When Domestic Violence Crosses State Lines

pexels-pixabay-208745-300x199Within the State of California, domestic violence law is fairly straightforward, as is the process for arresting and charging someone with domestic battery or another domestic violence crime. But what happens if the victim or the assailant is from another state? What if the offense occurred against a California resident while in another state, or if a partner crosses into California to threaten or attack the victim? Or what if the crime itself crosses state lines (for example, if it involves kidnapping)?

These issues make jurisdiction a bit more complicated, but there are no real “loopholes” where an alleged perpetrator can avoid prosecution because of where the crime occurred. Let’s discuss some basic examples in which a domestic violence case might involve more than one state, and how each scenario might be handled.

If the Act of Violence Occurs in Another State

As a general rule, the state where domestic violence occurs will have jurisdiction over the case itself. Let’s say, for example, that a woman who is a resident of California is staying with her husband in Nevada, and he assaults her while they are there. She calls the police, who arrest him and charge him with domestic violence. The woman then decides to return to California, where she has family and friends who can support her. In this case, the State of Nevada would have jurisdiction over the case because that’s where the alleged crime occurred. If the woman chooses to be a witness in the trial, for example, she would either have to appear in person at the Nevada court or (if the judge allows) give testimony remotely via video. But it’s unlikely that she could move the case to California because the state has no jurisdiction over the alleged crime just because she happens to be a resident of California.

If the Resident of Another State Is Accused of Domestic Violence in California

California has what is known as “long-arm jurisdiction,” which allows the state to assert jurisdiction over someone who is not a California resident but has committed a crime in the state. This is especially relevant in cases of domestic violence where one spouse may live in another state. For example, suppose the victim is assaulted in California by her partner who lives in Oregon, and the perpetrator returns to Oregon before they are caught. In that case, long-arm jurisdiction means California can still charge the non-resident spouse with domestic violence, issue a protective order if necessary, and extradite the suspect for trial in many cases.

There is one clear exception to this scenario, and that’s if the defendant crosses state lines into California with the clear intent to commit domestic violence. In such cases, it may be charged as a federal crime. (See below.)

If the Crime Itself Crosses State Boundaries

The federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) extends national support and protections to victims of domestic violence. Among its numerous provisions, VAWA makes physical domestic violence a federal crime if it involves interstate boundaries. Specifically, an act of domestic violence may be charged as a federal crime in either of the following cases:

  • If the defendant crosses state lines with the specific intent to injure, harass, or intimidate the victim, and the victim suffers bodily injury as a result; and/or
  • If the victim is coerced or forced across state lines in the commission of the crime and suffers bodily injury. (This can be either by the assailant apprehending the victim or by the victim being forced across state lines to escape the assailant.)

The penalties for a federal domestic violence crime may be significantly greater than those imposed by the State of California. The federal government may defer to the state’s jurisdiction in some cases, even if the crime crosses state lines, but the federal government reserves the right to prosecute these cases.

If the Domestic Violence Crime Occurs in Two States Simultaneously 

This may seem like an unlikely scenario, but in the digital age, it can happen. For example, suppose the victim is in California, and the perpetrator is in Nevada, and they are communicating via text, email, or social media. If the perpetrator sends threatening or abusive messages to the victim while she is in California, it may be considered domestic violence in either state. Specifically, the State of California may be able to exert jurisdiction if the victim wants to press charges since she was in California when she received the threatening communication. In such cases, it may be up to each state to decide whether or not to prosecute the perpetrator.

What About Restraining/Protective Orders?

Jurisdiction regarding protective orders can be confusing, even tricky, when the accuser and the accused are in two different states. Here’s what you need to know:

California honors restraining orders issued by other states. Under both VAWA and the Uniform Interstate Enforcement of Domestic Violence Protection Orders Act (UIEDVPOA), courts are permitted to honor restraining and protective orders issued by other jurisdictions. California observes both laws. This means, for example, if your spouse obtained a restraining order against you in New Jersey and moved to California to get away from you, you could be arrested and charged with a crime in California if you come into the state and violate the order–just as if the order itself were issued by a California court.

California only issues protective orders against those over whom it can claim personal jurisdiction. Let’s say, for example, that you are a victim of domestic violence by your spouse in Kentucky, and you move to California to get distance. If you then try to obtain a protective order in California against your spouse, you may have difficulty doing so unless you can make the case that California has personal jurisdiction over them. If your spouse has never set foot in California and has no intention of doing so, then your petition for a protective order will likely be denied. If, however, your spouse makes regular business trips into the state, you might be able to convince the judge to issue the order.

Aside from these general rules, there are often exceptions, and for that reason, domestic violence cases involving more than one state can be quite complicated—which is why it’s so important to have skilled legal representation when you’re accused of any domestic violence crime. Call our offices today to schedule an appointment.

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