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Criminal Defense

Domestic Violence Defense for Immigrants: Navigating the Legal Challenges in Los Angeles County

By August 13, 2023November 26th, 2023No Comments
Shadow of Parents Arguing with Son in the Middle | Domestic Abuse Lawyer in LA | Wegman & Levin

In recent decades, states like California have taken steps to improve support services for victims of domestic violence. Advocacy groups recognize how difficult it can be for victims of abuse to leave controlling relationships, and lawmakers have implemented more severe consequences for those convicted of domestic violence-related offenses. Those found guilty of domestic battery often face penalties like incarceration, costly fines, probation, mandatory counseling, and additional restrictions on their freedom and future. However, domestic violence charges can also impact your immigration status. Whenever a noncitizen ends up in police custody, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) becomes involved. It’s essential for non-U.S. citizens to understand that even a single conviction of domestic violence can result in removal, denial of naturalization, or deportation. As soon as law enforcement officers arrest you for domestic violence, contact a skilled and experienced Los Angeles County criminal defense attorney right away. Your lawyer will work hard to defend your legal rights and keep your future as bright as possible. 

What Constitutes Domestic Violence in California?

First, it’s helpful to understand how California defines crimes of domestic violence. While there is no criminal statute titled “domestic violence” it can be defined as “abuse”committed against a victim who falls into one of a number of relationships to the defendant.  These relationships are laid out in Family Code Section 6211.  They include a person with whom the defendant is cohabitating, a person who is the parent of the defendant’s child, former spouse, financé, or fiancée, or a person with whom the defendant currently has, or has previously had, a dating or engagement relationship. Abuse is defined in Penal Code Section 13700(b) as intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury, or placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to himself or herself, or another.  


There are two particular statutes that are commonly thought of as “domestic violence.”  Under California Penal Code Section 273.5, “Any person who willfully inflicts corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon a victim [spouse, former spouse, current or former cohabitant, etc.,] is guilty of a felony.”  California Penal Code Section 243(e)(1) makes is a misdemeanor to commit a battery upon a related person.  There are specific considerations in each charge and they have disparate immigration consequences.

Domestic Violence and Immigration Status

Like any United States citizen, immigrants must abide by state and federal laws. The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act clarifies that undocumented citizens may be subject to removal or deportation from the United States under certain circumstances. When law enforcement takes an undocumented citizen into custody, they will notify DHS, and an immigration hold may be issued to prevent the individual’s release from custody. Once the undocumented person has served the terms of their sentence, DHS may place them in federal custody and initiate removal proceedings. A domestic violence conviction can carry significant penalties extending beyond jail time and expensive fines. If convicted, you could face life-altering immigration consequences, such as deportation or the denial of your naturalization request. Since the potential outcomes are so serious, it’s essential to enlist the guidance of an experienced Los Angeles County criminal defense attorney who understands the risks and threats to noncitizens. 

Crimes of Moral Turpitude

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) identifies the criminal convictions that would make the defendant vulnerable to deportation or removal. Although domestic violence is not listed specifically, some of these offenses meet the definition of a moral turpitude crime (as in, they involve behaviors that are considered crimes of moral turpitude). It’s important to recognize that any crime in California that carries a sentence one year or more in jail can be considered a crime of moral turpitude, meaning that even a misdemeanor conviction under Penal Code Section 273.5 (which is punishable as a misdemeanor or a felony), can lead to deportation. It’s best to work with a skilled criminal defense lawyer to understand the specifics of your case and identify the most strategic path forward.

Navigating the Deportation Hearing for Domestic Violence

In some cases, noncitizens have the legal right to request a formal hearing in front of an immigration judge before they are deported or removed from the country. For example, if you are a green card holder, meaning you are a lawful permanent resident of the United States, or if you are working in the United States on a visa, you can request such a hearing. You may also appeal an unfavorable decision before the Board of Immigration Appeals. Unfortunately, those who are not in the country lawfully do not enjoy these legal rights. However, before you lose all hope, discuss your situation with a seasoned attorney to explore all your available options. In some cases, you may be able to accept a plea deal that does not jeopardize your immigration status. Whatever the details of your case may be, you can trust that your attorney will work hard to keep your future as bright as possible.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Facing criminal charges of any kind can be an overwhelming and frightening experience. Suddenly, your future becomes uncertain, and you may wonder how this incident will shape the course of your life. In addition to worrying about spending time behind bars, paying costly fines, and navigating limitations on your housing and employment opportunities, noncitizens also fear that they will be deported and sent back to an unstable or even unsafe environment. If you are facing domestic violence charges in Southern California, reach out to a trusted and experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your rights remain protected and defended at every turn. Now is not the time to leave your future in the hands of chance—it’s up to you to ask for the help you need to ensure that your future remains as bright and stable as possible. 

The dedicated domestic violence defense attorneys at Wegman & Levin are prepared to protect your rights and keep your future as bright as possible. Call (818) 980-4000 right now to schedule a free consultation with a trusted and experienced Los Angeles County criminal defense attorney.

Michael M. Levin, Esq.

Michael M. Levin is an experienced attorney who has been in private practice as a criminal defense lawyer for over 25 years. He has conducted numerous jury trials in cases ranging from DUI to capital murder. Read More

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