Is Domestic Violence a Misdemeanor or Felony?

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on July 30, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Is domestic violence a misdemeanor or felony? The answer is, it depends on a lot of different factors.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is a very broad legal term used to describe all forms of violence by one member of a household or family against another member of a household or family . The victim can be, but is not limited to, a:

  • Spouse;
  • Child;
  • Significant other (gay or straight);
  • Roommate; or
  • Parent, grandparent, or elder relative.

The forms of violence encompass all sorts of acts, be it physical, sexual, emotional, or economic. Some states have specific laws against domestic violence, while other states prosecute domestic violence according to the laws of the underlying crime, such as physical violence of assault and battery.

Misdemeanors, Felonies, and Wobblers

Misdemeanors are crimes with maximum sentences of one to twelve months in jail, while felonies are crimes with maximum sentencing over twelve months in prison. And then there are "wobblers", underlying crimes that have misdemeanor and felony charges. Case prosecutors decide under which level of crime they will prosecute.

State Laws Specifically Against Domestic Violence

As stated, some states have specific laws against domestic violence. Let's examine the crime of battery, which is a wobbler, and will depend under which statute a district attorney decides to prosecute. For instance, in California, in an accusation of battery against a spouse, a prosecutor can choose to charge the defendant with:

  • Section 242: regular battery, a misdemeanor or
  • Section 243(e)(1): domestic violence battery, a misdemeanor or
  • Section 243(d): battery with intent to "inflict serious bodily injury", which can be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the sentence, or
  • Section 273.5: willful battery which leads to "corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition" where the victim has familial or intimate relationships with the defendant. This can be either a felony or misdemeanor charge, but usually a felony.

If you have been accused of domestic violence, these charges can be quite serious. Take action at once to speak with a local criminal defense attorney, who can look at the facts of your case. It may be possible for your attorney to speak with the prosecutor and lessen charges before they are formally filed, which can be life-changing for a variety of reasons.

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