Spousal abuse is any abusive conduct between individuals considered intimate partners. California law prescribes specific penalties for spousal abuse. It also has a law regarding corporal injury on a spouse. Spousal abuse can take many forms and can occur in various situations and settings.

What Does Corporal Injury Mean?

Corporal injury generally means physical injury willfully or intentionally inflicted on a person that results in a traumatic condition in the victim.  The term “traumatic condition” as used in the California statute means any wound or other bodily injury caused by the direct application of physical force. The wound or injury does not need to be serious to qualify as corporal spousal abuse – a minor wound or injury would be enough to justify prosecution. 

So, corporal spousal abuse is directly and intentionally applying physical force to another person and causing physical injury, either minor or serious in nature. Note that the physical force can be applied using any part of the body, e.g. hitting or kicking, to the body of another person causing injury.

The infliction of corporal injury is a specific form of spousal abuse that is different from other types. Other types of spousal abuse that are also criminal under California law are as follows:

Clearly these other forms of abuse would not involve physical contact or the physical infliction of injury as does corporal injury on a spouse.

How is Corporal Injury on a Spouse or Cohabitant Defined in California?

In California, corporal injury on a spouse is defined as a traumatic condition that results from violent behavior towards an intimate partner. An “intimate partner” can be defined as either a current or former:

  • Spouse;
  • Co-parent;
  • Partner;
  • Fiancé or fiancée;
  • Person the defendant is dating;
  • Cohabitant in the defendant’s residence or roommate. 

Does the “Traumatic Condition” Have to Be Visible?

The standard of proof in a criminal trial for corporal injury resulting in a traumatic injury is the same as it is in every criminal trial – proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” of every fact that is required to establish the elements of the crime charged.

The elements of the crime of “corporal injury to a spouse” are the following:

  • The defendant intentionally used physical force on the victim; 
  • This caused a corporal injury to the victim;
  • Which resulted in a traumatic condition.

Other ways to define “intimate partner” might be any one of the following:

  • The defendant’s spouse or a former spouse;
  • The defendant’s current registered domestic partner or former registered domestic partner, 
  • The defendant’s live-in partner or former live-in partner;
  • The parent of the defendant’s child or children.

The traumatic condition can be internal and not visible to the naked eye. So, for example, a broken bone that is not visible to the naked eye but can only be seen in an X-ray qualifies as a traumatic condition. The condition does not need to be serious so long as there is a physical wound or injury of some kind.

Other examples of non-visible traumatic injury include:

  • A concussion, which is a type of brain injury;
  • Internal bleeding;
  • A muscle sprain;
  • Bruising;
  • Injuries arising from suffocation or strangulation.

Injury that results from strangulation or suffocation, whether it is minor or serious, if caused by physical force, certainly qualifies as a “traumatic condition”. “Strangulation” and “suffocation” are defined as impeding a person’s normal breathing or blood circulation by applying pressure to the person’s throat or the neck. Strangulation or suffocation may or may not leave injury visible to the naked eye. This does not matter. If it can be detected through medical examination, it is an injury that qualifies as a “traumatic condition”.

What Is the Punishment for Corporal Injury on a Spouse in California?

The crime of corporal injury on a spouse is a “wobbler”, which means that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony

If the defendant is convicted of a misdemeanor, the defendant can be sentenced to up to one year in a county jail, a fine of up to $6,000 or summary probation.

If the defendant is convicted of a felony, the defendant can be sentenced to imprisonment in a state prison for two, three, or four years and up to six thousand dollars ($6,000), or to both a fine and imprisonment. The penalties increase if the defendant has already been convicted of the same crime.

There are additional consequences if the crime is  prosecuted as a felony and these are as follows: 

  • Domestic violence restraining order: the defendant could be subject to a domestic violence restraining order;
  • Loss of the right to own a firearm: the defendant could lose the right to own a firearm and this could last for the remainder of the defendant’s life; it could also apply if the defendant is prosecuted for a misdemeanor;
  • Loss of professional licenses: the defendant could lose a professional license, e.g. a license to practice law, or the potential to obtain a professional license in the future.

The sentence given by a judge in a criminal case depends on a variety of factors that include whether the defendant has prior convictions, whether a gun was used in the commission of the crime and more. These sentences are those allowed by law for a first-time offender.

Are There Any Possible Defenses to Corporal Injury on a Spouse?

There are a number of potential defenses to the crime of corporal injury on a spouse. They are:

  • Self-defense or defense of others: The defendant can show that they reasonably believed that the defendant or another person was either  

    • in imminent danger of being unlawfully touched, or  
    • in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury;
    • The defendant reasonably believed that in order to defend against that danger, the defendant had to use force immediately;
    • The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary.
  • Consent: In another possible defense to the crime of corporal injury on a spouse, the defendant could present evidence to show that the alleged victim somehow invited the use of physical force or consented to it; this would constitute a “consent” defense. This defense might be viable if the defendant and alleged victim were perhaps involved in some sort of sporting activity or involved in “sexual play” that resulted in an injury to the victim;
  • Intoxication: a defendant might be able to show that they were intoxicated at the time of the incident and did not intend to cause a corporal injury;
  • Accident: another possible defense is for the defendant to show that the alleged incident was the result of an accident and the defendant did not have the intent to inflict injury;
  • Alibi: the defendant could produce an alibi witness who would testify that the defendant was with the alibi witness at the time the crime was committed far away from the crime scene and could not possibly be the person who committed the crime;
  • Reasonable doubt: Another way to defeat the prosecution of a crime is to create doubt about the evidence of the prosecution; keep in mind that the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; if the defense can create a reasonable doubt in the mind of the jurors who decide guilt or innocence, then the prosecution’s proof can fail and the defendant might avoid conviction.

Should I Talk to a Lawyer about Fighting My California Corporal Injury on a Spouse Charge?

If you have been charged with the crime of corporal injury on a spouse, you definitely want to have an experienced California family lawyer representing you. A lawyer will analyze the facts and inform you of any possible defenses. A criminal defense lawyer can learn about the prosecution’s evidence and think of ways to attack it. 

You definitely want an experienced criminal defense attorney representing you in court, especially if the case should go to trial. You will get the best possible result with an experienced criminal defense lawyer representing you.