It is common to think of domestic abuse, also called domestic violence, as a purely physical act. However, the law in California also treats some non-physical actions as domestic abuse. Authorities can charge you with a domestic violence crime even if you never laid a hand on your accuser.
Speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately if someone has accused you of domestic violence, regardless of whether the alleged abuse involved physical injuries. As explained below, under California’s criminal and family laws you could face serious consequences if the government or your accuser is able to prove non-physical abuse in court.
California Laws Addressing Non-Physical Domestic Abuse
California law authorizes two separate but related responses to domestic abuse allegations: domestic violence restraining orders obtained under the state’s Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA), and criminal charges for certain types of abusive conduct. Both responses hold potential consequences for individuals accused of engaging in non-physical domestic abuse.
The DVPA contains strong protections for individuals who claim to have been victims of domestic violence committed by a current or former spouse, domestic partner, dating partner, or household member. It defines domestic violence broadly to include non-physical abusive behavior like:
- Threatening or promising to harm the victim or someone close to them
- Harassing or stalking the victim in person, by phone, or online
- Harming the victim’s pet or personal property
- Destroying the victim’s mental or emotional calm
- Behavior that “in purpose or effect” unreasonably interferes with the victim’s free will and personal liberty
These aspects of domestic abuse are much more flexible in definition than physical actions, so it can be difficult to create solid arguments against such accusations.
Restraining Orders Under the DVPA
Under the DVPA, it is possible for your accuser to obtain a temporary restraining order against you by presenting reasonable proof to a court that you engaged in any of the types of non-physical abusive conduct listed above. Reasonable proof can be shown merely by submitting accusations against you in writing to a court.
The DVPA also allows your accuser to make a domestic violence restraining order against you “permanent” (lasting up to five years and subject to renewal) by proving to a court in a live hearing that it’s more likely than not you engaged in non-physical domestic abuse. The hearing is not a formal trial, but you have the right to receive notice of and participate in it (preferably with the assistance of a skilled criminal defense or family law attorney).
How a Restraining Order Affects the Accused
Issuance of a domestic violence restraining order against you based on an accusation of non-physical domestic abuse can have severe and lasting consequences. A domestic violence restraining order can legally:
- Limit where you go, what you do, or who you have contact with
- Force you to move out of your home
- Restrict your access to your children
- Bar you from owning or possessing a firearm
- Affect your immigration status
The fact that a court has issued a domestic violence restraining order against you does not necessarily mean you have been accused of or charged with a crime, but it’s a distinct possibility. Also remember, even if the allegations against you do not amount to a crime, you can still face criminal charges punishable by fines and incarceration if you violate the terms of a domestic violence restraining order.
That’s why we strongly urge you to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately if a court has issued a domestic violence restraining order against you, even if it stems from allegations of purely non-physical abuse.
California Crimes Involving Non-Physical Domestic Abuse
Some acts of non-physical domestic abuse recognized under the DVPA can also constitute stand-alone crimes under the California Penal Code. For example, it can constitute a crime to:
- Threaten or attempt to cause physical harm, even if you do not cause actual harm
- Harass or stalk someone in person, by phone or online (or cause others to do so) to the point that they reasonably fear for their own or their family’s safety
- Post intimate images of someone in order to harm them (also known as “revenge porn”)
- Deprive or violate someone’s personal liberty with the intent to obtain their forced labor or services
Depending on the circumstances, these crimes can constitute misdemeanors or felonies, and are punishable by incarceration, fines, and civil penalties.
Proving that you committed a crime involving non-physical domestic abuse in court is not as easy as obtaining a domestic violence restraining order for that kind of abuse. For one thing, the district attorney, not your accuser, decides whether to pursue non-physical domestic violence charges. For another, obtaining a conviction requires the prosecutor to be able to prove your guilt in court beyond a reasonable doubt. That is a much higher bar to clear than the proof needed to get a temporary or permanent restraining order against you.
However, don’t let the relative difficulty of proving non-physical domestic abuse criminal charges in court give you false comfort. District attorneys in California regularly pursue and win cases charging non-physical domestic violence. If someone has accused you of that sort of misconduct, it means your rights and freedoms are currently at risk and that you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer protecting your interests immediately.
Contact the Domestic Abuse Defense Lawyers at Dod Law, APC Today
Domestic relationships often involve intense emotions. Just because we argue with our loved ones doesn’t mean we intend to cause them harm. However, sometimes words and actions get misinterpreted or step over the line, resulting in accusations of non-physical domestic abuse under California law. It’s critical to take those accusations seriously. Under California law, your accuser can go to court and obtain a restraining order that may severely interfere with your life and livelihood, and a prosecutor can charge you with crimes that carry heavy penalties.
If you face accusations of non-physical domestic abuse that allegedly occurred in or around San Diego, the skilled criminal defense attorneys at Dod Law, APC, can evaluate your risks and advise you on your rights. Contact us today by calling (619) 814-5110 or filling out our contact form for a free consultation with a knowledgeable member of our team.