Quick Summary: Corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant is a common domestic violence crime in California. In this article, you will learn the legal details of this crime, including definitions, punishments, legal defenses, and related crimes.
Table of Contents:
- What is corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant?
- The details of Penal Code 273.5
- Punishments for violating Penal Code 273.5
- No Penalty Enhancements in Los Angeles County
- Legal Defenses for corporal injury convictions
- What happens if the accuser refuses to testify?
- Related crimes to PC 273.5 corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant
- Record Expungement for PC 273.5 convictions
Welcome to EZ Record Clean’s California Law course. We designed this course to clear up any confusion around the California Legal System. In each article, we dive deep into each Penal Code, explaining all legal details in a clear, retainable way.
Today I talk about corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant. This crime, described under Penal Code 273.5, can be hard to understand in its original form. In this article, I break down the law and describe all the legal details in a clear and understandable way. This makes it easy to retain and use this knowledge if you are ever convicted of a crime in the future. Let’s get started.
What is corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant?
Corporal Injury to a spouse or cohabitant is a crime under California’s Penal Code 273.5. This statute defines and makes it illegal to injure a cohabitant. Whether the injury is minor or severe, you can still be convicted under PC 273.5.
Corporal injury charges have historically been the center of controversial debate. Since there are no requirements for physical evidence, it is easy for people to make false accusations.
If you have been falsely accused of a PC 273.5 conviction, contact one of our expungement attorneys today. We can get your convictions expunged from your record. This makes them invisible to the public eye, and potential employers or landlords.
The details of Penal Code 273.5
Corporal Injury to a spouse is defined as inflicting an injury on your current or former cohabitant that resulted in a traumatic condition. Before we go further, let’s first go over some legal terms:
- Traumatic Condition – an injury caused by the direct application of physical force
- Cohabitant – two people living together for a substantial amount of time
- Dating Relationship – frequent, intimate visits with the expectation of affection or sexual involvement
Penal Code 273.5 defines and explains the punishments for corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant1. It states:
(a) Any person who willfully inflicts corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon a victim described in subdivision (b) is guilty of a felony, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of up to six thousand dollars ($6,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.
(e) For the purpose of this section, a person shall be considered the father or mother of another person’s child if the alleged male parent is presumed the natural father under Sections 7611 and 7612 of the Family Code.
As stated above, there are three elements to this crime. First, you must have acted willfully2 and intentionally. If you accidentally harmed your spouse, that is not considered a corporal injury. However, if you intentionally caused physical harm, you committed a PC 273.5 offense.
Next, you must have caused a physical injury that resulted in a traumatic condition3.
(d) As used in this section, “traumatic condition” means a condition of the body, such as a wound, or external or internal injury, including, but not limited to, injury as a result of strangulation or suffocation, whether of a minor or serious nature, caused by a physical force. For purposes of this section, “strangulation” and “suffocation” include impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of a person by applying pressure on the throat or neck.
This injury doesn’t have to be serious to be considered a corporal injury. A minor bruise and a broken wrist are both considered corporal injuries and are subject to the same punishments.
To convict you, the prosecutor must show that your actions cause the victim to suffer a traumatic condition. If they can’t, you shouldn’t be charged. Remember, a traumatic condition is caused through a direct application of force4. Without this, you aren’t guilty under PC 273.5.
The last element requires the injury to be inflicted on an intimate partner or cohabitant.
(b) Subdivision (a) shall apply if the victim is or was one or more of the following:
(1) The offender’s spouse or former spouse.
(2) The offender’s cohabitant or former cohabitant.
(3) The offender’s fiancé or fiancée, or someone with whom the offender has, or previously had, an engagement or dating relationship, as defined in paragraph (10) of subdivision (f) of Section 243.
(4) The mother or father of the offender’s child.
(c) Holding oneself out to be the spouse of the person with whom one is cohabiting is not necessary to constitute cohabitation as the term is used in this section.
