Domestic Violence Criminal Court Process in San Diego County

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Domestic violence charges are serious and can have lasting effects on one’s life. If you have been arrested for domestic violence in San Diego County, the legal process can feel daunting. This process can be easier with the help of experienced California criminal defense attorneys, like the team at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC. Below, we detail what to expect from the domestic violence court process in San Diego.

What Is Considered Domestic Violence In California?

Domestic violence in California involves physical harm, threats, or abuse against a current or former spouse, cohabitant, dating partner, or close family member. Domestic violence can also include:

  • Physical assault,
  • Emotional abuse,
  • Stalking,
  • Harassment,
  • Sexual assault, and
  • Other forms of intimidation or control.

Understanding the full scope of what constitutes domestic violence is crucial in recognizing and addressing abusive behavior.

Initial Arrest and Charges

California law mandates an arrest in most domestic violence cases to ensure public safety. When a report of domestic violence is made, the police may arrest the accused if they have probable cause.

Following the arrest, the case is handed over to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office or the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, which decides whether to file formal charges. If charges are filed, the defendant will face a series of legal steps, and the authorities will book, fingerprint, and assign a bail amount to you.

Seeking Representation

Securing legal representation from an experienced San Diego County criminal lawyer is essential at this crucial stage. A skilled attorney can advise you of your rights, protect your interests, and navigate the complexities of the court system.


The arraignment is the defendant’s first court appearance. During this hearing, the charges are formally presented, and you’ll enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. At this stage, San Diego County domestic violence lawyers always recommend that clients plead not guilty to facilitate additional investigation and defense strategy preparation. The court may also set bail, and conditions for release are discussed.

Pretrial Proceedings

Pretrial proceedings include several steps aimed at preparing the case for trial. These steps include:

  1. Discovery—Both the prosecution and the defense exchange evidence and witness lists. This stage is crucial for San Diego County criminal lawyers to build a strong defense.
  2. Motions—Attorneys may file motions to suppress evidence, dismiss charges, or other legal actions to strengthen their case.
  3. Plea bargaining—Negotiations between the defense and prosecution may lead to a plea deal, potentially reducing charges or sentencing.

During this phase, your attorney collects evidence, scrutinizes the prosecution’s case, and delves into potential defense strategies. Open communication and collaboration with your attorney are essential during this phase.

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders

Domestic violence cases often involve restraining orders. A temporary restraining order (TRO) may be issued at the arraignment, restricting contact with the alleged victim. A hearing will determine if a permanent restraining order is warranted. San Diego domestic violence lawyers can represent you at this hearing and advocate for your interests.

Is It Possible For The Alleged Victim To Drop Domestic Violence Charges?

In California, the prosecutor, not the victim, decides whether to drop charges. Even if the alleged victim recants or refuses to cooperate, the prosecutor may pursue the case if there is sufficient evidence.

Preliminary Hearing

In felony domestic violence cases, a preliminary hearing determines if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. The judge reviews the evidence presented by the prosecution, and if it’s deemed sufficient, the case moves forward. This hearing provides a critical opportunity for the defense to challenge the evidence and witness credibility.


If a case proceeds to trial, it is either held before a judge (bench trial) or a jury (jury trial). The trial process involves:

  1. Jury selection—If there is a jury trial, jurors are selected through a process called voir dire, in which potential jurors are questioned to ensure impartiality.
  2. Opening statements—Both sides present their case overview to the judge or jury.
  3. Presentation of evidence—The prosecution and defense present evidence and call witnesses. Cross-examination is vital to this phase, allowing San Diego County criminal defense attorneys to challenge the prosecution’s case.
  4. Closing arguments—Both sides summarize their cases, emphasizing key evidence and witness testimony.
  5. Verdict—The judge or jury deliberates and returns a guilty or not guilty verdict. A guilty verdict leads to sentencing, including jail time, fines, probation, and mandatory counseling or community service.

If you are found not guilty, the charges are dropped, you are free to go, and your record remains clean. Having competent legal representation throughout the process is crucial due to the long-lasting consequences of a trial.


The court will proceed to sentencing if the defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty. The severity of the sentence depends on several factors, including:

  • The nature of the offense,
  • Your criminal history, and
  • Any mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

Sentences for domestic violence can range from probation to significant prison time, along with mandatory participation in domestic violence programs.


After sentencing, you can appeal the conviction or sentence. This process involves reviewing the trial for legal errors that could have affected the verdict. San Diego County criminal lawyers can file appeals and argue on behalf of their clients to seek a reversal or reduction of the sentence.

How Long Does The Domestic Violence Court Process Take?

The duration of the court process varies based on factors such as the complexity of the case, court schedules, and whether the case proceeds to trial. Resolving the court process can take several months to over a year. Seeking legal guidance early on can help expedite the process and ensure all necessary steps are taken to achieve the best possible outcome.

Do Not Tackle a Domestic Violence Charge Alone

The criminal court process after a domestic violence arrest can be complex and emotionally charged. The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, understands the gravity of these situations.

Our team of criminal defense attorneys has extensive experience handling domestic violence cases across San Diego County, from Oceanside to Imperial Beach and La Jolla to Borrego Springs. We are dedicated to delivering compassionate and assertive representation, relentlessly fighting to safeguard your rights and achieve the most favorable outcome.

Contact us today for a free consultation. Let our experience and proven track record work for you.

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Kerry L. Armstrong


Abogado Kerry Armstrong abrió su bufete en junio de 2007. El Sr. Armstrong asistió a Facultad de Derecho Thomas JeffersonSan Diego, California, y obtuvo su licenciatura en Universidad Estatal de Middle Tennessee. Kerry L. Armstrong obtuvo la certificación del Consejo de Especialización Jurídica del Colegio de Abogados de California de Derecho Penal en agosto de 2020, lo que le uno de los pocos abogados penalistas con un certificado de especialización jurídica en derecho penal en el condado de San Diego. Entre 2014 - 2019, el Sr. Armstrong fue seleccionado para su inclusión en el Súper Abogados de California un honor que sólo se concede al 5% de los abogados del país.