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Who Is Considered a Domestic Violence Victim?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jun 03, 2024

Domestic violence is a serious offense that carries significant legal consequences. In the state of California, what sets domestic violence apart from other criminal acts is primarily the relationship between the victim and the accused.

For example, committing assault and battery against a stranger you met in a bar is not considered domestic violence, but committing the same offense against a dating partner would be.

Who Is Considered a Domestic Violence Victim?
California domestic violence laws define who can be legally categorized as a victim.

California domestic violence laws make it a crime to harm, or threaten to harm, your current or former spouse, cohabitant, co-parent, or dating or intimate partner.

The most common domestic violence charges are Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC domestic battery, Penal Code 273.5 PC, inflicting corporal injury on an intimate partner, and Penal Code 275.6 PC, violation of a restraining order.

PC 243(e)(1) says, "When a battery is committed against a spouse, a person with whom the defendant is cohabiting, a person who is the parent of the defendant's child, former spouse, fiancé, or fiancée, or a person with whom the defendant currently has, or has previously had a dating or engagement relationship, the battery is punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

If probation is granted, or the execution or imposition of the sentence is suspended, it shall be a condition of the sentence that the defendant participates in and completes a batterer's treatment program, as described in Section 1203.097, for no less than one year, or, if none is available, another appropriate counseling program designated by the court.

However, this provision shall not be construed as requiring a city, a county, or a city and county to provide a new program or higher level of service as contemplated by Section 6 of Article XIII B of the California Constitution.

"Dating relationship" means frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affectional or sexual involvement independent of financial considerations."

Understanding who can be legally categorized as a victim of domestic violence matters because it has profound ramifications for how the alleged crime will be charged, as well as the immediate use of protective orders and the possible consequences for a conviction. Let's clarify these relationships and explain why this distinction is essential in California law.

What is the Legal Definition of a Domestic Violence Victim?

California law specifies certain relationships between the perpetrator and the victim that qualify an individual as a victim of domestic violence. These relationships are not just limited to marriage but extend to various forms of intimate or familial connections.

Current or Former Spouse

Domestic violence occurs most frequently among married couples. If the alleged victim is, or ever was, legally married to the accused, this relationship falls under the definition of domestic violence.

Domestic Violence Victim

Current or Former Registered Domestic Partner

Similar to spouses, registered domestic partners, whether current or former, are also protected under domestic violence statutes. This category includes same-sex couples who have chosen to register their partnership with the state.

Current or Former Fiancée

Individuals who are engaged or previously engaged to be married are also included. This acknowledges the serious nature of the engagement relationship, even if it does not culminate in marriage.

Someone You Are Seriously Dating or Have Dated

This broad category includes individuals currently in a serious dating relationship with the accused or those who have dated in the past. The emphasis is on the seriousness of the relationship, which differentiates it from casual interactions.

Current or Former Cohabitant

A current or former cohabitant is someone who has lived with the accused in an intimate relationship. This does not necessarily mean they were married or engaged but shared a domestic life, which may include sharing expenses, household duties, and emotional bonds.

Partners Who Share a Child

If the accused and the alleged victim share a child, regardless of their marital status or whether they live together, the victim is considered a domestic violence victim. This inclusion underscores the importance of protecting individuals involved in parental relationships.

Why Do These Categories Matter?

Domestic violence crimes in California are treated differently, and typically with more severity, than similar acts of violence involving strangers or mere acquaintances. Not only are victims of domestic violence eligible for stronger and more immediate protections against their alleged abuser, but those accused may face more stringent consequences, not only if they are convicted but often before charges are even filed.

Restraining Order

Restraining Orders

One immediate legal tool available in cases of domestic violence is a restraining order (also known as a protective order). Knowing the precise nature of the relationship helps the court determine eligibility for such orders.

A restraining order can impose various restrictions on the accused, including no-contact provisions, removal from shared residences, and temporary custody arrangements for children.

Extended Statute of Limitations

While the statute of limitations in California is one year for most misdemeanors and three years for most felonies, domestic violence cases now have a statute of limitations of five years, regardless of the severity of the offense.

This means if the victim qualifies as a domestic violence victim, they have longer to come forward, and prosecutors have a broader window in which to bring charges against the accused.

Enhanced Penalties

Domestic violence convictions can carry harsher penalties than similar crimes committed against non-intimate partners. As a result, sentences may include longer jail time, mandatory counseling, and extended probation periods.

Custody and Visitation Rights

In cases where the accused shares children with the victim, domestic violence allegations can significantly impact custody and visitation rights. Courts are likely to restrict or supervise the accused's access to children to prioritize the children's safety and well-being.

How Can You Defend Against False Claims of Domestic Violence

While California's stricter stance on domestic violence is intended to provide stronger, more immediate protections for victims, it can also have highly negative ramifications for you if you are falsely accused. Some examples of what can happen under the current laws:

  • An ex-spouse could falsely claim to be a domestic violence victim several years after the separation simply to wreak havoc-triggering restraining orders and causing custody challenges in the process.
  • A victim could falsely claim to have been in an intimate relationship with you for the purpose of garnering protective orders, subjecting you to immediate arrest, or making you subject to harsher penalties.

In cases like the above, one of the most important strategies a skilled California criminal defense attorney will employ is to challenge the nature of the relationship to provide evidence that the victim was not in an intimate relationship with you, and therefore, you should not be charged with domestic violence.

Contact our California criminal defense law firm for more information. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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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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