How to Win a PC 273.5(a) Case

Aaron Spolin

Spolin Law P.C. is led by award-winning appeals attorney and former prosecutor Aaron Spolin. One of his most recent successful outcomes was on a murder case sent to the state’s highest court.

Spolin Law P.C. is led by former prosecutor and award-winning attorney Aaron Spolin, who is ranked in the top 1% of California criminal law attorneys. The firm has a high rate of getting charges dismissed.

Penal Code 273.5(a) is defined as the deliberate injuring of a spouse, fiancé, co-habitant, boyfriend/girlfriend, or co-parent when such an injury results in a “traumatic condition.” A traumatic condition can include a visible wound, strangulation, or bruising.

Winning a PC 273.5(a) frequently involves strong legal representation from your attorney, who can raise legal defenses, negotiate with the prosecutor, file legal motions, and fight for you in court.

At Spolin Law P.C., we fight 273.5(a) cases with a number of methods. Some of the steps we take for our clients include:

  • File Legal Motions to Dismiss Case:
    A legal motion is a formal request made to a judge. Common legal motions in PC 273.5 cases can include a motion to dismiss, a motion to suppress illegal evidence, and a motion to eliminate certain charges. Read more about legal motions in the “Legal Motions” section below.
  • Prepare Persuasive Character Packet:
    Spolin Law P.C. devotes significant resources to the defense of each client, and this include the creation of persuasive character packets. These packets include information about the client, his or her family, past history, employment, good character, and other evidence that the client is not deserving of a harsh sentence. This extra effort is part of the reason why Spolin Law P.C. gets a large number of favorable outcomes on PC 273.5 cases.
  • Investigate Case to Challenge Prosecutor’s Evidence
    Often the prosecution’s evidence is only the beginning of the story. Investigating the facts and finding out what really happened—or did not happen—can be crucial in obtaining a fair result.

These steps are some of the actions that Spolin Law P.C. takes to fight and ideally win PC 273.5 cases. To learn more about the defense available, see the Legal Defenses section below or contact us.


Spolin Law P.C. provides free consultations to individuals charged with PC 273.5. We are available at (310) 424-5816.

Legal Elements of PC 273.5(a)

Penal Code section 273.5(a) has very specific requirements in order for the prosecutor to prove his or her case against you.

Definition of PC § 273.5(a):

A person is guilty of PC § 273.5(a) if he or she willfully inflicts corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition to a current or former spouse, fiancé, co-habitant, boyfriend/girlfriend, or co-parent.1

Another way to visualize this crime is to break it down into its elements. Therefore, a person is guilty of PC § 273.5(a) if he or she:

  1. willfully
  2. inflicts corporal injury
  3. resulting in a traumatic condition
  4. to a current or former spouse, fiancé, co-habitant, boyfriend/girlfriend or co-parent
Element 1: “Willfully”

Definition of willfully: purposefully committing an act. You do not have to intend to break any law, or even to hurt someone else.2

Example of willful conduct: If someone punches his or her spouse in the face, the “puncher” has acted willfully, even if there is no intent to injure the significant other.3 If an injury is caused by accident, then there is no willful conduct.4

Element 2: “Inflicts”

“Inflicts” means that the “corporal injury results from a direct application of force on the victim by the defendant.”5

Example: An injury that occurs during an escape from a significant other is not considered to be “inflicted” by the significant other.6

Element 3: “Corporal Injury”

Under PC § 273.5(a), “corporal injury” means bodily injury. “Corporal” means “relating to the body” in Latin.7 Therefore “corporal injury” is a physical injury, as opposed to a mental or psychological injury.8

Example of corporal injury: Punches to the face and body, and stabbing the arm.9 Emotional harm is not a corporal injury.10

Element 4: “Resulting in a Traumatic Condition”

A “traumatic condition” under PC § 273.5 essentially means a condition caused by physical force.11 This can include a bruise, cut, or other mark on the body. It can also include strangulation, and a “minor” injury.12

