California Penal Code 273.5 PC

PC 273.5 – Corporal Injury To A Spouse or Cohabitant

PC 273.5(a) - Corporal Injury to Spouse or Cohabitant

Corporal Injury to Cohabitant – Table of Contents

PC 273.5(a) – Overview

California PC 273.5 makes it a crime for someone to willfully inflict any bodily injury, no matter how major or minor, on a current or former spouse or intimate partner. Bodily injury is referred to as “Corporal Injury” in California courts.

To be charged under PC 273.5, the accused needs to have:

  • Willfully inflicted a physical injury,
  • On a current or former intimate partner,
  • The physical injury caused a traumatic condition.

You should be aware that this statute does not cover mental or psychological injury.

Legal Definitions of PC 273.5 Elements:


Under this statute, the defendant needs to have committed the act of injury on purpose. This does not mean that the defendant actually intended to harm the victim. As long as they purposefully meant to take the action that resulted in the alleged victim’s injury.

‘Intimate Partner’

PC 273.5 requires that the corporal injury be inflicted on an intimate partner. An intimate partner, in this case, refers to a current or former:

  • Spouse
  • Registered domestic partner
  • Cohabitant (live-in boyfriend or girlfriend)
  • Fiancée
  • The biological parent of the defendant’s child
  • Any person the accused is alleged to be in a serious dating relationship with.

Several elements can help a prosecutor prove whether two people are cohabiting or not. Some of these factors include:

  • Joint ownership or use of a property
  • The length of the relationship
  • Sharing of income or general living expenses
  • The relationship’s continuity

You should note that under California domestic violence laws, the defendant can cohabit with more than one individual at a time.

‘Traumatic Condition’

A traumatic condition is considered any wound or bodily harm caused by the direct application of physical force. The traumatic condition can include injuries such as broken bones, a concussion, internal bleeding, a bruise, or a sprain. The injuries do not need to be serious for you to be charged with domestic violence.

For you to be accused of corporal injury under PC 273.5(a), the traumatic condition needs to be a result of the injury. To win this case, the prosecutor must prove:

  • The traumatic condition was a natural and probable cause of the injury.
  • The inflicted injury was a direct and significant cause of the traumatic condition.
  • The traumatic condition would not have occurred without the injury.

PC 273.5(a) – Sentencing

Domestic violence or corporal injury to a spouse in violation of PC 273.5(a) is a ‘wobbler‘. Meaning, it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on:

  • The circumstances of the case,
  • The defendant’s criminal history,
  • The severity of the injuries inflicted on the supposed victim.

If the injuries sustained by the victim are minor, like bruises, redness, or scratches, and it is the defendant’s first violent conviction, it will likely be charged as a misdemeanor.

However, if the victim sustained serious bodily injuries, and this is the defendant’s second, third, or subsequent conviction for domestic violence, the corporal injury will likely be prosecuted as a felony.

If convicted for a misdemeanor, the defendant could face the following penalties:

  • A maximum of one year in county jail and/or
  • Maximum fines of $6,000
  • 3 years of informal probation

For a felony, the defendant could be sentenced to:

  • Two, three, or four years in state prison
  • A maximum fine of $6000
  • 5 years of formal probation

Defendants with Prior Convictions

While corporal injury to a spouse still remains a wobbler offense even if the defendant has prior convictions for domestic violence. If convicted for a felony, the defendant may face additional penalties if they had prior convictions for assault or battery within seven years before their conviction under PC 273.5.

Some of the offenses that could result in additional penalties for the defendant include:

  • Corporal Injury on a spouse, PC 273.5,
  • Assault/battery resulting in serious bodily injury, PC 243(d),
  • Assault/battery with a caustic chemical PC 244,
  • Assault with a stun gun, PC 244.5,
  • Assault with a deadly weapon, PC 245,
  • Sexual battery, PC 243.4, or
  • Battery on a spouse, PC 243(e).

If the prior conviction was for the battery of a spouse under Penal Code 243(e), the defendant sentencing could be upgraded to:

  • A maximum of four years in state prison
  • Maximum fines of $10,000

If the prior conviction was battery or assault charge listed above that isn’t battery on a spouse under Penal Code 243(e), the defendant sentencing could be upgraded to:

  • A maximum of five years in state prison
  • Maximum fines of $10,000

Receiving a Strike from PC 273.5

California’s Three Strikes Law demands that a defendant receive harsher penalties for each repeat serious felony offense. Thus, for each conviction a defendant gets for a serious felony, this counts as one strike. When the defendant has three strikes, they are sentenced to a minimum of 25 years to life in prison.

