Section 243(e)(1) of the California Penal Code defines the crime of domestic battery. It is one of the most frequently charged offenses of domestic violence in Orange County and elsewhere in Southern California.
False accusations of domestic battery are common. Fortunately, the truth can be exposed with a diligent investigation and skilled cross-examination. Whether the accusation is true or false or somewhere in between, no person can be convicted of a crime unless that crime can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. An aggressive defense can create doubt to avoid an unnecessary conviction.
Choosing the right defense (or combination of defenses) requires experience, a strong understanding of the law, and a sense of how juries and judges will respond to specific arguments and witnesses. Here are some successful defenses that I rely upon when I represent clients charged with domestic battery.
No domestic relationship
Domestic battery only applies to certain kinds of relationships. Whether the accused is or was married to or cohabiting with the alleged victim is not usually an issue, but the offense is often charged against people who are not current or former spouses or cohabitants.
If the offense is charged against the father of the alleged victim’s child, has paternity been established? A DNA test might show that the accused abuser is not actually the child’s father and therefore cannot be charged with domestic abuse. In some cases, the absence of DNA testing might create a reasonable doubt as to the accused’s paternity.
If the offense is charged against an accused partner in a “dating relationship,” a defense might be based on whether a “relationship” existed or whether the partners were casually dating or engaging in an occasional, nonexclusive sexual relationship. If the accused was paying for sex, the accused and the alleged victim had a financial relationship, not a dating relationship.
Some quarrels that end up charged as domestic batteries resemble mutual combat. Who started the right is often a disputed issue. The police tend to side with whichever person called them but that person is not always the victim.
Every person who is physically attacked has the right to use reasonable force in self-defense. “Reasonable force” means you cannot inflict a brutal beating on someone who merely slapped your face. Self-defense is the right to protect yourself, not to punish someone else for aggressive behavior. As long as someone who is attacked uses no more force than is reasonably necessary to defend against the danger of further attack, self-defense is a justification for striking another person, even if that person is in a domestic relationship with the accused.
Who started the fight and how much force was actually used are questions of fact. They often depend upon “he said, she said” testimony. When there is no unbiased witness to a physical encounter, it is often possible to create a reasonable doubt as to whether the accused was justifiably acting in self-defense.
The prosecution must prove that the accused willfully touched a current or former domestic partner in a harmful or offensive way. “Willful” does not have the same meaning as “intentional,” but it does exclude physical touching that was entirely accidental.
An accused who stumbled or tripped and accidentally fell into the alleged victim, knocking that person to the ground, did not behave willfully. In appropriate cases, the defense of accident can lead to an acquittal or dismissal.
Suppose a spouse received a black eye from her boyfriend. Rather than admitting that she is having an affair, the spouse might tell friends that her husband gave her the black eye. If that story makes its way to the police, the alleged victim might feel compelled to continue making a false accusation against her husband — particularly if she subsequently patched up her relationship with her boyfriend and wants out of her marriage.
False accusations are made for many reasons. An untrue claim of domestic violence might be motivated by the desire to gain an advantage in child custody proceedings, to get revenge against a spouse who is perceived as cheating, or to justify a decision to leave a relationship. Since the crime of domestic battery does not require proof of a physical injury, a domestic partner can claim to have been shoved or punched in a part of the body (like the stomach) where bruising may not occur.
Alleged victims who make a false accusations often have trouble keeping their stories straight. The more times they tell the story, the more likely they are to change the details. Exposing those inconsistencies through cross-examination can create convincing proof that the accusation is unworthy of belief. A skilled domestic violence defense lawyer often wins acquittals or dismissals by raising reasonable doubts about the credibility of domestic battery accusations.