This could include a spouse, domestic partner, live-in boyfriend or girlfriend, fiancé(e), your child’s parent, or someone you have a serious dating relationship5 with. Factors that might prove you are cohabiting with someone else include:
- Sexual relations between you and someone you share a residence with
- Sharing of income or expenses
- Joint ownership of a house
Additionally, under California domestic violence laws, it is possible to cohabit with more than one person at the same time. If you maintain a substantial, ongoing relationship with multiple people and live with each person for a significant period of time, both can be considered a cohabitant.
*You can be convicted under PC 273.5 multiple times if there are multiple injuries inflicted during a single course of action. For instance, if you cause injuries to your spouse during a fight, you can be charged for both injuries6.
Punishments for violating Penal Code 273.5
Penal Code 273.5 convictions are considered wobbler offenses. This means the prosecutor can charge as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on your criminal history and the circumstances of the crime.
If the wobbler offense is charged as a misdemeanor, you could face up to 1 year in county jail as well as a max fine of $6,000. However, the judge might sentence you to a summary probation7 instead of jail time.
If charged as a felony, you could face up to 4 years in state prison and a fine of $6,000. The judge may also choose to sentence you to formal probation, which is more harsh than summary probation8 under misdemeanor charges.
A felony is more likely to be charged if the injuries were serious or you have a history of domestic violence complaints.
California sentence enhancements are attributable to most domestic violence convictions. These enhancements increase the sentence that you are required to serve for breaking the law. A corporal injury conviction could subject you to multiple different sentence enhancements depending on if you have any prior felony convictions.
Although the conviction will still be a wobbler even if you have prior convictions, your penalties can increase depending on any convictions in the past 7 years. For example:
- A prior conviction for battery on a spouse could result in an additional 4 years in state prison with a $10,000 fine
- A prior conviction for assault and battery or corporal injury could result in an additional 5 years in state prison with a $10,000 fine
- A prior conviction for corporal injury that caused great bodily injury could result in an additional 5 years in state prison under PC 12022.7
Sometimes, California judges have the discretion to suspend a domestic violence prison sentence and give probation instead. Probation comes in two types depending on whether the charge is a misdemeanor or felony.
A misdemeanor (summary) probation typically lasts for 1 to 3 years. A felony (formal) probation typically lasts for 3 to 5 years and could include serving up to a year in county jail.
Probation is generally granted if you are a first-time offender or there were significant mitigating factors to your case. Remaining out of jail and being on probation instead comes with certain conditions. You will have to comply with these conditions to maintain the privilege of staying on probation.
These conditions could include paying a fee, paying restitution, attending a domestic violence class, completing community service, and complying with a restraining order. If you violate probation, the judge will schedule a probation violation hearing. In this case, the judge can continue probation as before, impose newer, harsher conditions, or revoke probation and send you to jail or prison.
Corporal injury is a deportable crime. In some cases, it may qualify as a “crime involving moral turpitude9.” These offenses are inadmissible crimes, meaning:
- You lose the right to enter the country after leaving
- There is no possibility of becoming a US citizen
- You lose the right to apply for a green card or an “adjustment of status”
An adjustment of status is a change from illegal to legal immigrant status.
California’s Three Strikes Law
If you inflicted a great bodily injury on your cohabitant, it becomes a serious felony and a strike under California’s Three Strikes Law10. This law increases the penalties on people who have been charged with a serious felony multiple times.
If you have been convicted of a serious felony before, you are now considered a second-striker. Second-strikers face twice as long as the penalty otherwise required by law. If this is your third serious felony conviction, you are known as a third-striker. In this case, you could face a sentence of 25 years-to-life.
Los Angeles County Penalty Enhancement Changes
As of December 8, 2020, prosecutors in Los Angeles County are no longer pursuing sentencing enhancements in Penal Code 273.5 cases. This means that causing a bruise and causing a serious injury will be prosecuted the same.