A conviction under PC 273.5 usually results in a strike if:

  • The prosecutor charges the offense under this statute as a felony
  • The corporal injury resulted in great bodily injury

Great Bodily Injury Enhancement under PC 12022.7

If the corporal injury act the defendant is accused of resulted in great bodily to the victim, the defendant will face a sentencing enhancement under California Penal Code 12022.7 PC. This enhancement will cause an additional three, four, or five years if the defendant is convicted for domestic violence under Penal Code 273.5 PC.

You should note that in Los Angeles County, prosecutors no longer pursue great bodily injury enhancements under PC 120227.7. Thus, in LA, a conviction under PC 273.5 that results in great bodily injury will not be regarded as a strike offense.

Probation Conditions

Getting informal or formal probation is a favorable option for most individuals convicted for corporal injury to a spouse in violation of PC 273.5. The defendant usually has a higher chance of getting probation if this is their first offense or there are other mitigating factors to the case.

While probation allows you to stay out of jail, it does come with certain conditions that the defendant must follow strictly. Some of these conditions can include:

Minimum incarceration of 15 days for defendants who have a prior conviction in the past seven years for assault or domestic violence, or 60 days for defendants with two or more prior convictions in the stated offenses.

  • Avoid violating any laws.
  • Pay a maximum of $5,000 to a battered woman’s shelter
  • Attend a mandatory 52-week domestic violence class
  • Comply with a restraining order that bans any contact with the victim for ten years
  • Pay victim restitution for any expenses incurred in medical treatment or counseling
  • Complete community service as demanded by a judge
  • Go through any counseling demanded by the court, including domestic violence cases.

Immigration Consequences

Corporal injury to an intimate partner is labeled a crime of domestic violence under federal immigration law. This means that an immigrant convicted under Penal Code 273.5 PC can result in deportation.

You should also be aware that an offense under this statute can qualify as a crime involving moral turpitude (CMIT) or an aggravated felony. Offenses that fall in either of these categories are regarded as inadmissible crimes meaning the defendant:

  • Loses their right to re-enter the US after leaving its border
  • No possibility of becoming a US citizen
  • No chance to apply for a green card or adjustment of status (meaning they cannot change from illegal to legal status)

Consequences of a Domestic Violence Conviction
 (Click to Enlarge)

PC 273.5 – Prosecuting

To win a case under Penal Code 273.5 and get the defendant convicted for domestic violence, the prosecutor must prove without a reasonable doubt that:

  • The defendant willfully inflicted a physical injury
  • On a current or former intimate partner
  • The physical injury caused a traumatic condition

Nonetheless, prosecuting the defendant for corporal injury to a spouse does not come without its challenges. Some of these challenges include:

The Accuser Chooses To Drop The Charges

In domestic violence situations, emotions are usually high and intense. Choices can be made during this period that both parties eventually regret. Thus, you may find circumstances where the complaining witness (i.e. the alleged victim) no longer wants to press charges under Penal Code 273.5 PC.

Nonetheless, just because the complaining witness does not want to press charges does not mean the prosecutor will dismiss the charges. Most prosecutors usually assume that the defendant is only choosing to drop the corporal injury charges because they have been threatened, coerced, or emotionally manipulated by the defendant. Hence, they may pursue the charges anyway.

However, with an uncooperative complaining witness, the case will be harder to prosecute.

The Accuser Does Not Want To Testify In Court

Occasionally, the supposed victim in a domestic violence case may refuse to testify against the defendant in court. However, in this situation, the prosecutor has the power of subpoena. This means they can force the defendant to appear in court and testify whether they want to or not. But the prosecutor has to personally deliver the subpoena to the victim.

If the victim still refuses to appear in court even after the subpoena. A judge can issue a bench warrant for the victim’s arrest.

Nevertheless, a bench warrant may not work as well for charges under California Penal Code 273.5 PC since they are protected under Civil Code 1219(b). The Civil Code 1219(b) prohibits the arrest of domestic violence or sexual assault victims for refusing to testify in court even after being subpoenaed.

The Accuser Cannot Appear In Court

Another challenge a prosecutor can face when trying to win a corporal injury to a spouse case is if the alleged victim or other key witness goes into hiding or flees the jurisdiction. Hence, they cannot appear in court.

Because of this situation, the prosecutor may have to dismiss the charges under Penal Code 273.5 due to the Hearsay Rule. This rule prohibits submitting witnesses’ out-of-court statements offered as proof of the matter it asserts (hearsay) as evidence since the other party cannot cross-examine the witness.

PC 273.5 – Defending

To get charges under PC 273.5 dismissed, you are going to need a criminal defense attorney to help you build a strong defense. There are three common defense strategies that a criminal defense attorney can use to successfully win your case and get the charges dropped.