Examples of “traumatic conditions” can also include: having a sore neck and nose, together with “redness in the face.”13 It can also include bruises.14 Pain alone, without any injury, is not a “traumatic condition.”15

Element 5: “Current or Former Spouse, Fiancé, Co-Habitant, Boyfriend/Girlfriend, Co-Parent”

A violation of PC § 273.5(a) = occurs only when the victim is a certain type of person. One way to summarize the victim class is to list current and former spouses, fiancés, co-habitants, boyfriend/girlfriend, or co-parents.16

The Penal Code actually gives a more detailed definition. The victim must be:

  1. The offender’s spouse or former spouse.
  2. The offender’s cohabitant or former cohabitant.
  3. The offender’s fiancé or fiancée, or someone with whom the offender has, or previously had, an engagement or dating relationship, as defined in paragraph (10) of subdivision (f) of Section 243.
  4. The mother or father of the offender’s child.

A person may “cohabit” with more than one person at the same time.17 Cohabiting is defined as “living together in a substantial relationship — one manifested, minimally, by permanence and sexual or amorous intimacy.”18

Factors that are considered are: “(1) sexual relations between the parties while sharing the same residence, (2) sharing of income or expenses, (3) joint use or ownership of property, (4) the parties’ holding themselves out as (spouses/domestic partners), (5) the continuity of the relationship, and (6) the length of the relationship.”19

This element includes someone in a “dating relationship.”20 This is “not a casual social relationship but an intimate one.”21 Whether there is a dating relationship is a “factual question to be decided by the trial court based upon all of the evidence.”22

Multiple Violations of PC § 273.5(a)

There may be multiple violations of PC § 273.5(a) if there are “multiple injuries inflicted during a single course of conduct.”23


Example: hitting a significant other on his/her head, then hitting on his/her back, hips, and legs, and then stabbing in the arm, may result in three convictions.24

Punishments for Violating PC § 273.5(a)

Punishment for a PC § 273.5(a) conviction can involve jail or prison time, fines, immigration consequences, and a permanent criminal record.

Remember, you are only punished for PC § 273.5 if you are convicted. Just being charged or accused of 273.5 does not mean that you will be convicted. See the Defenses to PC 273.5 section below to learn more about defending this type of charge.

Felony vs. Misdemeanor

Penal Code section 273.5 can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. At Spolin Law P.C., we will typically contact the DA’s Office even before the first court date in an attempt to have felony charges reduced to misdemeanor charges.


A person convicted of felony PC § 273.5(a) can be sentenced to 2, 3, or 4 years in state prison.

A person convicted of misdemeanor PC § 273.5(a) can be sentenced to up to 1 year in county jail.


A person convicted of PC § 273.5(a) may be fined up to $6,000.00. The fine may be in addition to the jail time.

Immigration Consequences

A conviction under PC § 273.5(a) may result in a deportation. The law permits the deportation of a person who committed domestic violence.25 PC § 273.5(a) is considered to be a crime of domestic violence.26 A misdemeanor conviction may also result in a deportation.27

Criminal Record

A penalty for PC § 273.5(a) may result in a permanent conviction on your criminal record. A criminal record can be seen by future employers and potential landlords. It may also limit job opportunities.

Summary of Penalties for Various Forms of PC § 273.5 Convictions:

Immigration Consequences for Non-Citizens
Permanent record
Misdemeanor 273.5
Up to 1 year in jail
Up to $6,000
Misdemeanor charge on record
Felony 273.5
2, 3, or 4 years in prison
Up to $6,000
Felony charge on record
Felony 273.5 w/ prior PC 273.5, 243(d), 243.4, 244, 244.5, or 245
2, 3, or 4 years in prison
Up to $10,000
Felony charge on record
Felony 273.5 w/ prior PC 243(e)
2, 3, or 4 years in prison
Up to $10,000
Felony charge on record


Aggravating and Mitigating Circumstances Affect Sentence

Aggravating circumstances refer to factors that increase the severity of culpability of a criminal act. Mitigating circumstances, on the other hand, refer to factors that may be considered out of mercy or fairness and will reduce the culpability of a criminal act.

