Domestic Violence Includes Controlling Behavior in Irvine California

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In the recently published case of Rodriguez v. Menjivar, (12/16/2015, Court of Appeal, 2nd Dist., Div. 7), the Court of Appeals reviewed a domestic violence case out of Los Angeles County involving the question of whether evidence of mental abuse and controlling behavior are relevant to a court’s determination of abuse under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act.

The answer is yes.

The facts of the case involve Beverly Rodriguez who had been dating Randy Menjivar since June of 2013 and had been subjected to a period of physical injury and controlling behavior by Randy. Randy would call Beverly multiple times a day, accusing her of cheating, and taking actions to isolate her from contact with others. Randy would push, punch, slap, and kick Beverly even while Beverly was pregnant. The abusive behavior continued until late February of 2014. Beverly’s health condition degraded to such an extent that she required hospitalization. Despite Beverly’s report of Randy’s abusive conduct to the police, Randy continued to threaten her over social media, both directly and indirectly. The trial court granted Beverly a temporary restraining order on July 24, 2014 and began holding the hearing on the permanent order on September 3, 2014. After testimony was given by Beverly, Beverly’s mother, and Randy, the trial court denied Beverly’s request for a permanent restraining order and dissolved the temporary order. The trial court refused to consider testimony of acts of emotional and mental abuse by Randy because there was an absence of actual violence in the 6 months prior to the hearing and Randy had stated that he left the area. The trial court felt that both were an appropriate basis to deny a protective order.

The Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA) (Fam. Code § 6200 et. seq.) permits a trial court to issue a protective order “to restrain any person for the purpose of preventing a recurrence of domestic violence and ensuring a period of separation of the persons involved; the petitioner must present ‘reasonable proof of a past act or acts of abuse.’”(§ 6300).

Abuse under the DVPA includes physical abuse or injury, as well as acts of “mental” and “emotional” abuse.

During the hearing, Beverly’s mother testified that she had witnessed Randy inflict physical injury on Beverly. Beverly testified to not only Randy’s physical abuse but also of his controlling behavior and use of social media to threaten her.

The trial court found that the testimony of controlling behavior and mental abuse was not subject to the DPVA and Randy’s acts of physical violence were too remote from the date of the hearing. Ultimately, the trial court denied Beverly’s request for a permanent restraining order. The Court of Appeal reversed that decision.

The Court of Appeal noted that mental abuse is relevant evidence in a restraining order proceeding. The Court of Appeal stated that the actual infliction of physical injury is not required, and that non-violent conduct could support the finding of abuse. The Court of Appeal noted other cases in which acts such as harassing emails and texts were found to be abuse under the DVPA. The Court of Appeal found that acts of isolation, control and threats are sufficient as a basis for a DVPA order and demonstrate abuse within the meaning of section 6320.

The Court of Appeal also noted that the trial court erred when it based its decision on an absence of actual violence in the 6 month period leading up to the hearing and the fact that Randy had left the area. First, the Court of Appeal found that Randy had not left the county or the area. Second, a probability of future abuse is not required to issue a restraining order. Not only should evidence of physical abuse be considered but also mental and emotional abuse in determining whether a restraining order should be issued, which is an important note for this case.