If you intentionally cause a physical injury “resulting in a traumatic condition” on any of the following types of individual, you will face a felony charge of Corporal Injury On A Spouse or Cohabitant, pursuant to California Penal Code section 273.5:
a spouse or former spouse;
a current or former person with whom you are cohabitating;
the parent of your child;
your current or former fianceé; or
your current or former boyfriend or girlfriend (“a dating relationship”).
“Traumatic injury” can be virtually any physical injury – whether internal or external, and can be moderate or severe. The defining characteristic of the injury is that it must have resulted from the defendant’s exertion of physical force. Not surprisingly, the degree of punishment in the event of a conviction will depend primarily on the extent of the victim’s injury. Cal. Pen. Code § 273.5(d).
If you intended to cause the purported victim a serious injury but were unsuccessful, then you can be charged with Attempted Infliction of Corporal Punishment on Spouse or Cohabitant under Penal Code section 664.
You should also know that if you unsuccessfully attempted to inflict serious injury on, say, your former domestic partner but injured someone else instead – such as his or her visiting friend – then you can still be charged with felony infliction of domestic violence resulting in great bodily injury.
Convictions and Sentencing Terms for Domestic Violence – Corporal Injury On A Spouse or Cohabitant
If you are convicted, you will by punished as follows:
imprisonment for two, three or four years; or
county jail for up to one year; or
a fine of up to $6,000; or
imprisonment and fine.
Thus, corporal injury on a spouse or co-habitant is a wobbler, meaning that the prosecutor has the discretion to charge it as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances but primarily based on the extent of the injury(ies).
If you are fortunate enough to receive probation (instead of prison but possibly in conjunction with a county jail term), or if you receive a suspended sentence, then you can expect to pay victim restitution. Also, instead of a fine, you might be ordered to make a donation of up to $5,000 to a battered women’s shelter. You will also have to complete a fifty-two-week batterer’s intervention program sponsored by the LA County Probation Department.
For an attempt conviction, you can expect to be sentenced to one-half the jail/prison term, if any, and one-half the fine, that the judge would otherwise order, pursuant to Pen. Code § 664(a)-(c).
However, if the injury is particularly severe, you can also expect to receive sentencing enhancements of three to five additional years in prison, pursuant to Penal Code section 12022.7.
This excludes any additional enhancements if this crime is also charged as a strike offense under California’s three-strikes law, as Penal Code section 667.
Repeat Offenders Charged with Domestic Violence – Corporal Injury On A Spouse
Of all DV crimes, the one that arguably results in allegedly repeated offenders being charged with a felony most frequently is Corporal Injury On A Spouse or Cohabitant, again, as codified at Pen. Code § 273.5.
Multiple arrests of Brian Hickerson (actress Hayden Panettiere's ex-boyfriend)
Hickerson’s multiple arrests illustrate how one of these allegedly recidivist scenarios can play out. According to the LA County DA’s Office, he physically assaulted Pantierre (who played the assistant coach’s daughter in 2000’s Remember the Titans) at least eight times during an eight-month period beginning in spring 2019.
As a result, following his arrest by the Santa Monica Police Department on or about July 16, 2020, he was charged with five felonies, including corporal injury on a spouse and Intimidating/Dissuading a Witness or Victim (California Penal Code section 136.1) (Pantierre), as well as misdemeanor Domestic Battery (California Penal Code section 243(e)(1)). His bail was set at more than three hundred thousand dollars.
Previously, on February 14, 2020, during a ski vacation at Jackson Hole, Wyoming with Pantierre, Hickerson had been charged with two misdemeanors for domestic battery and obstruction of justice – a criminal case that had not yet been fully adjudicated as of the date of his most recent arrest.
(He had pled not guilty to that previous charge in April 2020, and a jury trial had originally been scheduled in September 2020, although that was almost certainly continued due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) Nevertheless, the local Wyoming court (Teton County) had issued a permanent restraining order against Pantierre, which would have been honored in California and which will almost certainly be – it it hasn’t already been – added as a new criminal charge in LA (see below).
Further, according to LA prosecutors, Pantierre had made multiple criminal complaints for domestic violence against Hickerson – both to LAPD and SMPD – during their eighteen-month-long romantic tenure. One of these calls resulted in him being arrested in May 2019 and charged – for the first time – with felony corporal injury on a spouse resulting in serious injury.
He pled not guilty in June 2019. Fortunately for Hickerson, Pantierre did not cooperate with the DA’s Office and, therefore, the case was dismissed. However, if she had testified against him and he had been convicted, any second conviction for corporal injury on a spouse would have resulted in a significant sentencing enhancement for the second conviction. See people.com.
Corporal Injury On A Spouse or Cohabitant is Often Charged with Other Serious Crimes
Corporal injury is often, if not typically, charged with other, more serious crimes and, therefore, if you are convicted in this circumstance, you could receive consecutive – as opposed to concurrent prison terms.
