In California, domestic violence crimes may be charged as misdemeanors or felonies. A misdemeanor conviction for a first-time offender carries potential jail time, a possible firearms ban, and other serious consequences. When facing domestic violence charges, certain enhancements such as prior convictions may apply that increase the severity of penalties. If you have been charged with domestic violence and have a criminal record, Riverside domestic violence lawyer Gregory H. Comings can help. As a criminal defense attorney skilled in cases involving domestic violence with prior convictions, violent crimes, and sex crimes, Mr. Comings assess the circumstances surrounding every case with a fresh eye, knowing that a successful attack on the prosecution requires careful analysis of the facts.
Domestic violence occurs when a person intentionally or recklessly uses force or threatens force against a victim with whom they have a close relationship. The prosecution must prove that the victim feared for their safety; the victim need not have suffered visible injury. Domestic violence suspects with prior convictions may be treated differently by responding officers, and ultimately face more serious charges by the prosecution.
Typically, when called to the scene of a potential domestic violence crime, law enforcement will first separate the parties in order to receive independent statements. Next, they may run the suspect’s name in the database to determine whether the individual has a previous conviction, or an active warrant. If there is a domestic violence restraining order that prohibits contact with the victim, law enforcement may arrest the suspect. The suspect may be charged with a new offense of violating the order. This is potentially the case even if there was no sign of violence or physical contact with the victim.
Individuals with previous convictions, particularly for another domestic violence offense, face more severe penalties when charged with a domestic violence crime. Known as a “wobbler” offense, the prosecution determines whether to file a domestic violence crime as a misdemeanor or a felony. An individual’s criminal history affects sentencing. Individuals without a previous criminal record, known as first time offenders, may face misdemeanor charges. Circumstances such as the degree of harm to the victim, and whether a weapon was used will also dictate the severity of charges.
A California domestic violence conviction is serious, and even misdemeanors lead to more than fines, probation and potential imprisonment. Domestic abusers usually lose custody rights, and convictions almost always lead to the loss of the right to own or possess a firearm. Felony charges are appropriate if the victim suffered grave physical injury or the defendant had a previous criminal record. Felony convictions can lead to over a year of incarceration. Restitution may be ordered to the victim, including payment of medical expenses, property damage, and lost income.
A skilled attorney can help to defend against domestic violence accusations, even when the defendant holds prior convictions. The facts dictate the particular defenses that may be appropriate. For example, the defendant may have a strong self-defense claim if they were physically attacked by the victim. False accusations or accident may also apply. Additionally, the prosecution bears the burden of proving all elements of the crime, and a defense may be asserted if the evidence does not support the charges. Simply because an individual has a prior conviction does not mean that they committed the current domestic violence offense.
In some cases it may be possible for a lawyer to negotiate a plea bargain to a lesser offense. The defendant would plead guilty to a defense less severe than the current charges in order to avoid the more severe consequences of a domestic violence conviction. However, certain legal strategies, including pleading to a lesser crime or obtaining a pre-trial diversion may not be available to defendants with a prior conviction.
Domestic violence offenses with prior convictions can lead to felony charges, increased imprisonment and fines. A competent lawyer may make a difference in your future, as your criminal record remains a permanent fixture. Attorney Gregory H. Comings is prepared to help individuals facing crimes for domestic violence, including assault, child abuse, and stalking. Our office helps clients throughout Riverside County and surrounding areas. To schedule an appointment regarding your case, call our Riverside office at (951) 686-3457 or reach us online.