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Definition of Domestic Violence - Penal Code 13700 PC

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Aug 17, 2023

The laws of California are stringent when it comes to domestic violence. Penal Code 13700 PC defines the crime of domestic violence in California as an act or attempted act to inflict injury on a current or former intimate partner.

It also encompasses direct and indirect threats, such as acts that cause the victim a reasonable fear of imminent harm. This legal definition is vital because crimes of violence against intimate partners are treated differently under the law than the same crimes committed against others.

Simply put, PC 13700 defines criminal domestic violence in California. Under this law, domestic violence means to cause, or attempt to cause, bodily injury to a past or present intimate partner.

Definition of Domestic Violence - Penal Code 13700 PC
Domestic violence is causing, or attempting to cause, a bodily injury to an intimate partner.

In other words, “domestic violence” is abuse committed against an intimate partner. Someone commits “abuse” when they intentionally or recklessly use, or threatens to use, physical force against an intimate partner.

PC 13700 says, (a) “Abuse” means intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury or placing another person in reasonably apprehensive of imminent serious bodily injury to themselves or another.

(b) “Domestic violence” means abuse committed against an adult or a minor who is a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or person with whom the suspect has had a child or is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship.

For purposes of this subdivision, “cohabitant” means two unrelated adult persons living together for a substantial period of time, resulting in some permanency of relationship. Factors that may determine whether persons are cohabiting include but are not limited to (1) sexual relations between the parties while sharing the same living quarters, (2) sharing of income or expenses, (3) joint use or ownership of property, (4) whether the parties hold themselves out as spouses, (5) the continuity of the relationship, and (6) the length of the relationship.

(c) “Officer” means any officer or employee of a local police department or sheriff's office, and any peace officer of the Department of the California Highway Patrol, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the University of California Police Department, or the California State University and College Police Departments, as defined in Section 830.2, a peace officer of the Department of General Services of the City of Los Angeles, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 830.31, a housing authority patrol officer, as defined in subdivision (d) of Section 830.31, a peace officer as defined in subdivisions (a) and (b) of Section 830.32, or a peace officer as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 830.33.

(d) “Victim” means a person who is a victim of domestic violence.”

What Is the Definition of "Abuse" and "Domestic Violence?"

To fully understand the concept of domestic violence, we must dig into two specific legal definitions: "abuse" and "domestic violence." PC 13700 defines both of these terms clearly.


Abuse refers to intentionally or recklessly committing any of the following actions:

  • Causing bodily injury;
  • Attempting to cause bodily injury; or
  • Causing the victim a "reasonable apprehension" of imminent bodily injury to themselves or someone else. In other words, something that makes the victim feel reasonably threatened.

Under this definition, abuse can be carried out in many ways, including:

  • Physical abuse;
  • Sexual abuse;
  • Psychological abuse;
  • Verbal abuse;
  • Financial abuse;

The term "reasonable" is essential here, as well. For purposes of this law, "reasonable apprehension refers to circumstances or actions that would lead a reasonable person to anticipate immediate danger.

Domestic Violence 

The term "domestic violence" is used when abuse, as defined above, occurs in the context of an intimate partner relationship. For this reason, it's also commonly called "domestic abuse."

Under the law, it's considered domestic violence when the victim is any of the following:

  • A current or former spouse;
  • A current or former fiancé;
  • A current or former "significant other" (i.e., someone you dated or are dating);
  • Girlfriend or boyfriend, or
  • Ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend;
  • A current or former cohabitant; or
  • Someone with whom you have children (i.e., a co-parent).

The critical takeaway is that what differentiates domestic violence from other crimes is not just the act of abuse itself but the victim against whom the crime is committed.

We should also note that the key element to a domestic violence crime is that it must be committed intentionally or recklessly. In other words, accidents resulting from injury are not considered domestic violence.

What Are the Common Domestic Violence Crimes?

The vast majority of domestic violence crimes come under one of the following three charges:

Other crimes are commonly prosecuted in California as domestic violence crimes—again based more on the victim of the crime than on the crime itself. Examples of these offenses include, but are not limited to:

  • Child abuse – Penal Code 273d makes it illegal to inflict corporal punishment or injury upon a child, but reasonable “spankings” are excluded.
  • Elder abuse – Penal Code 368 PC makes it illegal to inflict on a victim that is 65 years or older physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, or endangerment.
  • Criminal threats – Penal Code 422 PC is making threats of immediate harm or death towards a domestic partner where the threat is specific and unequivocal, causing the victim to fear for their safety or the safety of their immediate family.
  • Aggravated trespass – Penal Code 601 PC involves threatening to cause bodily injury to another individual and, within 30 days of the threat, entering their residence or workplace without permission and with intent to carry out the threat. 
  • Stalking – Penal Code 646.9 PC, which is stalking a domestic partner, involves repeatedly following or harassing them to cause fear of harm or injury. This can include electronic communications such as emails, text messages, and social media posts (otherwise known as "cyberstalking"). 
  • Posting harmful information on the Internet – Penal Code 653.2 PC, which is posting information about an intimate partner on the Internet to cause them emotional distress or harm. This can include posting their address, phone number, photo, or other personal information without permission. 
  • Revenge Porn – Penal Code 647(j)(4) PC is a misdemeanor crime that is a type of “cyber-harassment,” occurring when someone intentionally distributes sexual photos of someone with the intent to cause them emotional distress.
  • Damaging a phone line – Penal Code 591 PC involves unlawfully and maliciously removing, damaging, or obstructing a telephone, cable line, or equipment. This can be charged if done to prevent a domestic violence victim from calling for help.
  • False imprisonment – Penal Code 236 PC involves unlawfully restraining or confining an intimate partner without consent. This can include blocking a door, taking away keys, and preventing them from leaving the house.

You can contact our law firm for a case review by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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