The machete attack by Woodland Hills resident against ex-wife and music producer
For example in early December 2014, Woodland Hills resident Mr. Behnam Vasseghi pled no contest to multiple felonies, including Attempted Murder (California Penal Code section 664) and corporal injury on a spouse resulting in a traumatic condition stemming from his machete attack on his ex-wife and retired music producer Gerald Sharell.
As a result, Vasseghi was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison, which, had he gone to trial and lost, would likely have resulted in a life-with-possibility-of-parole term in light of the victim’s grievous injuries (Vasseghi admitted to slashing Sharell’s throat and his ex-wife’s nose.) See da.lacounty.gov.
Murder by Walnut resident with knife of ex-husband
Similarly, on September 13, 2011, Socorro Mora, a resident of Walnut (east Los Angeles County), assaulted her then-husband, George Mora, then cut herself and claimed to police that he had initially attacked her. Notwithstanding, George was able to secure a semi-permanent stay-away order and a move-out order against her, and gained sole custody of their minor children.
Approximately one month later (October 19th), Socorro returned to the home, broke in, stabbed him almost three-dozen times, killing him, then cutting herself multiple times in (another) attempt to claim self-defense. As a result, she was arrested, charged, tried, and convicted in mid-May 2014, of, among other crimes, Second-Degree Murder (California Penal Code section 192) and corporal injury on a spouse resulting in traumatic injury (death).
In early September 2014, she was sentenced to twenty-years-to-life-with-the-possibility-of-parole in prison (including five consecutive years for corporal injury, for a total of 25 years). She was also required to pay more than $17,000 in restitution. See da.lacounty.gov.
Corporal Injury Can Involve Non-Romantic Co-Habitants
As previously stated, you can be charged with corporal injury (with or without a resulting serious injury) to a co-habitant (i.e., someone who is currently living with you or has lived with you anytime during the six months prior to your arrest/charge). This, of course, could include your own or another person’s child.
For example, in early February 2018, the mother of eleven-year-old Joel Ortuno Jr. and her fiancée got into a heated argument at their house in West Covina, which culminated with the man assaulting his mother and knocking Joel out cold.
As a result of Joel’s testimony (presumably at the preliminary hearing), the fiancée eventually pled no contest to, among other crimes, Corporal Injury on a Child Resulting in Traumatic Injury (California Penal Code section 273d). The fiancée thereafter received a forty-eight-month term in a California penitentiary, and a decade-long stay-away order. See da.lacounty.gov.
Defenses to Domestic Violence – Corporal Injury On A Spouse or Co-Habitant
If the purported victim doesn’t fall under the protected domestic-violence-victim categories identified above, then the DA’s Office will have to dismiss the corporal injury charge and proceed with (what should be) a lesser charge – assuming your attorney can establish the purported victim’s actual relationship towards you (hopefully not later than at the preliminary hearing).
However, if he or she is a purported DV victim, then your attorney should hopefully be able to make one or more of the following defenses:
you did not act willfully in causing the injury (e.g., it was an accident, or even the result of your own criminal negligence);
he or she was not actually injured (or for purposes of mitigation, was not seriously wounded);
you reasonably acted in self-defense or defense of another (arguably the most effective defense to this charge);
if he or she was injured, it was not the natural or probable consequence of your act;
the injury only indirectly caused the alleged traumatic condition, or otherwise was not a significant factor in causing the condition (e.g., there was an intervening act – which ideally had nothing to do with you – that caused the injury or the condition);
you did not personally inflict the injury on him or her;
the degree of force you allegedly used would not have been sufficient to cause the alleged serious injury; and/or
the condition would have occurred even in the absence of the injury.
See Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) number 840 ("Inflicting Injury on Spouse, Cohabitant, or Fellow Parent Resulting in Traumatic Condition").
CALCRIM number 925 (“Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury”) defines a severe physical injury (i.e., a severe traumatic injury) as follows:
a significant interference with a bodily function;
getting knocked out cold or suffering a concussion;
a broken bone;
losing the ability to use a body part or internal organ;
lacerations requiring numerous stitches or staples;
permanent scarring; and
being rendered comatose (even for a relatively short period).
Defending Against Sentencing Enhancements
Convincing a jury that the purported victim (sometimes referred to as the “complaining witness” if she or he actually takes the stand to testify against you under oath) did not actually suffer is serious injury will be particularly important if you are ultimately convicted of domestic battery to avoid sentencing enhancements.
See, e.g., CALCRIM number 3163 (“Great Bodily Injury: Domestic Violence”).
See also for example, California Penal Code section 667.61 (enhancements of either fifteen-to-life or twenty-five-to-life); California Penal Code section 1192.7(c)(8) (felonious infliction of severe physical injury on another individual); and Penal Code section 12022.7(e) (same – penalty enhancements ranging from an additional three to five years in prison for domestic violence).
Whether a injury constitutes a “serious” one will, like all the corporal-injury elements mentioned above, be a question of fact left up to a jury.
