The Shocking Truth: What Happens When You Lose a Domestic Violence Case at Trial


Domestic violence cases in California can lead to complex and serious legal repercussions. This blog post aims to elucidate what happens if one goes to trial on a domestic violence charge and loses. The focus is on the most common scenarios under California law, particularly under Penal Code PC 273.5(a) and the differences between felony and misdemeanor charges.

Penal Code PC 273.5(a): Corporal Injury to a Spouse or Cohabitant

Penal Code 273.5(a) is often the primary charge in domestic violence arrests in California. Initially, these arrests are typically treated as felonies, with bail set accordingly. The prosecution has the discretion to file these charges as either a felony or a misdemeanor, influencing the potential consequences significantly.

The Difference Between Felony and Misdemeanor Charges

The distinction between a felony and a misdemeanor under this penal code is substantial. Felony charges can lead to longer sentences and more severe penalties, while misdemeanors usually carry lighter consequences. Additionally, a related charge, PC243E1, pertains to domestic battery without injury, and is treated as a misdemeanor.

Trial Outcomes for Felony PC 273.5(a) Charges

If an individual goes to trial for a felony PC 273.5(a) charge and is convicted, several outcomes are possible:

  1. Reduction to a Misdemeanor: Even if charged with a felony, the judge has the discretion to reduce it to a misdemeanor at sentencing, based on trial findings and mitigating factors presented by the defense attorney.
  2. Sentencing Options: The judge can sentence the individual to up to four years in state prison or opt for probation. The decision is influenced by factors such as the severity of the incident, the defendant’s criminal history, and mitigating circumstances.
  3. Aggravation Factors: For maximum sentencing, the court must find specific aggravating factors, which is less likely for first-time offenders.
  4. Probation and Expungement Possibilities: First-time offenders, particularly those who have taken proactive steps like enrolling in domestic violence classes or therapy, may have a better chance of receiving probation and eventually expunging the conviction from their record.

Outcomes for Misdemeanor Charges

In cases where the prosecution charges a misdemeanor, either under PC 273.5(a) or PC 243E1, the maximum sentence is generally up to a year in jail. However, this depends on various factors, including the defendant’s prior history and the specifics of the case. In some counties, actual jail time may be significantly less than the maximum sentence.

Evaluating Prosecution Offers

It’s crucial to weigh the prosecution’s offer against the potential outcomes of a trial. Defendants need to understand the worst-case scenarios of going to trial versus accepting a plea deal. Factors such as job loss, mandatory classes, and jail time should be considered in this decision-making process.


Navigating a domestic violence trial in California, especially under Penal Code PC 273.5(a), requires a thorough understanding of the legal implications. Whether facing a felony or misdemeanor charge, the stakes are high. Individuals dealing with such charges should seek professional legal counsel to explore their options and develop an informed defense strategy.

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