Law Offices of M. Gabriela Guraiib

What Constitutes Domestic Violence in California?


California has put in place many laws designed to protect victims of domestic violence (DV) from their abusers. While these laws are invaluable for people who are suffering, they can make life difficult for anyone accused of domestic violence. A DV accusation can harm your reputation and lead to a restraining order or criminal charges.

If you’re concerned that you may be accused of domestic violence, you should understand how it’s defined by California laws. When you know what’s covered by state law, you have a better chance of standing up for yourself against DV charges. Here’s what you need to know about the state’s DV statutes, examples of what’s covered, and how to defend yourself against charges in court.

How Does California Law Define Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is defined as abuse within a domestic relationship, including current or former spouses, co-parents, roommates, or romantic partners. DV is classified as a specific crime for several reasons, including:

These issues set DV apart from other violent crimes. Most instances of DV are more similar to each other than they are to abuse or violence against strangers. That’s why California has grouped many behaviors under the umbrella of “domestic violence” that are otherwise considered very different. Some examples of what’s considered DV in California include:

Physical Abuse

Under California Penal Code 273.5, “corporal injury to spouse or cohabitant” is a criminal act. Anything you do to willfully harm or injure someone with whom you have a qualified relationship is grounds for criminal charges. Under this law, you may have caused a corporal injury if you punch, kick, hit, push, squeeze, or otherwise harm someone in a way that leaves marks. This includes situations like pushing someone who then falls down the stairs or grabbing someone hard enough to leave bruises.

However, you have not committed physical abuse if you hurt the other person:

Domestic Battery

Causing actual physical harm is by no means the only thing considered abuse under California law. Section 243(E) defines domestic battery as unlawful, willing touching of a domestic partner that’s offensive or harmful. This means using force against a partner is considered abuse even if no injury occurred. For instance, pushing someone, pulling their hair, or grabbing their arm can be domestic battery if they’re used to force a partner or roommate to do something.

This also applies to sexual assault. Forcing someone to perform sex acts against their will or touching them in a way they find offensive is a form of domestic battery.

As with corporal injury, you have not committed battery if you were defending yourself, did it by accident, or the other person consented to what you were doing at the time.


Threatening someone can also be considered DV. Under Penal Code 422, performing criminal threats against someone can be DV. A criminal threat is any kind of verbal, written, or electronic communication that includes an unambiguous, specific threat that made the recipient reasonably fear for their safety.

Unlike corporal injury or battery, your intent does not affect whether a threat is considered DV. As long as it makes the other person fear for their safety or their loved ones, a specific threat can lead to a criminal charge.


According to California Penal Code 646.9 PC, stalking is a pattern of behavior that makes someone fear for their safety. This can include showing up at their home or work, contacting them after they request you to stop, or otherwise harassing the other person willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly.

Stalking does not include communicating with someone who consents to the communication. It also doesn’t cover coincidences, such as showing up where the person works by accident.

Methods of Disproving Domestic Violence Charges

Like any other criminal charge, the plaintiff must prove that a defendant charged with DV was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If you’ve been accused of DV, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor.

However, you can still take action to protect yourself. You can work with an experienced domestic violence lawyer to build your defense against the charges. Your attorney will help you collect evidence in your favor, such as:

Your attorney will use this evidence to help you argue your innocence and help you fight against the charges.

Take a Stand Against Domestic Violence Charges

The legal system guarantees you the opportunity to defend yourself against domestic violence claims. You can strengthen your defense by working with the expert DV defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Gabriela Guraiib. Our team has years of experience helping clients defend themselves against these accusations and argue for their innocence.

You don’t have time to delay if you’ve been charged with domestic violence. Reach out to our Redwood City office by calling 650-227-9132 or messaging us online. We will discuss your situation and help you build a defense to receive the best possible outcome in your DV case. Get in touch today to learn more about how we can help you fight back against DV charges.