As set forth above, the penal code provides a range of punishment. In the case of a PC 273.5(a) felony, the sentence may be 3, 4 or 5 years. These are the low, high, or middle sentence. A judge will impose the middle sentence unless there are aggravating factors (which will lead to the higher sentence) or mitigating factors (which will lead to the low sentence).

Some aggravating circumstances for 273.5(a) cases include:28

  • victim was particularly vulnerable29
  • crime involved great violence, great bodily harm, threat of great bodily harm, or other acts disclosing viciousness and callousness30
  • defendant has engaged in violent conduct that indicates a serious danger to society31
  • past criminal history of defendant.

Punishment Enhancements on PC 273.5(a) Cases

When a defendant is convicted of a crime, the sentence will conform to the sentencing guidelines in the penal code (as outlined above). However, if certain facts or circumstances are present, a judge may be required to, or may decide to apply enhancements to the punishment set forth in the penal code. If an enhancement is applied, the sentence will be enlarged. Enhancements may be applied, for example, in the case of repeat offenders, when great bodily injury is inflicted, when a firearm is used, when minors are involved or present at the scene, gang affiliation, or categorization as a hate crime.

Common enhancement for PC 273.5(a):

  • Great Bodily Injury Enhancement – 3 years
  • PC 12022.7(a) provides that when the criminal act inflicts great bodily injury on the victim, the sentence may be lengthened by three years.
  • For example, A GBI enhancement applied when defendant pushed his wife, knocking her unconscious, and upon admission to the hospital, she was placed on a ventilator. Some other examples include

Getting a Strike from PC 273.5(a)

A conviction for PC 273.5(a) can sometimes count as a strike. A strike can vastly increase your sentence if you get convicted of another crime at a later time.

  • What is a strike? California’s Three Strikes Law requires increasing the punishment for repeat offenders. A “strike” is conviction of a serious felony. If a defendant convicted of any new felony has one prior strike, his sentence will be doubled. If a defendant already has two strikes, and is convicted of a third serious or violent felony, the law mandates a minimum sentence of 25 years to life. Prior strikes also affect the percentage of the defendant’s sentence which can be credited to good behavior while in custody./li>


PC 273.5(a) will count as strike if (1) DA charges crime as felony and (2) your defense attorney is not able to negotiate for the DA to remove the strike status and (3) you then enter a plea deal or get convicted. This is yet another reason why the quality of your attorney is hugely important.

Defenses & Legal Motions – Defenses to PC 273.5(a) Charges:

Defense prevents conviction… If defense proven, you must be found not guilty and face no punishment for alleged crime.

Some of the defenses that Spolin Law P.C. raises for clients accused of PC 273.5(a) include:

Self Defense

Definition: A defendant acts in lawful self-defense when he honestly and reasonably believes he is in danger of bodily injury, the threat of bodily injury is imminent, and the use of force is reasonable under the circumstances.32 A fear of imminent bodily injury does not justify “resistance beyond that which would be deemed sufficient by a reasonable [person] to secure his [or her] own safety.”33

Example: For example, if the alleged victim approached defendant with a knife, and defendant pushed the victim to the floor so that defendant could escape, the defendant acted in self-defense.

Defense of Others

Definition: Any person, in the aid or defense of another person about to be injured, may make resistance sufficient to prevent the offense.34 It is lawful for a person who, as a reasonable person, has grounds for believing and does believe that bodily injury is about to be inflicted upon another to protect that individual from attack. In doing so, [he] may use all force and means which that person believes to be reasonably necessary and which would appear to a reasonable person, in the same or similar circumstances, to be necessary to prevent the injury which appears to be imminent.35

Example: If Defendant, upon witnessing the victim attack a third party, uses necessary force to protect the third party, the defendant’s conduct was in the defense of others.


