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Inflict Corporal Injury to Spouse

PC 273.5(a)

Domestic violence criminal laws are found in several sections of the California penal code. Domestic battery on a spouse or cohabitant, is found at PC  243(e)(1), and inflict corporal injury on a spouse, is found at PC 273.5(a)-(f). Other crimes might be closely related to domestic violence crimes, such as stalking, criminal threats, violation of a restraining order, etc., but only PC 243(e)(1) and 273.5(a) deal directly with domestic violence.

PC 273.5(a) Law


Domestic Relationship: To prove that the defendant is guilty of PC 273.5(a), the district attorney must prove that the alleged victim and the defendant are domestically related. A domestic relationship in terms of PC 273.5(a) law means that the alleged victim and the defendant are either spouses, former spouses, cohabitants in a dating relationship, or former cohabitants in a dating relationship.


Injury Required: In addition to proving a domestic relationship, in a PC 273.5(a) cases, the district attorney will have to prove that the defendant inflicted a noticeable injury on the alleged victim; soft tissue injury and unseen injuries are insufficient to prove the crime of inflict corporal injury on a spouse.  There is no requirement that the alleged victim suffers actual pain and the injury inflicted does not need to be anything more than simple bruising or even a scratch.


Finally, the district attorney must prove that the injury inflicted on the defendant’s spouse or cohabitant was without legal justification, such as an injury inflicted by the defendant when the defendant was legally defending himself against the alleged victim or an injury was inflicted by accident without abuse or violence.


Note: PC 273.5(a) is charged where the defendant is alleged to have unlawfully inflicted injury on a spouse or cohabitant as a first offense. If the defendant is charged with domestic violence while having a prior conviction for domestic violence the defendant will be charged with PC 273.5(f). PC 273.5(f) carries a longer prison sentence than PC 273.5(a).


Punishment for PC 273.5(a)


Crimes Classification: The crime of inflict corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant may be filed either as a misdemeanor or as a felony. Crimes that may be alternately charged as a misdemeanors or as a felonies are called wobbler crimes. A wobbler, such as PC 273.5(a), may be filed as a misdemeanor and subsequently increased to a felony, and vice versa. It is not uncommon to find felony domestic violence charges reduced to misdemeanor domestic violence charges as part of a plea agreement between the defendant and the district attorney; however, whether a PC 237.5(a) charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor largely depends on the circumstances and facts of the defendant's case. 


Felony PC 273.5(a): If found guilty of inflicting corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant under PC 273.5(a) as a felony, the defendant may face a maximum prison sentence of up to four years in prison. Felony PC 273.5(a) convictions require the defendant to serve either a probation sentence or time in prison (as opposed to a local county jail).


If found guilty of felony PC 273.5(a), the judge will give the defendant one of four sentences: Probation (with or without local jail time), two years prison (low term), three years prison (middle term), or four years prison (maximum term). The particular sentence that is ordered in any PC 237.5(a) case depends on whether there is a plea agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor, the facts and circumstances of the case, and the defendant's criminal history.

Misdemeanor PC 273.5(a): If found guilty of the crime of inflict corporal injury to a spouse under PC 273.5(a) as a misdemeanor, the defendant may face up to one year in county jail; however, a probation sentence without an actual in custody jail sentence is not uncommon in misdemeanor cases.

PC 273.5(f): As stated, domestic violence charges with priors of domestic violence convictions are usually charged under PC 273.5(f)(1) [inflict corporal injury on spouse with a prior domestic violence conviction]. PC 273.5(f)(1) carries up to a maximum five year prison sentence.

Probation: Probation is a period of supervision instead of jail. The supervision is conducted by either a probation officer or by the court. Both misdemeanor and felony convictions of PC 273.5(a) are eligible for probation sentences. A probation sentence may also require, as a term of probation, an actual in custody jail sentence. However, most jail sentences that are ordered as part of a probation condition are served on work release or house arrest (electronic monitoring).

PC 1170(h): Felony convictions of PC 273.5(a) require either a probation sentence or a prison sentence (as opposed to a county jail sentence). Also, any prison sentence received in PC 273.5(a) cases is not subject to being split or suspended (also called joint suspension).

