California Penal Code 273.5 PC addresses corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant. In California, this is a critical statute that combats domestic violence. Penal Code 273.5 targets cases where physical harm, whether minor or severe, is inflicted upon an intimate partner.

The repercussions of being found guilty under PC 273.5 can be profound, ranging from criminal records to significant legal penalties. For anyone in Monterey facing such charges, securing legal advice becomes not just a choice but a necessity for a fair and informed defense. At Monterey Criminal Attorney, we could help lower your charges if they are not dismissed.

The Meaning Of “Corporal Injury To A Spouse” Under California Law

In California, causing corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant is a serious offense, defined under Penal Code 273.5. The law specifically refers to the act of inflicting a physical injury that results in a traumatic condition on a spouse.

An intimate partner could include a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, or someone with whom the accused has had an intimate relationship. The term "corporal injury" refers to any physical harm, whether noticeable, like a slight bruise or cut or an internal injury that may not be immediately apparent.

Definition of Terms

Understanding the terminology used in Penal Code 273.5 is crucial. Each term has specific legal implications that can significantly impact the outcome of a case.

  • Defining “Willfully”

Under California PC 273.5, "willfully" signifies an intentional action. You do not need to have intended to break the law, but rather that the act causing injury was done on purpose. For example, during a heated argument, Ken grabs Jane’s arm and twists it, leading to a dislocated elbow. Despite not intending to harm Jane, Ken's deliberate action of twisting her arm is classified as willful behavior under this statute​​.

  • The Legal Definition Of “Traumatic Condition”

Per Penal Code 273.5, a "traumatic condition" is defined as any wound or bodily injury caused by direct physical force. The injury does not need to be severe; even minor wounds or injuries suffice. Common examples of injuries considered traumatic conditions include:

  • Broken bones,
  • Concussions,
  • Internal bleeding,
  • Sprains and bruises,
  • Injuries resulting from suffocation or strangulation​​.

To establish a PC 273.5 violation, the prosecution must demonstrate that your actions directly caused the traumatic condition. This involves showing that the condition was a natural and probable consequence of the force used, that the force was a direct and substantial cause, and that the condition would not have occurred without such force​​.

For example, James angrily pushes Mercy, his partner, against a wall. As a result, Mercy suffered a minor bruise. Even though these injuries might be considered minor, they qualify as a traumatic condition under PC 273.5 because they were directly caused by the physical force exerted during the push.

  • The Traumatic Condition Must Be The Result Of Direct Physical Force

For a charge to be substantiated, the prosecutor must prove that the traumatic condition of the victim was the direct result of your physical force. This requirement is crucial in distinguishing accidental injuries from those inflicted intentionally.

For example, Mitchelle pushes her boyfriend Gerald during an argument. Gerald, while attempting to walk away, trips and sustains a cut. In this case, Mitchelle would not be guilty of corporal injury, as Gerald's injury (the cut) was not a direct result of Mitchelle pushing him but rather a consequence of his actions (tripping while walking away)​​.

  • The Meaning Of “Intimate Partner”

Per California PC 273.5, an "intimate partner" includes:

  • Current or former spouse,
  • Registered domestic partner,
  • Live-in boyfriend or girlfriend (a “cohabitant”),
  • Fiancé(e),
  • Parent of your child,
  • A person with whom you have a serious “dating relationship.”

The determination of cohabitation, which is key to identifying an intimate partner, involves various factors, such as:

  • Sharing of the same residence along with sexual relations.
  • Joint handling of income or expenses.
  • Joint use or ownership of property.
  • Mutual acknowledgment of a serious relationship.
  • The continuous nature of the relationship.
  • The duration of the relationship.

It is possible to cohabit with more than one person simultaneously, reflecting the complexities of modern relationships​​.

For example, Peter and Saul lease an apartment together and have a romantic relationship, and Peter also starts living with and has a romantic involvement with Luke. Peter can be considered to be cohabiting with both Saul and Luke.

Sentencing, Punishment, and Penalties for Penal Code 273.5

Possible punishment depends on whether the offense is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The decision is typically based on the severity of the injuries and the defendant's criminal history.