Additionally, California’s Three Strikes Law does not apply to domestic violence laws in this county. If you are convicted of corporal injury to a spouse where the victim sustained serious harm, it will not count as a strike offense. Therefore, it will not carry the added penalties or consequences.
Legal Defenses for corporal injury convictions
There are multiple different ways to legally defend yourself in court against corporal injury convictions. Keep in mind, the prosecutor must prove every element of the crime. If they can’t, you should not be found guilty. Hire an attorney who can help you use the common defenses below.
Self-defense or the defense of others
If you reasonably believed that you or someone else was in danger, and you used necessary force to defend against that danger, you were acting in self-defense. Under these circumstances, you were not committing a PC 273.5 offense. Thus, you can use this in court to defend against any convictions.
*To be used as a defense, you must have only used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.
Lack of Willfulness
An important element of the crime is acting willfully. If you accidentally hurt your intimate partner – even during a heated argument – you are not guilty of corporal injury under PC 273.5. Under these circumstances, you may still be charged with PC 243(e)(1) Domestic Battery. However, this offense isn’t as serious and carries less-harsh penalties.
False accusations in domestic violence cases are common. This usually occurs out of jealousy, anger, or revenge after two cohabitants get into an argument. One will falsely report a corporal injury offense just to get back at the other one.
Since California law enforcement takes domestic violence seriously, it isn’t uncommon to be arrested for false accusations. If this has happened to you and resulted in a conviction on your record, give our attorneys a call today. We understand that false convictions occur all the time. To help with this, we offer professional expungement services. An expungement cleans your criminal record of all convictions so that potential employers or landlords can’t see it.
What happens if the accuser refuses to testify?
Another common scenario is the accuser not wanting to testify. This usually happens because the defendant threatens or emotionally manipulates the accuser into not testifying. Prosecutors know this and will decide the press charges anyways. These cases usually end in one of three ways:
Accuser decides they want to drop all charges
Occasionally, the accuser will want to drop all charges. Prosecutors often assume that the victim is being threatened, coerced, or emotionally manipulated by the defendant. As a result, they will charge the defendant anyways.
Accuser refuses to testify in court
Sometimes, the accuser will refuse to testify in court. However, the prosecutor has subpoena power which means the accuser can be forced to come to court and testify. The prosecutor must personally serve the witness the subpoena – if the witness still refuses, the judge can issue a bench warrant for his or her arrest.
Accuser cannot be brought into court
Lastly, the accuser might go into hiding or flee legal jurisdiction. In this situation, there is a good chance the prosecutor won’t be able to continue with the case. This is because of the Hearsay Rule. This is defined as a testimony from a witness under oath who is reciting an out-of-court statement, which could be used in the court of law.
Related crimes to PC 273.5 corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant
There are many different crimes that fall under Domestic Violence offenses. If you are charged with corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant under PC 273.5, you can likely be charged with other offenses as well. Depending on the circumstances of the case, you might be charged with one of the following in addition to your PC 273.5 conviction.
Domestic Battery – PC 243(e)
Penal Code 243(e) prohibits harmful or offensive touching of an intimate partner. This is a less serious crime than corporal injury but, unlike PC 273.5, it doesn’t require the victim to actually be injured in any way. Domestic Battery is a misdemeanor that could carry a 1 year in county jail sentence with a fine of up to $2,000. As a result, domestic battery is often a desirable charge reduction and/or plea bargain.
Disturbing The Peace – PC 415
Penal Code 415 makes it a crime to fight someone in public, make unreasonable noise to disturb others, or direct provocative “fighting words” at someone else in public. As part of a plea bargain, prosecutors are often willing to reduce domestic violence charges down to disturbing the peace. This could be a great outcome because it doesn’t come with the stigma, penalties, or immigration consequences of a domestic violence conviction. Disturbing the peace is considered a low-level misdemeanor and, in some cases, a non-criminal infraction. Max punishments include 90 days in county jail and a fine of $400.
