When Is Domestic Violence in California Considered a Felony?

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In California, the framework for domestic violence is complicated. There are many different types of domestic violence charges. There is also the possibility of either a felony or a misdemeanor.

For those convicted, the consequences can be significant.

If you are facing charges, you may be wondering, “Is domestic violence a felony in California?” 

The answer is that it certainly can be. In certain circumstances, domestic violence can be a felony in California. 

Although this is an uncertain time, we can help. 

In this article, our California domestic violence lawyers discuss and explain the felony domestic violence laws in this state.

If you have questions, please contact the San Diego criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC today online or call 619-234-2300.

What is Domestic Violence?

California Penal Code §13700 defines domestic violence as abuse against a specific category of people.

When a defendant commits an act of violence against any of these people, it may be domestic violence.

The categories of people are as follows:

  • Spouse,
  • Former spouse,
  • Cohabitant,
  • Former cohabitant,
  • Girlfriend/boyfriend or former girlfriend/boyfriend,
  • Fiance or former fiance, or
  • A person with whom the accused has a child.

Domestic violence charges can be either misdemeanors or felonies.

Common Domestic Violence Charges in California

In California, there are different types of domestic violence charges

Corporal Injury

Defendants can be charged with corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant. Corporal injury is any physical injury to an intimate partner. Corporal injury is a felony (California Penal Code §273.5).

Domestic Battery

Another type of charge is domestic battery (California Penal Code §243(e)(1)). Domestic battery is the infliction of force or violence against a spouse or cohabitant.

In this case, “force or violence” does not have to mean that there was harm or injury. It simply means any unlawful physical contact. Domestic battery is a misdemeanor.

What is the Difference Between Misdemeanors and Felonies?

Felonies are those crimes that carry potential sentences of more than one year. Felonies also carry extra consequences, like higher fines and restitution.

Restitution is payment the perpetrator of the crime must make to the victim.

Misdemeanors are lesser crimes that carry sentences of up to one year.

In certain cases, called “wobblers,” a prosecutor decides whether to charge a defendant with a misdemeanor or felony.

Although specific standards for deciding wobblers are not set out, the prosecutor can consider:

  1. The defendant’s prior criminal record;
  2. The circumstances of the crime, including whether the defendant used a weapon; and
  3. The severity of the victim’s injuries.

If the prosecutor decides on a felony charge, there are instances in which the court can reduce it to a misdemeanor. However, for severe domestic violence cases (those involving physical injury), this doesn’t usually happen.

What is Felony Domestic Violence in California?

Felony domestic violence in California is a domestic crime committed with aggravating factors. Aggravating factors can include:

  • Violence resulting in bodily injury
  • Violence or threats of violence involving the use of a deadly weapon

Most instances of felony-level domestic violence in California involve causing physical harm. A common form is inflicting corporal injury, which can result in severe penalties. Convictions for this offense may lead to fines of up to $6,000 and/or imprisonment for 2, 3, or 4 years in state prison.

For example, a domestic violence case with no significant injury to the victim may be charged as a misdemeanor.

Remember, domestic battery does not need to include any actual harm to the victim. It could be an illegal touch. 

In contrast, a domestic battery case in which the victim ended up in the hospital with moderate to serious injuries may be charged as a felony.

Consequences of Domestic Violence Charges in California

The consequences of a domestic violence charge in California are serious. Those convicted of a domestic violence charge in California may be subject to:

  • A criminal record,
  • Jail time,
  • Payment of fines or restitution,
  • Required participation in a domestic violence intervention program,
  • Loss of gun rights, and
  • Loss of child custody.

The victim may also win a restraining order against the accused. 

Contact a San Diego, California Domestic Violence Lawyer Today

If you are facing a domestic violence charge, the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, can help.

We can help you make sense of the situation and figure out what to do next. Most importantly, we’ll bring our significant experience to your defense.

Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation at 619-234-2300.

Where You Can Find Our San Diego Office Location

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Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.