Misdemeanor Penalties

When charged as a misdemeanor, PC 273.5 carries specific penalties, including:

  • Imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year.
  • A fine that may reach up to $6,000.

Sometimes, the court might opt for misdemeanor probation instead of jail time, allowing you to remain in the community under supervised conditions.

Felony Penalties

The penalties for a felony conviction include the following:

  • Imprisonment in state prison for two, three, or four years.
  • A fine that may go up to $6,000.

The court may also consider sentencing you to felony probation, which involves strict supervision and compliance with various conditions set by the court.

Felony Penalties With Prior Convictions

The penalties for corporal injury to a spouse can escalate significantly if you have prior convictions, particularly for related domestic violence or assault offenses. In such cases, the law prescribes enhanced penalties for a felony conviction:

  • Mandatory minimum jail sentences are imposed for those with specific prior convictions within the past seven years. This includes a range of related statutes, such as PC 243.4 (sexual battery) and PC 245 (assault with a deadly weapon), among others.
  • The number and nature of previous convictions often determine increased imprisonment time in state prisons.

These enhanced penalties reflect the legal system's emphasis on addressing repeat offenders more stringently, especially in cases involving domestic violence or similar offenses.

  • A Prior Conviction For Battery On A Spouse

If you have a previous conviction for battery on a spouse (Penal Code 243(e)), the law stipulates enhanced penalties. These can include:

  1. 2, 3, or 4 years in prison.
  2. A fine not exceeding $10,000​​.
  • A Prior Conviction For Other Assault & Battery Or Corporal Injury

If you are convicted and have a prior conviction for battery on a spouse, assault with a deadly weapon (Penal Code 245(a)(1)), or sexual battery (PC 243.4), the penalties for a felony conviction are increased. The penalties can include:

  • A 2, 4, or 5-year prison sentence.
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000​​.

Corporal Injury With “Great Bodily Injury” — PC 12022.7 Sentence Enhancement

Sentence enhancement for causing "great bodily injury" is applicable under Penal Code 12022.7 when corporal injury to a spouse results in substantial physical harm. "Great bodily injury" is defined as a significant physical injury. It goes beyond minor or moderate harm and can include:

  • Broken bones,
  • Severe scarring or disfigurement,
  • Severe concussion,
  • Blistering or second-degree burns,
  • Severe contusions and swelling,
  • Strangulation causing unconsciousness or near unconsciousness,
  • Knife wounds,
  • Gunshot wounds,
  • Loss of a body part or organ,
  • Internal organ damage.

If convicted of corporal injury, you may face an additional 3 to 5 years in state prison. This enhancement is applied to the base sentence for the underlying corporal injury offense​​. If you have a history of severe or violent felonies, this enhancement can also result in a "strike" under California's Three Strikes Law. A strike can have significant implications for sentencing in future convictions, including the possibility of doubled sentences or, in cases of a third strike, a sentence of 25 years to life​​.


Probation is often considered an alternative to imprisonment. Probation allows you to serve your sentence in the community under specific court-imposed conditions rather than jail or prison. The type and duration of probation can vary based on the circumstances of the case and the defendant's criminal history.

  1. Misdemeanor (Summary) Probation. This is typically granted in cases charged as misdemeanors. It usually involves less stringent supervision and fewer conditions than felony probation.
  2. Felony (Formal) Probation. In cases charged as felonies, this type of probation requires closer supervision, often including regular check-ins with a probation officer and more rigorous conditions.
  • Probation conditions

When a defendant is granted probation for a conviction under Penal Code 273.5 PC, the court typically mandates several specific conditions to ensure compliance and rehabilitation. These conditions are designed not only to punish but also to prevent future incidents of domestic violence.

