Domestic violence convictions carry harsh penalties. There is also a negative stigma that goes along with anyone even accused of domestic battery, even before they've had their day in court. In some cases, your attorney may be able to negotiate to get you reduced charges, without a domestic violence conviction on your record. Before you accept a plea bargain, make sure you understand your options and legal rights. Contact an East Bay criminal defense lawyer so that you can protect yourself and your rights.
After a Domestic Violence Arrest
Domestic violence allegations often end with a mandatory arrest. If the police have probable cause to believe that spousal abuse or domestic violence occurred, the police may be required to arrest one or more parties. Unfortunately, innocent people can end up under arrest based on false accusations. Domestic violence-related charges may include:
- Domestic battery
- Violating a restraining order
- Making criminal threats
The prosecutor's job is to get a conviction. The prosecutor may make it seem like the defendant has no option but to take the plea offer and plead guilty. The alternative could mean facing the maximum penalties. However, before you make any agreement, make sure you understand your rights and what you are giving up.
The prosecutor may be more motivated to accept a plea if there is not a lot of evidence against the defendant or the defendant has a strong claim that the alleged victim was really the aggressor. Your defense attorney may be able to negotiate to get you a better plea agreement, which can reduce the harm of a criminal conviction. This could include:
- Reducing the number of charges
- Pleading to a lesser offense
- Pleading down “wobblers” from a felony to a misdemeanor
- Getting probation instead of jail time
Plea Bargain Down to a Lesser Charge
Many domestic violence charges are “wobblers.” A wobbler could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Whether to prosecute the offense as a misdemeanor or felony depends on the individual circumstances.
Domestic Battery: Domestic battery can be charged as a felony and is punishable by fines of up to $2,000, and up to one year in prison. A defendant may be able to get probation but they will still have a domestic battery charge on their permanent criminal record. Even with probation, the defendant will likely have to participate in a batterer's treatment program for at least a year and make mandatory payments to a battered women's shelter.
Stalking: Under California Penal Code 646.9, any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, or harasses another person and makes a credible threat is guilty of the crime of stalking. Stalking can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The penalties for stalking include imprisonment for up to one year in the county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Criminal Threats: Under California Penal Code 422, a person who threatens to commit a crime that would result in great bodily injury or death may be making criminal threats. As a misdemeanor, a conviction could result in up to a year in jail. As a felony, criminal threats could carry a penalty of up to 4 years in prison.
If your lawyer can reach a plea agreement for a lesser charge, it could greatly reduce the penalties and may not look as serious on your criminal record. Some plea options include reducing the domestic violence charge to:
- Criminal trespass
- Disturbing the peace
Criminal Trespass Plea
One of the possible plea agreement options may be pleading guilty to criminal trespass instead of a domestic violence-related offense. Under California Penal Code PC 602, criminal trespass could include “entering and occupying real property or structures of any kind without the consent of the owner, the owner's agent, or the person in lawful possession.”
Criminal trespass is generally a misdemeanor offense in California. The penalties for a conviction for most types of criminal trespass can include up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $100. In some cases, trespassing may be treated as a violation subject to a fine.
Disturbing the Peace Plea
Another option for a plea agreement down to a lesser offense could include the offense of disturbing the peace. Breaching the peace, under California Penal Code 415, includes:
- Any person who unlawfully fights in a public place or challenges another person in a public place to fight;
- Any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise;
- Any person who uses offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.
Disturbing the peace can be treated as an infraction or as a misdemeanor. As a misdemeanor, a conviction for breaching the peace is punishable by a fine of up to $400, and not more than 90 days in jail.
Experienced Attorney Representation in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties
A first-time run-in with the law can be a difficult experience. You may have been falsely accused of a crime and have to defend yourself against wrongful accusations. You may have been the victim of domestic violence and unfairly treated as the aggressor. Talk to your criminal defense lawyer about your rights and how you can avoid domestic violence charges on your criminal record. With over 37 years of criminal defense experience, Lynn Gorelick understands the law and has the skills required to fight domestic abuse charges.