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Penal Code 273.5 — Corporal Injury To Spouse/Cohabitant

273.5.  (a) Any person who willfully inflicts upon a person who is his or her spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or the mother or father of his or her child, corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition is guilty of a felony, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of up to six thousand dollars ($6,000) or by both  that fine and imprisonment.

Potential Punishment: Imprisonment for a term of two, three, or four years, or up to one year in the county jail and a maximum fine amount of six thousand dollars. This crime is charged as a felony.

To obtain a a guilty verdict in this type of case, the prosecutor needs to prove the following elements “beyond a reasonable doubt”…

(1) The defendant willfully inflicted corporal injury

(2) On a spouse, ex-spouse, cohabitant, or the mother or father of his or her child

(3) The corporal injury resulted in a “traumatic condition”

(4) The defendant did not inflict the injury during an act of self-defense or defense of others.

Explanation of the Law:

• California Penal Code 273.5 is a general intent crime: This means that the only intent that is required is that of intending to hit or otherwise make violent contact with another person. Thus this crime only “requires only the mens rea of intending to do the assaultive act.” People v. Thurston (1999) 71 Cal.App.4th 1050, 1055.

(1) First Element: “willfully” means . A “purposes or willingness” to commit the alleged act. The defendant does not have to intend to break the law, just to do the act which is complained of. Pen. Code, § 7, subd. 1; see People v. Lara (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 102, 107 [51 Cal.Rptr.2d 402]

a. Direct physical contact must happen (by defendant unto the victim) for this element to be satisfied. In People v. Jackson (2000) 77 Cal.App.4th 574, the court found that where a victim was physically injured while trying to escape (without actually being hit by defendant) no violation of California Penal Code 273.5 had occurred. In its conclusion the court stated that “the section is not violated unless the corporal injury results from a direct application of force on the victim by the defendant.” People v. Jackson, supra  at 580.

(2) Second Element:

a. Cohabitants” signify two unrelated people living together in a stable relationship which indicates it is intended to be a long-term situation. In general, a cohabitation is where couples live in a manner similar to that of a husband and wife. Several factors are used to determine if a couple can truly be considered as cohabitants:

i. Consummation of the relationship while maintaining the same residence

ii. Sharing financial responsibilities for living expenses

iii. Sharing ownership of property

iv. Making statements or indicating otherwise that the couple has a husband-wife type relationship or that they are domestic partners.

v. The length and the uninterrupted continuation of the relationship.

b. A person can be in two or more relationships and thus be the cohabitant in two or more different living situations if he or she is involved in a continual relationship with each person and maintains a continuous residence in those houses as well. People v. Moore (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 1323,1335 [52 Cal.Rptr.2d 256]

c. The concept of “cohabitant” is largely defined by case law. People v. Holifield (1988) 205 Cal.App.3d 993, 1000 [252 Cal.Rptr. 729]; People v. Ballard (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 311, 318–319 [249 Cal.Rptr. 806]

d. The “mother/father of a child” relationship will be deemed to exist if the man involved is presumed to be the father of the child under law.

i. However, a pregnant woman is not considered a mother, nor is the biological father considered a “father” until actual birth occurs. People v. Ward (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 122,Thus, PC 273.5(a)  is inapplicable to a situation where a man hits the woman who is pregnant as the result of sexual intercourse between the two. However, PC 273.5 may still apply if they are cohabitants , spouses, or former spouses.

e. Under People v. Mora (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1349, a male defendant can still be charged under this section for physically abusing his child's mother even if he no longer has legal parental rights over the child.

(3) Third Element: the term “traumatic condition” means some type of wound or injury to the body, including internal injuries which are caused by applying force to the body. This term includes traces of strangulation or suffocation. It is irrelevant whether the injury is merely a minor one, or if it is from a  much more serious condition. The term is defined in more detail in California Penal Code 273.5(c).

a. The “traumatic condition” must be the “natural and probable consequence” of such an injury. This means that a reasonable person would expect this type  of condition to result from the action he or she is doing, assuming nothing out of the ordinary intervenes in the situation.

b. The injury was the direct and substantial factor in causing the condition and;

i. Substantial factor does not have to be the only factor which causes the condition. It just has to something more than a   factor of little importance.

c. The condition wouldn't exist absent the injury.

i. The court is required to instruct the jury on the definition of “traumatic condition” on its own motion. People v. Burns (1948) 88 Cal.App.2d 867.

•  California Penal Code 273.5 can cover repeated conduct. UnderPeople v. Thompson (1984) 160 Cal.App.3d 220, a finding of guilty is proper even if the jury doesn't agree on which act the evidence supports. Additionally, the prosecution does not have to prove a specific act.

•  Under People v. Healy (1993) 14 Cal.App.4th 1137, a defendant can be charged with several PC 273.5 charges if there is evidence supporting each event.

Lesser Included Offenses:

(1) Simple Assault

(2) Attempted Infliction of Corporal Injury on Spouse

(3) Battery as a Misdemeanor

(4) Battery against cohabitant, spouse, parent.


People v. Moore (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 1323,1335

People v. Ward (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 122

People v. Mora (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1349

People v. Healy (1993) 14 Cal.App.4th 1137

Penal Code 243(e)(1)

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