Corporal Injury Defenses Involving Expert Witnesses
In a significant felony domestic violence case, particularly involving an alleged corporal injury with serious injury, the prosecutor will often present an expert witness to testify about a phenomenon commonly known as battered women’s syndrome (“BWS”). When this happens, your attorney should – and we cannot emphasize that word strong enough – present a defense expert to counter that testimony.
For example, your expert would testify that simply because BWS is a legitimate phenomenon, it in no way has any bearing on whether you actually committed the alleged corporal injury.
In fact, your expert would also be entitled to testify as to whether the prosecution’s expert’s testimony regarding BWS (sometimes referred to as “intimate partner battering syndrome”) supports your self-defense claim (if applicable), i.e., whether or not you were reasonable in believing you had to exert force on your current/former domestic partner.
See CALCRIM number 851 (“Testimony on Intimate Partner Battering and Its Effects: Offered by the Defense”).
Celebrities Accused of Domestic Violence – Corporal Injury On A Spouse
Sentencing of Oakland civil rights attorney Wayne J. Johnson
At the end of 2019, famed (at least locally) Oakland civil liberties attorney Wayne Johnson was ordered to serve almost seven years in a state penitentiary by an Alameda County Superior Court judge after a jury found him guilty of corporal injury on a spouse or co-habitant, as well as Stalking (California Penal Code section 646.9) his former romantic partner – both felonies.
The sentence was handed down twelve months after Wayne was arrested for a months-long harassment campaign, which culminated in him shooting the woman at point-blank range with an air rifle. In addition, Johnson was suspended by the State Bar of California following his conviction. See mercurynews.com.
Multiple arrests of former UFC fighter Jason “Mayhem” Miller
Between 2015 and 2017, Miller – a former middleweight world MMA contender and Fox TV’s Ultimate Fighter coach – was repeatedly arrested in Orange County on felony charges of corporal injury.
As a result, at the end of November 2017, he entered a guilty plea to a single corporal injury count, served more than two months in jail, and received a suspended sentence of almost five years in a California penal institution. His sentencing terms also included victim restitution and a one-year-long outpatient batterer’s intervention program. See mmajunkie.usatoday.com.
The arrest of That 70's Show star Lisa R. Kelly
Just after midnight on May 30, 2012, Kelly (who starred in almost sixty episodes of the hit Fox TV show), was arrested by Los Angeles police on a felony charge of corporal injury on a spouse. (Her bail was set at fifty-thousand dollars.) Kelly was arrested after her former romantic partner, John Michas, filed a criminal complaint with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, alleging that she had attacked and injured him in the apartment they shared.
She later told several media outlets that Michas had actually attacked her, and that he had injured himself. Sadly, within a week of checking into a rehab facility, she died from what the LA County Coroner’s Office deemed an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. See dailymail.co.uk.
Ex-Los Angeles Kings defensive player Slava Voynov
In late November 2014, the Redondo Beach PD arrested, and the LA County DA’s Office charged, professional hockey star Viatcheslav “Slava” Voynov with a single felony count of Corporal Injury on a Spouse – his wife Marta Varlamova – resulting in traumatic injury (Pen. Code § 273.5).
Specifically, prosecutors alleged one month earlier, on or about October 20th, Voynov and his wife had gotten into a heated altercation at their South Bay mansion, culminating in him repeatedly: (a) choking her, (b) shoving her to the ground, (c) kicking her, and (d) striking her face, thereby causing injuries sufficiently severe to require a trip to the local emergency room and multiple stitches.
(According to the RBPD officer who interviewed Varlamova, she had told the officer that Voynov had a history of violently abusing her.) Voynov, who had apparently driven her to the hospital, was actually arrested at the E.R. As a result of her alleged injuries, Voynov faced almost a decade behind bars in a California penal institution if convicted. See da.lacounty.gov.
Eight months later, in July 2015, after Varlamova refused to testify against him (and claimed through his defense counsel that the incident had been unintentional), Voynov pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge of corporal injury, spent approximately sixty days in jail, and received three years’ formal probation.
However, because even a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction is considered to be a crime of moral turpitude, ICE arrested him for the purpose of deporting him. Voynov voluntarily left the United States shortly thereafter (in September) and returned to his native Russia, where he played pro hockey. He also played on Russia’s Olympic hockey team several years later.
Also as a result, the Los Angeles Kings fired him, causing him to lose more than twenty million dollars on his National Hockey League contract alone (excluding endorsement deals), and was prevented from participating in the 2016 World Cup. Notwithstanding, he and Varlamova remained married and even had a child together. See latimes.com.
The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm (LADALF)
As a sixteenth-year criminal defense attorney (including four years as a Deputy Public Defender for LA County), LADALF’s lead attorney Ninaz Saffari has vigorously defended scores of clients charged with serious domestic violence cases, including corporal injury on a spouse or co-habitant with traumatic injury, and including those charged as strike offenses (because of the nature of the injuries), pursuant to California Penal Code section 667.
She also intimately understands the devastating consequences even a misdemeanor conviction can have on all aspects of her clients’ lives and, therefore, will work with other experts and professionals to address any professional licensing, family law/custody, immigration, and/or substance abuse issues.