Common probationary conditions include:

  1. For defendants with a prior conviction within the past seven years for assault or domestic violence, there are mandatory minimum jail sentences. This includes 15 days for one prior conviction and 60 days for two or more prior convictions.
  2. You must avoid any further legal transgressions. Even minor legal violations can result in probation being revoked.
  3. A monetary contribution, up to a maximum of $5,000, may be required to be paid to a battered woman’s shelter.
  4. The completion of a 52-week domestic violence class is a common requirement, focusing on understanding and preventing domestic abuse.
  5. Compliance with a restraining order prohibiting any form of contact with the victim, often for a duration of up to ten years.
  6. Payment of restitution to the victim to cover expenses incurred due to medical treatment, counseling, and other related costs.
  7. Fulfilling a set number of community service hours as determined by the court.
  8. Participation in counseling sessions, which may include anger management or specific counseling related to domestic violence issues.
  • What Happens If I Violate Probation?

Violating the terms of probation can have serious consequences. If a violation is found, the court may modify the probation conditions, extend the probation period, or revoke probation altogether, potentially resulting in imprisonment.

Immigration Consequences

A conviction can have significant consequences, particularly for non-U.S. citizens. Corporal injury on a spouse is considered a crime of domestic violence, which is deportable under federal immigration law. This risk of removal from the U.S. is a serious consideration for non-citizen defendants, including lawful permanent residents (green card holders).

In addition to being categorized as a deportable offense, corporal injury under PC 273.5 can be considered a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT). Conviction of a CIMT can lead to inadmissibility, meaning the individual:

  • May be barred from re-entering the U.S. after leaving.
  • Cannot become a U.S. citizen.
  • They are ineligible to apply for a green card or adjust their status from illegal to legal.

The implications of a PC 273.5 conviction extend to future immigration applications and processes. It can affect applications for citizenship, legal residency, and even temporary visas. Disclosing such a conviction is typically required on most immigration forms, and failing to do so can lead to further legal complications.

Great Bodily Injury Is A “Strike” Offense

In California, the legal concept of a “strike” stems from the state's Three Strikes Law, designed to significantly increase penalties for repeat offenders with prior serious or violent felony convictions. Causing great bodily injury to a spouse or cohabitant can elevate the offense to a “strike.”

If you are convicted of corporal injury with great bodily injury, this conviction counts as a strike on your record. Having a strike has serious implications for future convictions, as it can double the sentence for any new felony conviction and impose a minimum sentence of 25 years to life for a third strike.

Aside from the immediate sentencing implications, having a strike due to a conviction involving great bodily injury can affect a person’s criminal record, affecting employment opportunities, housing, and more. It also influences the defendant's eligibility for probation and parole in future cases.

No Penalty Enhancements In Los Angeles County

An important regional distinction in applying PC 273.5 is observed in Los Angeles County. Specifically, this jurisdiction has no penalty enhancements for great bodily injury under PC 273.5. Generally, under California law, causing great bodily injury in a corporal injury case can lead to enhanced penalties, including longer prison terms and classifying the offense as a strike under the Three Strikes Law.

In Los Angeles County, however, prosecutors do not pursue great bodily injury enhancements under PC 12022.7. This means that even if the corporal injury results in significant physical harm, the offense will not be considered a strike or result in additional sentencing enhancements in this county.

Defending PC 273.5 Charges

Defending against charges under Penal Code 273.5 PC requires a thorough legal strategy, often involving one or more of the following defenses:

You Acted In Lawful Self-Defense Or Defense Of Others

One effective defense against Penal Code 273.5 charges is asserting that the actions were in lawful self-defense or defense of others. This defense is based on the principle that you have the right to protect yourself or another person from immediate harm.

However, you must demonstrate that there was an immediate threat of harm. The threat can be verbal or physical, but it must be immediate and reasonably perceived as dangerous. Also, the belief that harm is imminent must be reasonable. This means that a typical person in the same situation would perceive the threat similarly.

The force used in self-defense should be proportional to the threat. The court may not consider using more force than necessary to fend off the danger as self-defense.

You Did Not Act Willfully

The law requires that the infliction of injury be intentional, so proving the absence of intent can negate a key element of the offense. This defense applies if the injury resulted from an accident where no harm was intended. The key is to establish that there was no deliberate intention to cause harm.

Even if the act was intentional, this defense might apply if the resulting injury was not intended or could not have been reasonably foreseen. Demonstrating the context in which the injury occurred, such as engaging in a mutual activity where an accidental injury happened, can support this defense.

