California “Inflicting Corporal Injury” Laws | Penal Code 273.5 PC

In California, inflicting corporal injury upon your spouse, family member, roommate, or significant other is charged under penal code 273.5(a) pc.[1] The crime is described as a wobbler which allows the prosecutor to file felony or misdemeanor charges.

Corporal injury is characterized as a domestic violence offense because it is a battery against a familial member or someone close to you. For instance, corporal injury charges are filed when it occurs against any one of the following people:

  • Spouse or Former Spouse[2]
  • Cohabitant or Former Cohabitant[3]
  • Fiancé or Fiancée[4]
  • Current or Former Dating Partner[5]
  • Fellow Parent of Mutual Child[6]

Corporal injury requires the accuser to suffer a traumatic condition[7]. A traumatic condition includes almost any marking(s) caused by unlawful touching. For instance:

  • Bruising
  • Scratches
  • Physical Markings
  • Strangulation
  • Suffocation

However, if the purported victim suffers great bodily injury, then the prosecutor will likely file felony charges with a special injury enhancement. Consequently, this carries an additional 3 to 5 consecutive years in state prison.

What Is The Prosecutor Required To Prove For PC 273.5 – Inflicting Corporal Injury?

In order to be found guilty of PC 273.5(a), the prosecutor must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant willfully and unlawfully inflicted physical injury upon a spouse or cohabitant [or former spouse, or fellow parent];
  1. The injury resulted in a traumatic condition;
  1. The defendant did not act in self-defense.[8]

What Are The Legal Defenses To Inflicting Corporal Injury?


Someone acts in self-defense when they prevent unreasonable risk of injury to themselves or another. It is applicable regardless of the aggressor’s sex or physique. There is no legal requirement for someone to retreat when faced with a threat of force. Accordingly, a defendant can freely stand their ground to defend themselves or others from harm.


If the injury is not the natural and probable consequence of the defendant’s act, meaning, there was an intervening act that a reasonable person would not foresee, then that cuts off liability.

False Accusation

False accusations are not uncommon and are usually motivated by obtaining child custody, financial gain, or personal revenge. Someone can easily fabricate charges and leverage the criminal justice system against an innocent person. Our office does not tolerate this reprehensible conduct and we stand prepared to defend anyone who is being held liable under these circumstances.


The credibility of the purported victim may be one of the most important things in the case. Among other things, perhaps the alleged victim has previously falsely accused her partners of domestic violence or has a history of violent conduct. These are important factors when assessing a witness’s credibility, especially when there is no corroborating evidence.


Willfully committing an act on purpose is an essential element of penal code 273.5 pc. Therefore, if a person causes injury or damages to another based on an accident or misfortune, then no crime was committed.

What Are The Legal Consequences Of Inflicting Corporal Injury?

PC 273.5(a) is punishable as a misdemeanor or felony. Even for a first-time offender, a misdemeanor conviction carries up to 1 year in county jail whereas a felony carries 2, 3, or 4 years in state prison.

Other conviction consequences include:

  • Adverse immigration consequences for non-U.S. Citizens
  • It may affect occupational or professional licensing
  • Prohibit you from owning or possessing a firearm for life
  • Mandated imposition of a 52-week domestic violence counseling course
  • Criminal protective order barring all contact with your accuser or children

What Is The Legal Definition Of Cohabitants?

Cohabitants means two unrelated persons living together for a substantial period of time, resulting in some permanency of the relationship. The following factors are used to determine whether two people are cohabitants:

  • The sexual relationship between the parties while in the same residence;
  • Whether the parties share income or expenses;
  • Joint use or ownership of the property;
  • The parties holding themselves out as spouses or domestic partners;
  • Continuity of the relationship;
  • Length of the relationship.

What Are Examples Of Inflicting Corporal Injury in California?

  • Dan was arguing with his wife one evening. He grabbed both of his wife’s arms very firmly and told her to “calm down!” His wife called 911 and summoned the police to intervene before the situation escalated. The officers noticed markings on the wife’s arms. Dan’s wife told the police that Dan grabbed her arms without her permission. Here, Dan would be arrested and charged with PC 273.5(a) because his wife suffered visible markings from Dan grabbing her arms. Although it may have been brief, Dan grabbed his wife’s arms without her consent, thus making it a battery. Accordingly, the prosecutor would pursue inflicting corporal injury on a spouse
  • John was arguing with his girlfriend. As he was closing the bathroom door, his girlfriend stuck her hand in between the door and the jam in an effort to prevent the door from closing. Consequently, she pinched her hand causing it to swell. Here, Dan could face domestic violence charges, however, Dan’s defense is that the incident occurred by accident.
  • Bob was in an argument with his brother Jeff. Jeff was approaching Bob with a quenched fist and ready to punch Bob. Before Jeff could throw a punch, Bob struck Jeff in the face causing Jeff to fall back and crack his head open. When the police arrived, they arrested Bob because of Jeff’s injury. Here, Bob would argue that he is not guilty of inflicting corporal injury because he was acting in self-defense. Moreover, Jeff was approaching in an aggressive manner and Bob responded with reasonable force to protect himself.

What Are The Related Offenses

Contact Us To Schedule A Risk-Free Consultation

A domestic violence arrest can make you feel alienated in the pursuit of addressing the matter. You need to find a law office that understands what you’re going through and provides you with reassuring counsel so that you never feel alone in your situation. Call us today to schedule a risk-free confidential consultation with an experienced Newport Beach domestic violence attorney. Never believe that you are guilty of penal code 273.5(a) pc just because you were arrested.

Attorney John D. Rogers is a Board Certified criminal law specialist. A prestigious distinction that only a small percentage of California criminal defense lawyers have achieved. He has unmatched success in defending his clients in all types of domestic violence cases, especially when his clients are faced with a “must-win” dilemma. He aims to dismiss the case or obtain an acquittal at trial. Contact the Law Offices of John D. Rogers today to discuss your case.

Legal References:

[1] Penal Code section 273.5(a) provides, “Any person who willfully inflicts corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon a victim described in subdivision (b) 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.”

[2] See Penal Code 273.5(b)(1).

[3] See Penal Code 273.5(b)(2)

[4] See Penal Code 273.5(b)(3)

[5] See Same.

[6] See Penal Code 273.5(b)(4)

[7] Traumatic condition is defined under Penal Code 273.5(d) – (“As used in this section, “traumatic condition” means a condition of the body, such as a wound, or external or internal injury, including, but not limited to, injury as a result of strangulation or suffocation, whether of a minor or serious nature, caused by a physical force. For purposes of this section, “strangulation” and “suffocation” include impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of a person by applying pressure on the throat or neck.”)

[8] See CALCRIM No. 840.

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