressively enforce California's domestic violence laws. Prosecutors are often under public pressure to file cases and obtain convictions as domestic violence is a sensitive and even political issue.

If you have been accused of domestic violence, it's crucial to retain a criminal defense lawyer early in the court process. You will need legal representation from a lawyer with experience in preparing a strategy that will give you the best chance at avoiding a conviction.

There are situations where negotiating with the prosecutor could result in reduced charges or even get the case dismissed. That said, several defenses are very common in domestic violence cases by the very nature of the alleged crime. This blog post outlines some of the most common domestic violence defenses.

Types of Domestic Violence Charges

Under California's domestic violence laws, either misdemeanor or felony charges may be alleged. The demarcation between these two levels of seriousness is almost always the infliction of physical injuries on the victim. The most common California domestic violence charges include:

Injuring the victim is not required to be charged with domestic violence, but these incidents are almost always misdemeanors. If a felony-level domestic violence charge is brought under Penal Code 273.5, the government must prove (CALCRIM 840) that the defendant injured the victim as one of the elements of the crime. 

In these cases, the defendant can bring a defense that no physical injuries occurred. This defense will often be supported by expert testimony to interpret medical evidence as well as the testimony of the alleged victim. 

However, even if the defendant successfully convinces the jury that no injuries occurred, if the jury believes that unprivileged touching did occur, it will still find the defendant guilty of the lesser-included offense of simple battery on a relationship partner.

Now, let's review some of the most common defenses if you have been charged with a domestic abuse related incident.

Reasonable Doubt

Domestic violence allegations – whether true or false – are almost always a so-called he-said/she-said situation. While he-said/she-said is the most commonly used colloquialism, we know that he-said/he-said and she-said/she-said domestic violence allegations are also common. 

This shorthand stands for the reality that most domestic violence occurs behind closed doors between and among intimate partners. Unlike a bank robbery or a hit and run accident on the road, there simply are not often third-party witnesses to an act of domestic violence. 

Even where there are witnesses, these witnesses are often either minor children, or lack neutrality because of a close pre-existing relationship with one or both of the parties. For that reason, reasonable doubt based on the credibility of the complaining witness is a frequent defense to a domestic violence charge. 

Criminal charges at trial must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest bar in the American legal system's collection of various burdens of proof. If the jury, after hearing the complaining witness' testimony, believes it is equally likely than not that the defendant committed domestic violence, the jury is duty-bound to acquit. 

Domestic violence cases are therefore particularly difficult to prove in the absence of objective corroboration such as physical injuries.

Mutual Combat

The unfortunate reality of abusive relationships is that the abuse often goes in both directions. For that reason, mutual combat situations are common. Mutual combat occurs when neither party can be legally said to be the true aggressor. 

Rather, both parties to an altercation contribute roughly equally to the initiation of physical force and mutually attempt to strike or injure one another. 

In such a scenario, both individuals are both victim and perpetrator. For that reason, neither party in a true mutual combat situation should be charged with domestic violence, though they may be guilty of other crimes such as disturbing the peace, public intoxication, child endangerment, etc.


In other situations, the alleged perpetrator was in fact the victim, but managed to defend themselves resulting in injuries to the attacker. 

In many of these situations, the victim will find themselves arrested and charged with domestic violence because of the physical injuries to the attacker, who may give a false statement to law enforcement to avoid admitting to their own culpability for initiating force. 

Self-defense is a complete defense to a charge of domestic violence. Where the defendant did not initiate force and employed only reasonable and proportionate force in response to the attack, even if the attacker ultimately suffers relatively more serious injuries than the defendant, the defendant has employed self-defense and cannot be convicted of domestic violence.

Once police arrive at the scene of an alleged domestic violence incident, they have to make quick decisions in a chaotic situation. There are some police departments that require their officers to make an arrest after they respond to a domestic violence call.

Officers have a tendency to believe whoever made the initial 911 call. If there are visible injuries on the on the victim, they will make an immediate arrest without considering self-defense.

Contact a Los Angeles Domestic Violence Lawyer

If you have been accused of committing domestic violence, our Los Angeles domestic violence attorneys will review the details of the case and legal options. You will need experienced legal counsel who knows the most effective strategies to obtain a favorable outcome. We have track record of success defending clients charged with all types of domestic violence cases.

Call our office of experienced criminal defense lawyers for an initial consultation regarding your best potential defenses.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a criminal defense law firm located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067 and 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401. Contact our office to discuss your case at (310) 328-3776.

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About the Author

Alan Eisner

Alan Eisner  Van Nuys, California (818) 781-1570 (818) 788-5033 Email Me  Alan Eisner has practiced criminal law for over 28 years in Los Angeles County . Mr Eisner is a Certified Specialist in Criminal Law. (The California State Bar's Board of Legal Specialization has designated Mr. Eisner as a...

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