Self Defense

This is usually the first approach most criminal defense lawyers use when trying to win a corporal injury to spouse case. If the defendant believes that they were in imminent danger of bodily injury and had to use force to defend themselves against this danger, then the defendant can claim self-defense.

Take, for instance, a mutual confrontation between a husband and his wife. The argument escalates when the wife starts swinging her fists violently towards her husband, and all the husband can do is push his wife away to protect himself. This is regarded as an act of self-defense rather than domestic violence.


For a defendant to be convicted under PC 273.5(a), the act of corporal injury needs to be deliberate, not accidental. If the victim’s traumatic condition was caused by a real accident. Then the defendant should not get convicted for domestic violence.

For example, during a verbal altercation, a husband walks upstairs to avoid his wife, but when he gets to the bedroom, he slams the door shut but is unaware his wife is directly behind him and slams the door on her. Any injury the wife incurs is an accident rather than an act of domestic violence.

Therefore, a criminal defense attorney can use this information to get the defendant’s charges dismissed.

False Accusation

This is another strategy a defendant’s lawyer can use to get their charges for corporal injury to a spouse dismissed. There are some situations where the complaining witness may choose to falsely accuse the defendant. This is commonly seen in cases involving a jealous party out for revenge.

For instance, if a wife recently found out that her husband is having an affair. The two start arguing, and the woman begins hitting herself and screaming that she’s being beaten when, in actuality, she is performing the actions to herself.

In this situation, the defendant should not be charged with domestic violence since they did not intentionally inflict any corporal injury to a spouse.

Actual Case Study for Corporal Injury to Spouse

Many domestic violence and Corporal Injury to Spouse cases concern two people who genuinely love and care about each other who have a fight which gets out of hand. Often in the heat of passion, the police will be called and one of the disputants will be arrested. The accused person will often be arrested even if the other person does not want them arrested. Similarly, often a person who wants their significant other arrested in the heat of the moment will experience regret the next day and want to be reunited with their loved one. In situations, like this Civil Code Section 1219(b), can be an effective tool for the couple.

Civil Code Section 1219(b) makes it unlawful to imprison someone for refusing to testify in a domestic violence trial. In one case in particular, this led to a dismissal of the husband’s case. The husband and wife got into a heated argument which led to the wife calling the police and the husband’s arrest. This couple were part of a lovely family with children and they genuinely cared about each other but simply had a bad night like happens from time to time in a long-term marriage. They were both professionals too and were very embarrassed when the prosecutor decided to file charges against the husband, despite the wife’s pleas not to. I referred the wife to an attorney, who invoked Section 1219(b). When the case came up for trial, the wife showed up with her attorney and refused to testify under the protections of Civil Code 1219(b) (Normally, a person who is subpoenaed to testify at trial must testify at trial or they will be jailed by the Judge, but under this section, a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault cannot be jailed for refusing to testify). Because the wife would not testify, the prosecutor was forced to dismiss the husband’s case, and the family were reunited and happy once again.

The prosecutor had no qualms about prosecuting a case against a loving family that no one wanted, but the Esfandi Law Group was successful in securing the husband’s dismissal! And to add a cherry on top, the husband hired Esfandi Law Group to even seal his arrest record under PC 851.91 (also known as the CARE act), and that was granted as well on Christmas Eve! Needless to say, that year, the family had a very Merry Christmas indeed!


Corporal Injury To A Spouse – We Want To Help

Domestic violence is extremely frowned upon by the courts in California. If you or a loved one is being charged with corporal injury to a spouse, under California Penal Code 273.5 PC, we invite you to contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney at Esfandi Law Group immediately for a free case review. Schedule an appointment to meet with us in person, or feel free to submit an evaluation online, and we will get in contact with you ASAP. We can provide a free consultation in person in our office or virtually by phone.

Our experienced and assiduous Los Angeles domestic violence attorneys will be sure to fight until the very end to reduce or dismiss your charges completely.

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Lara S.
June 4, 2018
Seppi had my case reduced to just an infraction, and thanks to him I was able to keep my job. Jorge was extremely helpful too, the reason I went with this law firm. Overall pleased.

How to Win Your Case

We cannot stress enough that you read, understand and follow these 10 basic rules if you are criminally charged or under investigation:

  1. Don’t ever talk to the police
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  6. If the police knock on your door, don't answer!
  7. Realize the consequences of a criminal conviction
  8. Your lawyer (not you) will contact any witnesses
  9. Information on your cell phone is evidence
  10. Early Intervention is the key

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