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The crime of corporal injury on a spouse/cohabitant is considered a “wobbler offense,” which means that prosecutors may choose to charge the defendant with either a misdemeanor or a felony — though it is generally charged as a felony. This may have a significant effect on the defendant’s punishment. For example, the difference could be as much as serving a few years in prison or 25 years based on California’s “Three Strikes” Law.

To be convicted of corporal injury on a spouse/cohabitant, a prosecutor must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that not only did the defendant intend to inflict a physical injury, but this act ultimately resulted in a “traumatic condition” (major or minor bodily injury) to the victim. This second requirement can be confusing, because it does not require that the defendant intended to cause such injury. Instead, the defendant need only to have intended to perform the initial act that eventually caused an injury.

For example, consider a scenario in which the defendant threw a hot cup of coffee at the victim, leaving the victim with serious burns on her face. As long as the defendant intended to throw the cup of coffee (the initial act), it is irrelevant whether or not the defendant actually intended to burn the victim (the serious injury).