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Corporal Injury

What is Penal Code 273.5 PC? (Corporal Injury on a Spouse or Cohabitant)

California has a series of different laws designed to deter and punish domestic violence. Penal Code 273.5 PC is one of these laws. Specifically, Penal Code 273.5 prohibits someone from intentionally inflicting a corporal injury upon an intimate partner.

Penal Code 273.5 is often referred to by many names. These include, but are not limited to, the following: corporal injury on a spouse, corporal injury on an intimate partner, corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant, domestic violence, domestic abuse, or spousal abuse.

Let’s examine the legal definition of Penal Code 273.5 PC so that you can acquire a better understanding of the issues present in your particular domestic violence case.

Legal Description of California Penal Code 273.5 “Corporal Injury on a Spouse”

Before the government can convict you of a domestic violence crime, a prosecutor must establish all of the elements (or facts) of the crime. If the district attorney cannot demonstrate all the elements, then you will not be convicted or found guilty in a California court trial by a judge or a jury. For Penal Code 273.5 PC, the elements are:

  • You willfully inflicted a physical injury;
  • The injury was inflicted upon a current or former intimate partner;
  • The physical injury resulted in a “traumatic condition.”
  1. “Willfully”

You are not guilty of Penal Code 273.5 PC unless you inflicted the injury “willfully.” In other words, the infliction of injury must have been intentional. Note, it is irrelevant whether or not you intended to break the law. It only matters whether you intentionally committed the action that caused the injury.


Roseanne and Dan get into an argument about their family’s finances. In the course of the argument, Roseanne grabs Dan’s hand and squeezes hard. While Roseanne only intended to intimidate Dan and relay her anger, she ended up breaking one of Dan’s fingers.

In this situation, Roseanne did not intend to injure Dan. However, she did act intentionally when she squeezed his hand. As a result, her case meets the first element of Penal Code 273.5.

  1. “Traumatic Condition”
    The legal definition of “traumatic condition” can be misleading. To meet this element of Penal Code 273.5 PC, you do not have to cause a serious injury. A minor injury would be sufficient to make you liable under the rules set by Penal Code 273.5 PC. The term “traumatic condition” simply means any wound or physical injury that was caused by the direct application of physical force. The law takes a wide-ranging perspective of injury, so most cases usually meet this aspect of the injury element.


Using the example above, Roseanne would meet this element of Penal Code 273.5 PC even if the injury were less severe than a broken finger. She would be liable under Penal Code 273.5 PC if her actions caused a sprain, bruise, etc. The same goes if she caused internal bleeding or even a concussion.

In addition, Penal Code 273.5 PC requires that the traumatic condition be the result of direct physical force. In other words, the prosecutor must prove that your actions caused the injury. To do this to the satisfaction of the court, they must show that the following are all true:

  • The traumatic condition was the natural and probable result of the injury;
  • The Injury was a direct and substantial cause of the traumatic condition;
  • The traumatic condition would not have happened without the injury.


Mike hears rumors that his girlfriend Molly is cheating on him. When Mike confronts Molly about the cheating, their conversation quickly becomes a fierce argument, with Mike continually and aggressively patting Molly’s arm. Eventually, Molly walks away but in the process she trips over some steps and falls on her back. She ends up herniating a vertebrae disc.

In this situation, Mike did not commit a Penal Code 273.5 PC violation. Molly’s traumatic condition, the herniated disc, was not caused by Mike’s pushing of her arm. Rather, her walking away and tripping on the steps caused the injury.

  1. “Intimate Partner”

Penal Code 273.5 PC only applies to cases where a particular class of victims is injured. It applies to injuries inflicted upon a former or current “intimate partner.” Penal Code 273.5 PC defines “intimate partner” as any of the following: spouses, registered domestic partner, live-in boyfriend or girlfriend (“cohabitant”), fiancé, parent of the defendant’s child, or person whom the defendant has a serious dating-type relationship.

In order to determine whether a couple is “cohabitating” for purposes of Penal Code 273.5 PC, the court will examine a variety of factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, the following: sexual relationship, sharing income, sharing expenses, joint ownership or use of property, length of the relationship, continuity of the relationship, and the parties’ public advertising themselves as being in a relationship.

For purposes of California’s Penal Code 273.5 PC, you can legally cohabit with more than one person at the same time. Additionally, Penal Code 273.5 PC applies equally to straight, gay, and LGBT couples.