Elder Abuse – PC 368
Penal code 368 makes it a crime to willfully or negligently impose physical pain or mental suffering on a person who is 65 or older. If your intimate partner is 65 or older, you could be charged under PC 273.5 and PC 368. Elder abuse is a wobbler offense. A felony could subject you to up to 4 years in prison, a $6,000 fine, and penalties increase if the victim suffers GBI, death, or they are older than 70. A misdemeanor will be 6 months in county jail and a $1,000 fine.
Child Abuse Laws
Child abuse laws often go hand-in-hand with domestic violence laws. If you have a minor child and are accused of intentional infliction of corporal injury on an intimate partner, you could also face prosecution for PC 273(a) Child Endangerment. In most cases, this is a misdemeanor but can also be charged as a felony if you put the child at risk of great bodily injury or death.
Simple Assault – PC 240
Simple Assault under PC 240 is an unlawful attempt with the current ability to commit a violent injury on another person. This is often a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and fines up to $1,000. There is no need for injury in Simple Assault. You simply have to act with the intent to cause injury to be convicted under PC 240. This might be a conviction that you can get your current corporal injury case reduced down too. Since it carries less penalties, this is the best alternative.
Sexual Battery – PC 243.4
Penal Code 243.4 prohibits sexual battery, sometimes referred to as sexual assault. This is defined as touching the intimate parts of another person, against that person’s will, for the purposes of sexual gratification, arousal, or abuse. This can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor can get you up to 1 year in county jail with a $3,000 fine and a felony could get you up to 4 years in state prison with a $10,000 fine.
Assault With A Deadly Weapon – PC 245(a)(1)
The crime of assault with a deadly weapon occurs when you attack or attempt to attack another person with a deadly weapon. This is also a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. The max sentence is 4 years in California state prison. Assault with a deadly weapon (ADW) can often be charged along with corporal injury to a cohabitant if you used a deadly weapon to inflict injuries on your intimate partner. Examples of deadly weapons could be anything from a broken beer bottle to a hammer.
Record Expungement for PC 273.5 convictions
An expungement for PC 273.5 convictions is possible if you were convicted of a misdemeanor or did not serve any time in state prison. Under PC 1203.4, you may petition the court to expunge your misdemeanor conviction for corporal domestic violence.
It is always a good idea to hire a professional expungement attorney to help you expunge your criminal record. This will “clean” any convictions from the public database, meaning that potential landlords and employers can’t see your criminal record.
Contact one of our expungement attorneys today to get help removing your previous convictions. We have expunged over 25,000 records, helping those people get their lives back on track. We can help you too; call now!
- Cohabitant Definition – Penal Code 273.5(b); People v. Holifield (1988); People v. Ballard (1988)
- Willful Definition – Penal Code 7: “The word ‘willfully,’ when applied to the intent with which an act is done or omitted, implies simply a purpose or willingness to commit the act, or make the omission referred to. It does not require any intent to violate law, or to injure another, or to acquire any advantage.(1) ; People v. Lara (1996)
- Traumatic Condition, Strangulation, and Suffocation Definition – Penal Code 273.5(d); People v. Gutierrez (1985)
- Direct Application of Force Definition – People v. Jackson (2000)
- Dating Relationship Defined – Penal Code 243(f)(10): “‘Dating relationship’ means frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affectional or sexual involvement independent of financial considerations.”
- Simultaneous Cohabitation – People v. Moore (1996)
- Summary Probation – People v. Duenas (2019)
- Formal Probation – People v. Vickers (1972)
- Crime of Moral Turpitude (CIMT) – 8 U.S.C. 1251(a)(2)(A)(i); Grageda v. INS (9th Cir. 1993) 12 F.3d 919
- California’s Three Strikes Law – Proposition 36 (November 6, 2012)