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Criminal Defense From A Former Prosecutor

Child witnesses and their impact on domestic violence sentences

During recent years, researchers have begun looking at what impact domestic violence that children either experience themselves or in their homes has on their lives in the long term. It's from studying any number of different cases that researchers have determined that, even in instances in which the child is not a direct target of the violence, they still experience significant harm simply by witnessing it.

Domestic violence can take on many different forms. It can be physical, verbal and emotional. Even once the violent incident itself has subsided, a child can still fear the occurrence of a abusive event or experience after-effects of the event in their minds. These disturbances can create lasting impacts on a child's emotional health and stunt their development.

Because of this, states have begun implementing laws that hold parents and other relatives criminally liable for raising their children in environments where domestic violence is present. Currently, at least half of the states have these types of laws on the books. California is one of them.

Under California Penal Code, § 1170.76, a child who is present when an individual attempts to commit a sexual assault, inflict physical harm upon either a former spouse or current one, or engage in some type of battery involving a deadly weapon is considered to be a witness of domestic violence. In order to be enforced, the child must either currently or have previously lived with the offender in the same household.

In cases in which a child is believed to have witnessed an incident of domestic violence, the charges filed against the offender are automatically upgraded to aggravated ones. This can result in enhanced sentencing under California law § 1170.76.

Crimes that are either violent in nature or affect children tend to be sentenced much more aggressively than crimes that are not. Cases in which your own child happens to be the victim of or witness to a crime can impact your life as their parent in many ways. Not only may you be held criminally liable for the offense itself, but the fact that they witnessed it may adversely impact your ability to retain custody as well.

If you're facing domestic violence charges, you may benefit from the guidance that a Van Nuys criminal defense attorney can provide in your case.

Source:, "Child witnesses to domestic violence," accessed May 26, 2017

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