Definition: If an act was committed through misfortune or by accident, and there is no criminal intent or purpose (or criminal negligence), the defense of accident applies.36 The accident defense amounts to a claim that the defendant acted without forming the mental state necessary to make his or her actions a crime.37 The defense is available only when the alleged crime was the result of an event which happened while the defendant was engaged in a lawful act.38 Accident or the absence of intent refers to the act and not the result. A person can intentionally act to produce an unintended result.39

Example: For example, if defendant accidentally inflicted corporal injury upon his spouse, cohabitant, etc. while attempting to assault a person outside the enumerated class of victims, would constitute a legally applicable defense.40 Or, if defendant slammed the door in anger, not realizing the victim’s finger was in the doorframe, the injury may be considered the result of an accident.


Definition: Duress can negate the intent or capacity to commit a crime.41 Duress is an effective defense only when the actor responds to an immediate and imminent danger.42 Decisions upholding the duress defense always involve a present and active aggressor threatening immediate danger.43

Insufficient Evidence

Definition: There is insufficient evidence to prove guilt.

Involuntary Intoxication

Definition: Defendant was intoxicated involuntarily.


Definition: Defendant was legally insane at the time of the offense.

Expiry of Time for Prosecution (Statute of Limitations)

Definition: Too much time has elapsed since the crime occurred.

To learn more about whether these defenses might apply to your case, contact Spolin Law P.C. for a free consultation. (310) 424-5816.

Legal Motions in PC 273.5(a) Cases

Legal motions are formal applications to the judge regarding an issue of law. Motions are either submitted in writing or orally. Some of the most common motions that can apply to a PC 273.5 case are listed below:

  • Motion to Dismiss the Case
  • Motion To Exclude Improper Character Evidence
  • Motion to Suppress Evidence Improperly Obtained
  • Motion to Dismiss Specific Charge
  • Application for Judicial Sentencing
  • Motion to Challenge Judge
  • Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to PC 995
  • Motion In Limine to Preclude Certain Testimony


These and other motions are available on a wide array of cases, including PC 273.5(a) cases. Legal motions can drastically change the trajectory of a case and—at the least—pressure the prosecutor into a deal more favorable to the defense and—at best—result in the permanent dismissal of the entire case.

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Spolin Law P.C. is one of the leading criminal appeals and post-conviction firms in the nation.

Choosing a PC 273.5(a) Attorney With a Record of Success

Spolin Law P.C. is led by former prosecutor and award-winning defense attorney Aaron Spolin. He has been on the winning side of hundreds of criminal cases and has considerable experience achieving favorable outcomes on PC 273.5(a) cases.

Mr. Spolin is ranked in the top 1% of criminal law attorneys in the state of California. He has won numerous awards for his advocacy, including the American College of Trial Lawyers Medal for Excellence in Oral Advocacy. The National Trial Lawyers has listed him as one of the “Top 100 Trial Lawyers,” and the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys has recognized him as one of the “10 Best Criminal Law Attorneys” in California.

Mr. Spolin and the other attorneys at Spolin Law P.C. provide free consultations on all PC 273.5(a) cases. To contact the firm to learn strategies for your case, call us at (310) 424-5816.

1 Penal Code section 273.5(a) reads as follows: “Any person who willfully inflicts corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon a victim described in subdivision (b) is guilty of a felony…” PC § 273.5(b) reads as follows: “Subdivision (a) shall apply if the victim is or was one or more of the following: (1) The offender’s spouse or former spouse. (2) The offender’s cohabitant or former cohabitant. (3) The offender’s fiancé or fiancée, or someone with whom the offender has, or previously had, an engagement or dating relationship, as defined in paragraph (10) of subdivision (f) of Section 243. (4) The mother or father of the offender’s child. (c) Holding oneself out to be the spouse of the person with whom one is cohabiting is not necessary to constitute cohabitation as the term is used in this section.”2 PC § 7(1). See also People v. Colantuono, 865 P.2d 704, 7 Cal. 4th 206, 26 Cal. Rptr. 2d 908 (1994) (“The evidence must only demonstrate that the defendant willfully or purposefully attempted a violent injury or the least touching, i.e., any wrongful act committed by means of physical force against the person of another”) (internal citation omitted).