Sarah and Robert jointly own a house together. They are not married and tell their friends they do not really believe in defining their commitment. However, they maintain a sexual relationship and share expenses. Their arrangement goes smoothly for a couple of years when things start to decline. One day, Robert punches Sarah in the face in the midst of an argument and she gets a black eye.

In this case, the Court will deem Sarah and Robert to be “intimate partners.” What matters to the court is the fact that Sarah and Robert are sexual partners who lived together for a significant amount of time. However, an argument can be made that Robert and Sarah are not intimate partners because they don’t publicly advertise themselves as a couple.

What are the Potential Consequences for a Penal Code 273.5 PC violation?

California classifies Penal Code 273.5 PC as a wobbler. This means that a prosecutor can charge you with Penal Code 273.5 PC as either a misdemeanor or a felony. This decision is made based on the specific circumstances of your case and your particular criminal history. For example, you will more likely be charged with a Penal Code 273.5 PC felony if the injuries to the victim are serious. This is also the case if you have had a previous history of domestic violence complaints, arrests, acts, or convictions.

Penalties for a Penal Code 273.5 PC Felony

If convicted of a Penal Code 273.5 PC felony, you could be sentenced with up to 4 years of state prison time, and up to $6,000 in fines and/or formal probation. These penalties could be increased if you previously earned a conviction for a crime of domestic violence in the past 7 years. For example, if you previously earned a conviction for Penal Code 243e battery of a spouse, the fines could increase up to $10,000.

Penalties for a Penal Code 273.5 PC Misdemeanor

If convicted of a Penal Code 273.5 PC misdemeanor, you could face up to 1 year in county jail, up to $6,000 in fines, and/or summary probation.

Great Bodily Injury Enhancement

In California, domestic violence crimes are subject to a “great bodily injury” sentencing enhancement, which is outlined in Penal Code 12022.7. This sentencing enhancement adds penalties on top of those originally received for your Penal Code 273.5 PC violation.

This sentencing enhancement is applied if, during the course of the action that led to your Penal Code 273.5 PC violation, the victim suffers significant physical injury. If this is the case, you get up to an additional 5 years of state prison time. Therefore, for one single Penal Code 273.5 PC violation, if a substantial injury to the victim results, you could potentially sentenced with up to nine years in prison.

If the alleged victim suffers significant physical injury, then you could face an additional and consecutive punishment of up to 5 years of state prison time. Thus, if a substantial injury to the victim results, you could face up to 9 years in prison for just one single Penal Code 273.5 PC violation.

Probation for Penal Code 273.5 PC Conviction

In certain cases, a judge could decide to impose probation requirements for a Penal Code 273.5 PC conviction. A conviction for Penal Code 273.5 subjects you to two possible types of probation, depending on whether you are convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanor, or summary, probation can be imposed for up to 3 years. Felony, or formal, probation is typically imposed for 3-5 years. Felony probation is usually accompanied by up to 1 year in county jail. Felony probation is usually only granted in lieu of state prison time when the defendant is a first time offender or the defendant can show certain mitigating factors.

If sentenced to probation, you will be subject to a list of requirements. If you don’t meet these requirements, you could face harsher penalties. Probation conditions could include: paying a fine, paying the victim restitution to compensate them for counseling or other expenses, donating money to a woman’s shelter, attending counseling or treatment programs, completing community service such as roadside work, following the conditions of a restraining order, and staying crime-free.

Note: if you had a prior conviction for domestic violence in the past 7 years, you can still get probation. However, you will still be sentenced to stay in a county jail for a minimum of 15 days. This number goes up to 60 days if you had 2 prior convictions for domestic violence related crimes.

If you violate the probation requirements, you could be subject to newer, harsher conditions. Additionally, the judge could decide to revoke probation and sentence you to prison time for the maximum possible sentence.

Penal Code 273.5 PC Immigration Consequences

Under federal immigration law, Penal Code 273.5 PC is a crime of domestic violence and is therefore listed as a “deportable” crime. Additionally, Penal Code 273.5 PC is considered a “crime involving moral turpitude” and an “aggravated felony.” These are both categories of “inadmissible crimes,” which carry the following consequences: you cannot re-enter the country once you leave, you cannot apply for a green card or for legal immigration status, and you can never become a U.S. Citizen.

Penal Code 273.5 PC and “Strikes”

A Penal Code 273.5 PC violation that results in great physical injury to the victim is a strike-able offense under California’s Three Strikes Law. In the future, if you are convicted of another serious offense, your penalties could be significantly enhanced. For example, if you earn a second strike, your punishment could double. If you earn a third-strike, you could end up with a sentence of up to 25 years to life.