CIMT: The crime of inflict corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant is considered a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) and a crime involving violence (COV). A crime involving moral turpitude means that the crime involves morally bad behavior. Crimes of moral turpitude and crimes involving violence can both lead to harsh consequences for non U.S. citizens under current U.S. immigration laws. The negative impact of a PC 273.5(a) conviction is lessened when the conviction is for a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony, but both misdemeanor and felony convictions of PC 273.5(a) can lead to deportation or exclusion of entry into the U.S. for immigrants.

Sentencing Enhancement: Per PC 1170.76, the fact that a defendant, who commits or attempts to commit a violation of Section... 273.5, is... the natural parent, adoptive parent, stepparent, or foster parent of the minor, and the offense contemporaneously occurred in the presence of, or was witnessed by, the minor shall be considered a circumstance in aggravation of the crime... (PC 1170.76 Abbrev).

In addition to any possible jail or prison sentence, if convicted of PC 273.5(a), the defendant may suffer fines, probation or parole sentences, violation of prior probation sentences, domestic violence restraining orders, loss of occupational or professional licensing, immigration issues (for non-U.S. citizens), Child Protection Service issues (when children are alleged to be present at the time of the domestic violence conduct), family law legal issues, loss of firearm rights, mandatory domestic violence classes, and more.


Defenses to PC 273.5(a)


A good defense to a criminal charge of inflicting corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant depends on the facts and circumstances surrounding the alleged crime. With that said, common defenses to PC 273.5(a) charges include: lack of sufficient evidence to prove injury or intent to commit violence or abuse, improper police procedures, self-defense, defense of others, bias or impeachment evidence of alleged victim, inability of the witnesses to recall or remember due to ingestion of drugs or alcohol at the time of the alleged abuse or violence, coerced confession, suppression of evidence, alibi defense, insanity, and more. 


Note: PC 273.5(a) criminal charges are not dismissed simply because the alleged victim of domestic violence changes his or her mind about pressing criminal charges, claims to have made inaccurate statements to the police, or does not want to be a witness for the prosecution. In fact, prosecutors are generally used to the fact that many victims of domestic violence either change their mind about prosecution or attempt to change their initial statements about being a victim.


To learn more about domestic violence defense, including the crime of inflict corporal injury to spouse or cohabitant (PC 273.5(a)), contact our domestic violence criminal defense lawyers today for a free consultation. Our DV lawyers have successfully represented hundreds of clients charged with domestic violence cases in both criminal and family law courts. Call today!


Quick Reference​ Sheet

Crime: Inflict Corporal Injury to Spouse

Code: PC 273.5(a) (CalCrim No. 840)

Wobbler: Yes. PC 273.5(a) is a wobbler. This means that PC 273.5(a) may be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor.

Incarceration:Felony PC 273.5(a) prison sentence range: 2, 3, or 4 years. (if probation not granted ). Misdemeanor jail sentence up to 1 year.

Probation: Probation is allowed in felony and misdemeanor PC 273.5(a) cases (assuming other crimes or enhancements that bar a probation sentence are not present). Whether or not a probation sentence is offered by the District Attorney, or granted by court, depends on several factors, including the defendant's criminal history and the facts of the case.​

Work Release or House Arrest: In some cases, a probation sentence can include actual in-custody county jail, house arrest (electronic monitoring), or work release (or some combination of these penalties); however, most in-custody jail sentence orders that are required as a terms of probation are much shorter than the maximum jail sentence.

PC 1170(h)): No. PC 273.5(a) is not subject to PC 1170(h) sentencing. This means that any incarceration ordered after a felony conviction, that is not part of a probation sentence, must be served in state prison (as opposed to a county jail), and the prison sentence may not be split or suspended.

Strike: PC 273.5(a) [no serious injury] is not a strike offense listed in California's Three Strikes law.

Strike: PC 273.5(a) is a strike offense if there is serious injury present per California's Three Strikes law because this crime is considered a Serious offense (PC 1192.7).

Credits: 50% good conduct credits available.


Firearms: PC 273.5(a) convictions bar defendant from owning or possessing a firearm.

Bail: $25,000 Misdemeanor. $50,000 Felony (San Bernardino County) [2020]

Note: More penalties, direct or indirect, may apply. This PC273.5(a)-F info is created for that purpose only; accuracy not guaranteed. No attorney client relationship is formed by use of this info. If arrested or charged with a crime contact a criminal defense lawyer without delay. 

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