California human services departments and domestic violence victim advocates are concerned about the wellbeing of people in the homes of abusers and potential abusers in the midst of the state’s stay-at-home COVID-19 order from Governor Gavin Newsom.

Violence happens when victims are isolated, and the reality amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is that most people are more isolated than they normally would be. Kids are home from school and many people are working from home, so there are more pressures and therefore more opportunities for abuse.

The job loss, unstable economy, anxiety and stress of the current situation is bad for everyone and can be particularly problematic for an abuser who does not have proper coping skills. Instead, it comes out in violence and aggression.

Being in a violent home under stay-at-home orders can be a very difficult situation for people inside the home. The person cannot leave the home to report a crime and may not feel safe reporting the crime if the abuser is at home all the time now. Teachers often see signs of child abuse, but without children being in the classroom, adults who normally spot these situations are not able to see the kids.

Domestic abuse, also called domestic violence, occurs when a person inflicts physical injury (battery), sexual assault or instills fear in a person in the same household. In California, these crimes are very serious and severe punishments are applied. Even more severe charges are levied when the person accused has had multiple prior convictions.

Domestic Abuse

When a California police officer is called to a home to investigate a domestic abuse case, the officer can arrest an abuser under reasonable grounds that abuse has been committed in the home. Domestic abuse can occur against not only a spouse or former spouse, but against anyone in the home, including children or the elderly.

Harming or even threatening to harm a spouse or intimate partner is a violation of California domestic violence laws.

Police most often charge a person with a felony for inflicting injury. The charges are sometimes later reduced to a misdemeanor if the injuries do not rise to the level of felony conduct. Consequences are more severe if the person suffers serious injury that requires medical treatment.

When an officer responds to a domestic violence call, they complete a crime report; the person accused does have a right to obtain a copy of that report. Police will make an arrest if there is visible injury. In cases where both people are injured, the officer will arrest the primary aggressor. Officers will also remove all firearms from the home. Officers will also make an arrest if the person has violated a domestic violence restraining order. As a reminder, a person with a restraining order against him or her cannot own or possess a firearm. The officer will ask the complainant whether he or she wants an Emergency Protective Order.

Officers will then completely investigate the crime, which includes a history of previous domestic violence and restraining orders. Regarding the current offense, officers will interview all witnesses, take photos of the crime scene, get copies of the 911 call, and gather medical records and other evidence.

Conviction and Consequences

Remember that in California, “domestic violence” refers to a set of crimes, including domestic battery, child abuse and elder abuse. People convicted of domestic violence offenses in California face dire consequences.  Domestic battery is a misdemeanor but can still lead to up to 364 days in a county jail with a $2,000 fine. When police arrest a person for infliction of corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant, they are initially arrested on a felony charge which might be lessened to a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of the case.

Misdemeanors can lead to up to 364 days in county jail and a fine of up to $6,000. A felony charge has the same fine, but can lead to two to four years in state prison. If a weapon was used to inflict injury the sentence will be harsher. Felony child abuse could mean as many as six years of incarceration.

California Is Serious

In California, it is not up to the victim to press charges. Once police are called and a crime is established, the district attorney makes this decision. Victims and defendants often have complicated relationships and the victim may even live in fear, so California law takes the decision out of the victim’s hands and leaves it up to the criminal justice system. A spouse later taking back a charge can lead to charges being dropped, since the victim’s word is often the key piece of evidence. However, taking back a statement could lead to trouble for the victim, who might be charged with lying to the police or filing a false police report.

These laws and punishments are no joke, equip yourself with the best knowledge on domestic violence laws.