For example, Joel and Kevin are playfully wrestling. During the activity, Joel accidentally falls and sustains an injury. Kevin's action in engaging in the wrestling was willful, but the resulting injury was accidental, not a deliberate attempt to cause harm.

You Were Falsely Accused

Addressing false accusations challenges the validity of the accuser's claims, asserting that the alleged incident did not occur as claimed or did not happen at all. Establishing a motive for the accuser to lie is a key element. This could include jealousy, revenge, or an attempt to gain an advantage in a custody or divorce proceeding.

Demonstrating inconsistencies or contradictions in the accuser's account can undermine their credibility. This may involve comparing their statements to physical evidence, witness testimonies, or other factual inconsistencies.

In some cases, the absence of corroborating physical evidence can support a defense of false accusations, especially if the alleged injuries are inconsistent with the accuser's version of events.

What Happens If the Accuser Refuses to Testify?

In cases where the accuser (victim) refuses to testify, it can significantly impact the prosecution's ability to prove their case. However, this refusal does not automatically lead to the dismissal of charges. Without the accuser's testimony, the prosecutor may find it challenging to establish the necessary elements of the crime. The accuser's direct account often provides critical evidence for substantiating the charges.

Prosecutors have the authority to subpoena the accuser to testify in court. If the accuser is legally ordered to appear and testify but refuses, the court may have various mechanisms to enforce this order, though there are limitations.

Under California law, particularly Civil Code 1219(b), domestic violence or sexual assault victims cannot be arrested for refusing to testify in court after being subpoenaed. This law protects victims from being further victimized by the legal system. The prosecution may rely on other evidence to build their case, such as medical reports, photographs of injuries, witness statements, or police reports.

While hearsay (statements made out of court) is generally not admissible, there are exceptions. For example, statements made for medical diagnosis or treatment may be admissible. In some instances, the accuser's refusal to testify might lead to the dismissal of the case, particularly if there is insufficient other evidence to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

Ultimately, the decision to pursue or dismiss the case rests with the prosecutor, who will assess the strength of the available evidence and the likelihood of obtaining a conviction.

Crimes Related to PC 273.5

It is not uncommon for additional charges to be filed in conjunction with the primary offense. These additional charges are usually related to the circumstances of the incident and can significantly impact the legal consequences the defendant faces.

  1. California PC 243(e)(1), Domestic Battery. This is a less severe domestic violence offense characterized by harmful or offensive touching of an intimate partner without the necessity of a visible injury. It is typically charged as a misdemeanor.
  2. California PC 415, Disturbing the Peace. This charge can involve fighting someone in public, making unreasonable noise, or using offensive words likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction. Disturbing the peace is generally a misdemeanor.
  3. California PC 368, Elder Abuse. This involves willfully or negligently imposing physical pain or mental suffering on a person aged 65 or older. It can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
  4. California PC 273a, Child Endangerment. This charge is for putting a child at risk of harm and can be filed as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances.
  5. California PC 236, False Imprisonment. This involves unlawfully restraining another person’s freedom of movement. It can be either a felony or a misdemeanor.
  6. California PC 242, Battery. The unlawful infliction of force upon another person can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony.
  7. California PC 243(d), Aggravated Battery. This involves causing serious bodily injury to someone and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony.
  8. California PC 240, Assault. This charge is for attempting, along with the present ability, to cause violent injury to another person and can be a misdemeanor or felony.

Find a Monterey Criminal Attorney Near Me

If you are charged with causing corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant, possible punishment is harsh. You could be subject to probation, a lengthy prison sentence, paying restitution, or hefty court fines. This law intertwines with various other statutes, such as Penal Code 242 (battery), Penal Code 243(d) (aggravated battery), and Penal Code 240 (assault), each carrying its definitions and potential charges.

If facing PC 273.5 in Monterey, the stakes are high, and you need legal counsel. If you or someone you know is confronting such challenges, you want to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced defense attorney. At the Monterey Criminal Attorney, we are well-versed in California criminal laws and are committed to providing robust legal representation to protect your rights.

Contact us at 831- 574-1791 to discuss your case and explore your legal options. We are here to help you navigate the justice system with professionalism and dedication.