What are the legal defenses to a Penal Code 273.5 PC charge?

The penalties that result from a Penal Code 273.5 PC conviction can be severe. Fortuitously, there are many defenses available to contest a Penal Code 273.5 PC charge. A knowledgeable and thorough criminal defense attorney can review the specific circumstances of your case and devise an effective strategy that takes advantage of all possible legal defenses. Let’s examine some of those legal defenses.

Legal Defense: Self Defense or the Defense of Others

You can avoid a Penal Code 273.5 PC conviction if you can prove that Self-Defense or Defense of Others motivated your actions. For this defense to work, you must establish all of the following:

  • You had a reasonable belief that you were in danger of impending physical injury OR You had a relief belief that another person was in danger of impending physical injury.
  • You had a reasonable belief that force was needed to protect yourself or another person and that force was needed immediately.
  • You only used the amount of force that was reasonably needed to protect yourself or the other person.

Reasonable belief is determined according to what a common, prudent person would do in the same or similar circumstances. Therefore, it is possible you could have actually believed that you or someone else were in danger, but if this belief was not reasonable in the legal sense, then you cannot claim self defense to fight a Penal Code 273.5 PC charge.

Legal Defense: Lack of Willfulness

Remember, you can only be convicted of a Penal Code 273.5 PC violation if the prosecutor can prove all the elements of the crime. Hence, if you can show that you didn’t act in an intentional manner, you can avoid a Penal Code 273.5 PC violation. For example, your lawyer could argue that the injury to the victim was caused by an accident. If your attorney can develop the evidentiary record early and thoroughly, it is possible to convince the prosecutor to dismiss the charges against you. Sometimes, just building the evidentiary record on your behalf forces the prosecutor to be more amenable to reducing the charges. In these situations, your lawyer can negotiate for a less serious offense, so that you can avoid jail time and other penalties.

Legal Defense: You are being falsely accused of the crime.

There are a variety of reasons you might be facing a false allegations of Penal Code 273.5 PC violations. It is not uncommon for a former spouse or partner to fabricate allegations to get a hand up in divorce or custody proceedings. It is even possible that a former or current partner is jealous or angry at with you. Regardless of the reason, a skilled criminal defense attorney can utilize a variety of tools to help bring the truth to light. For example, your attorney can subpoena the accuser’s emails or texts. They can even utilize an investigator to interview friends, family, co-workers, etc. to determine the veracity of the allegations.

By presenting evidence that the allegations might be false, defense your attorney might be able to convince the prosecutor to drop or reduce charges.

Similar California Crimes to Penal Code 273.5 PC

There are a number of crimes that are often charged in conjunction with, or in lieu of, Penal Code 273.5 PC. Some of these charges carry less severe penalties than Penal Code 273.5 PC. For that reason, some clients decide to plea down to these lesser charges to avoid prison time.

  1. Penal Code 243(e)(1) Domestic Battery

    Otherwise known as California’s domestic battery law, Penal Code 243(e)(1) prohibits the harmful or offensive touching of an intimate partner. It diverges from Penal Code 273.5 PC in that the alleged victim does not actually need to suffer an injury.

    Penal Code 243(e)(1) is catalogued as a misdemeanor and carries a maximum punishment of up to 1 year in county jail, and a $2,000 fine. This is much less severe than the potential punishments for Penal Code 273.5 PC. For this reason, this domestic battery charge is a common plea bargain option for some defendants.
  1. Penal Code 415 Disturbing the Peace

    Penal code 415 applies to a broad array of behavior. It prohibits fighting in public, making disturbing noises in public, or using “fighting words” towards another person in public. Similar to Penal Code 243(e)(1), Penal Code 415 is a common option among defendants to plea to reduced charges. This is because Penal Code 415’s penalties are much less severe than Penal Code 273.5. It carries a maximum jail time of 90 days and a maximum fine of up to $400. Furthermore, it does not have immigration consequences and is classified as low-level misdemeanor. In some situations, Penal Code 415 can be charged as a non-criminal infraction.

What to do next if you are facing Penal Code 273.5 charges?

If you are facing Penal Code 273.5 PC charges, you should consult a domestic violence attorney immediately. We invite you to call our lead counsel at Domestic Violence Attorney anytime.

Please feel free to call 424-276-6060 for a free legal consultation. Domestic Violence Attorney will gladly review your case and advise you on a course of action.

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