The vast majority of domestic violence cases that the courts see are handled under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act. It is a summary process for establishing what happened, and what the restrained person can and cannot do. In Santa Monica’s Department E, Commissioner David Cowan sees a regular parade of petitions for restraining orders; usually it’s boyfriend and girlfriend, or husband and wife, and the relationship is over. The allegation of domestic violence is sometimes the final stake in the heart of the relationship, and sometimes not.

It is not unusual for a couple to continue the “dance of death” as it is called, and remain in the dysfunctional relationship until something further happens. Eminem writes about it in his latest hit, “Love The Way You Lie”

“Wait, where you going? I’m leaving you, no, you aint, come back, we’re running right back, here we go again. It’s so insane, ‘cause when it’s going good, it’s going great”

These type of cases are on the civil side of the law and the restraining orders can have some quasi-criminal effects, restraints on movement and gun ownership being the two big ones, which can effect a person’s ability to earn a living. But in general, a civil restraining order is an embarrassing fact, but not too cumbersome on someone’s life once the triggering behavior has been stopped.

On the other side of the aisle, is the criminal side of the law. This is where things have escalated way beyond the loud argument and throwing of a television remote. The criminal cases are more violent, and have farther ranging effects — for both the victim and the abuser. These cases are the Chris Brown vs. Rihanna type of abuse that is so extreme, so violent, that not only do the police arrest someone, but the district attorney decides to prosecute the crime. The types of crimes classified as domestic violence are sexual assault, rape, and battery.

Battery is the legal term for actual physical contact between two people. It is defined as an “unwanted touching,” which leaves a lot of room for interpretation. However, courts still engage in some level of rationality, they understand humans are going to bump into each other. Gently nudging someone to indicate that you need them to move slightly in the elevator to make room for you to exit is not going to result in a charge of battery.

A woman slapping a man can be a battery, a man hitting another man is a battery. In the criminal courts battery is taken very seriously and is what most people who are charged with domestic violence must defend against.

The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is one of degree. A “simple battery” may be classified as a misdemeanor. A more serious battery will be a felony.

I explain it to my family law clients this way. You punch your buddy on the arm and it bruises — think misdemeanor. You knock out that jerk at the end of the bar who’s insulting your team and he loses three teeth — think felony.

When someone is arrested for domestic violence, usually they will be facing a felony bail situation as police officers will charge them with the highest crime they can. The police push for as serious a crime as possible, because the district attorney can always reduce charges.

Felony bail usually begins for domestic violence at $50,000, which means that it will cost an immediate $5,000 just to get out of jail. That’s the bond premium that the bail bondsman will want to get someone out of jail.

Criminal defense attorneys representing defendants on felony domestic violence charges, depending on where you are, and what the facts of the case are, will start at $15,000 and there is almost no limit to what can be spent on a criminal defense.

The convicted domestic abuser will have to complete a 52-week batterer’s prevention program, be on probation, and make restitution, at a minimum. As the abuse becomes more serious, jail time, and possibly prison, are potential sentences.

Once convicted a person will be under criminal restraining orders, which carry with them the possibility of further jail time should they be violated. Criminal restraining orders are considered to be more powerful than the standard domestic violence prevention orders.

David Pisarra is a divorce attorney who specializes in father’s rights and men’s issues with the firm of Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica. He is the author of the upcoming, “A Man’s Guide To Child Custody.” You can pre-order the book by e-mail to or (310) 664-9969.

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