3 “A defendant may be found guilty of section 273.5, subdivision (a), if he willfully used force against his spouse, even if he did not specifically intend to cause the traumatic injury.” People v. Campbell, 90 Cal. Rptr. 2d 315, 76 Cal. App. 4th 305 (Ct. App. 1999).

4 “The testimony of the defense witnesses and Michaela’s testimony that at the preliminary hearing she had testified that her injuries were caused accidentally when she was struck by the door as appellant entered the bathroom constituted substantial evidence that her injuries were caused by an accident and that appellant did not have the requisite intent to be guilty of willful infliction of corporal injury on a cohabitant or simple battery.” People v. Gonzales, 88 Cal. Rptr. 2d 111, 74 Cal. App. 4th 382 (Ct. App. 1999).

5 After a victim was pushed by her boyfriend, she turned to run, and tripped. The Court held that the boyfriend was not guilty of violating PC 273.5, since the injury did not result “from a direct application of force on the victim by the defendant.” People v. Jackson, 91 Cal. Rptr. 2d 805, 77 Cal. App. 4th 574 (Ct. App. 2000). In this case, the Court modified the judgment, found the Defendant guilty of battery, and remanded the case for resentencing.

6 Id.

7 See also


9 People v. Johnson, 59 Cal. Rptr. 3d 405, 150 Cal. App. 4th 1467 (Ct. App. 2007).

10 People v. Abrego, 21 Cal. App. 4th 133, 25 Cal. Rptr. 2d 736 (Ct. App. 1993).

11 Penal Code section 273.5(d): “‘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.”

12 See People v. Chaffer, 4 Cal. Rptr. 3d 441, 111 Cal. App. 4th 1037 (Ct. App. 2003). (“By including both minor and serious injuries in its description of “traumatic condition,” the Legislature surely intended to encompass moderate injuries as well. It therefore appears that the language “whether of a minor or serious nature” is simply another way of saying the injury may be of any variety or regardless of the seriousness”) (emphasis in original). See
See also People v. Gutierrez, 171 Cal. App. 3d 944, 217 Cal. Rptr. 616 (Ct. App. 1985) (“the Legislature has clothed persons of the opposite sex in intimate relationships with greater protection by requiring less harm to be inflicted before the offense is committed.”)

13 People v. Wilkins, 14 Cal. App. 4th 761, 17 Cal. Rptr. 2d 743 (Ct. App. 1993) (finding that police had “probable cause to believe defendant had committed a violation of section 273.5”)

14 “The physical manifestation of a traumatic condition can be established by bruising or redness.” People v. Scott, No. F058798 (Cal. Ct. App. Mar. 3, 2011).

15 “The officer did not notice any injuries.” “People v. Abrego, 21 Cal. App. 4th 133, 25 Cal. Rptr. 2d 736 (Ct. App. 1993).

16 Penal Code section 273.5(b): “Subdivision (a) shall apply if the victim is or was one or more of the following: (1) The offender’s spouse or former spouse. (2) The offender’s cohabitant or former cohabitant. (3) The offender’s fiancé or fiancée, or someone with whom the offender has, or previously had, an engagement or dating relationship, as defined in paragraph (10) of subdivision (f) of Section 243. (4) The mother or father of the offender’s child.”

17 People v. Taylor, 12 Cal. Rptr. 3d 693, 118 Cal. App. 4th 11 (Ct. App. 2004).

18 Id.

19 People v. Holifield, 205 Cal. App. 3d 993, 252 Cal. Rptr. 729 (Ct. App. 1988). See also CALCRIM 840.

20 PC §273.5(b)(3). PC §243(f)(10):“’Dating relationship’ means frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affectional or sexual involvement independent of financial considerations.”

21 People v. Burton, 243 Cal. App. 4th 129, 196 Cal. Rptr. 3d 392 (Ct. App. 2015).

22 Phillips v. Campbell, 2 Cal. App. 5th 844, 206 Cal. Rptr. 3d 492 (Ct. App. 2016).

23 People v. Johnson, 59 Cal. Rptr. 3d 405, 150 Cal. App. 4th 1467 (Ct. App. 2007).

24 Id.

25 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(E)(i).

26 The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a decision to deport an individual that violated PC § 273.5. See Marquez Carrillo v. Holder, No. 12-70779 (9th Cir. 2015). Available at:

27 A PC § 273.5 misdemeanor is considered a federal “aggravated felony,” for which one may be deported. See Maya-Cruz v. Keisler, 252 Fed. Appx. 136 (9th Cir. 2007).

28> Rule 4.421 ( Rule 4.421. Circumstances in aggravation
(a) Factors relating to the crime. Factors relating to the crime, whether or not charged or chargeable as enhancements include that:(1)The crime involved great violence, great bodily harm, threat of great bodily harm, or other acts disclosing a high degree of cruelty, viciousness, or callousness;(2)The defendant was armed with or used a weapon at the time of the commission of the crime;(3)The victim was particularly vulnerable;(4)The defendant induced others to participate in the commission of the crime or occupied a position of leadership or dominance of other participants in its commission;(5)The defendant induced a minor to commit or assist in the commission of the crime;(6)The defendant threatened witnesses, unlawfully prevented or dissuaded witnesses from testifying, suborned perjury, or in any other way illegally interfered with the judicial process;(7)The defendant was convicted of other crimes for which consecutive sentences could have been imposed but for which concurrent sentences are being imposed;(8)The manner in which the crime was carried out indicates planning, sophistication, or professionalism;(9)The crime involved an attempted or actual taking or damage of great monetary value;(10)The crime involved a large quantity of contraband; and(11)The defendant took advantage of a position of trust or confidence to commit the offense.(12)The crime constitutes a hate crime under section 422.55 and:(A)No hate crime enhancements under section 422.75 are imposed; and(B)The crime is not subject to sentencing under section 1170.8.

(b) Factors relating to the defendantFactors relating to the defendant include that:(1)The defendant has engaged in violent conduct that indicates a serious danger to society;(2)The defendant’s prior convictions as an adult or sustained petitions in juvenile delinquency proceedings are numerous or of increasing seriousness;(3)The defendant has served a prior term in prison or county jail under section 1170(h);(4)The defendant was on probation, mandatory supervision, postrelease community supervision, or parole when the crime was committed; and(5)The defendant’s prior performance on probation, mandatory supervision, postrelease community supervision, or parole was unsatisfactory.

(c) Other factors. Any other factors statutorily declared to be circumstances in aggravation or that reasonably relate to the defendant or the circumstances under which the crime was committed.

29 People v. Bowman (Cal. Ct. App., Apr. 12, 2012, No. A132088) 2012 WL 1230725, at *3

30 Id.

31 Id

32 (People v. Minifie (1996) 13 Cal.4th 1055, 1064–1065.)

33 (People v. Moody (1943) 62 Cal.App.2d 18, 22–23.) See also, People v. Oliveros (Cal. Ct. App., Aug. 26, 2014, No. F066395) 2014 WL 4204930, at *9.

34 PC §694.

35 CALJIC No. 5.32,; See People v. Vargas (Cal. Ct. App., Sept. 13, 2004, No. A103547) 2004 WL 2030234, at *2.

36 CALJIC No. 4.45; see

37 People v. Lara (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 102, 110.

38 People v. Gorgol (1953) 122 Cal.App.2d 281, 308.

39 People v. Casarez (Cal. Ct. App., Apr. 5, 2005, No. E035263) 2005 WL 758474, at *2.

40 People v. Milla (Cal. Ct. App., Mar. 7, 2006, No. B179863) 2006 WL 541210, at *3

41 People v. Petznick (2003) 114 Cal.App.4th 663, 676, 7 Cal.Rptr.3d 726.

42 People v. Heath (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 892, 900, 255 Cal.Rptr. 120.

43 People v. Hamlin (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 1412, 1460 [89 Cal.Rptr.3d 402, 441], as modified on denial of reh’g (Mar. 9, 2009).