Life is nothing if not stressful, and we tend to take that stress out on the ones we love the most. Additionally, living in tight quarters day in and day out doesn’t help. Arguments can become heated, and a moment of overreaction can segue into domestic violence charges. In fact, such charges saw a considerable increase during the height of the pandemic when stress and togetherness (in terms of one’s immediate family) were at an all-time high. We are all human and capable of making mistakes, but a domestic violence conviction on your record can do considerable damage and can reverberate into your future. Better understanding the charge – with the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions – can help, but the most important step you can take is reaching out to a dedicated Killeen criminal defense attorney who has considerable experience successfully handling these often-challenging cases.
What are the domestic violence laws in Texas?
There are no specific statutes that address domestic violence in the State of Texas. Instead, the state’s assault laws guide these charges. When the charge, however, involves a family member, someone with whom the defendant is dating, or someone who lives in the same household, additional penalties and restrictions may apply. Assault charges in Texas break down into both simple and aggravated assault.
Simple Assault Charges
Simple assault charges apply when a person is alleged to have knowingly or recklessly engaged in any of the following:
Causing someone else to be harmed
Threatening someone else with imminent harm
Engaging in some form of physical contact with someone else that the accused knew or should have known the other person would find either provocative or offensive
Aggravated assault charges apply when a person is alleged to have knowingly or recklessly engaged in any of the following:
Causing someone else to be seriously harmed
Using or brandishing a deadly weapon while assaulting someone else
When does assault become domestic violence?
While domestic violence charges are typically thought of as relating to altercations between spouses, this isn’t necessarily the case. In the State of Texas, all the following relationships suffice:
Any family member whom you are related to by blood, including children, adopted children, and siblings
Any family member whom you are related to by marriage
Any member of your household (or anyone you live with), including roommates
Anyone with whom you have a child
Your current spouse and any former spouses
Foster children and foster parents
A child of your spouse, partner, or former spouse or partner
Anyone whom you have an ongoing dating or romantic relationship with (or whom you had an ongoing dating or romantic relationship with)
In some situations, the current partner of an ex-spouse or ex-partner can also be included in this grouping.
What qualifies as domestic violence?
The Texas Family Code uses the following language to define domestic violence: An act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself. The statute goes on to define abuse and dating violence. There are three specific domestic violence charges in Texas.
Domestic violence charges begin at the lower end of the scale (although every domestic violence charge is exceptionally serious) with domestic assault. Domestic assault involves knowingly or intentionally harming a family member (or anyone designated in the above classification).
Aggravated Domestic Assault
Aggravated domestic assault involves an aggravating factor, which differentiates it from simple domestic assault. Aggravated domestic assault refers to seriously harming a family member (or anyone designated in the above classification) or to using or brandishing a deadly weapon in the commission of an assault against someone in the above classification.
Continuous Violence against Family
The charge of continuous violence against family applies when at least two separate instances of domestic violence occur within a span of 12 months. This more serious charge can apply even if one of the charges fails to lead to a conviction or even arrest.
Can the person who makes the original complaint withdraw it?
Once a police report has been filed regarding domestic violence, it is no longer in the hands of the person who made the complaint in the first place. While the prosecutor handling the charge is required to consider a complainant’s request to drop the charge, he or she is not obligated to do so. In fact, the prosecutor may proceed with the charges even when everyone involved in the situation agrees that it was a misunderstanding. Further, a complainant who does not want to bring charges can even be subpoenaed and compelled by law to testify against the person whom he or she originally made a complaint about.
Working closely with a seasoned criminal defense attorney can make a world of difference in a difficult situation such as this. Often, careful evidence gathering serves to demonstrate that the police may have been too quick to form opinions about the matter, may have taken statements from either the primary parties or eyewitnesses out of context, and/or may have failed to investigate the matter thoroughly enough. Just because the police arrest you for domestic violence does not mean that you are guilty, and building your strongest defense is paramount.
How common is domestic violence?
In a comprehensive report published in 2008, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) shares the following grim statistics regarding domestic violence:
In 2008, there were 193,505 incidents of family violence, which represents a 2.1 percent increase over 2007.
The number of victims involved in the total incidents of family violence and the number of offenders charged in the total incidents both rose by 3.2 percent in 2008.
In 2008, 75 percent of the victims of family violence were female, and 25 percent were male (in those instances in which sex was known).
In 2008, instances of family violence were spread across all races, but the age group with the highest number of victims was the bracket from 20 to 24 years old.
Domestic violence is an equal opportunity crime that affects all ages, races, and socioeconomic groups.
While about 45 percent of the instances of domestic violence in 2008 were between spouses, this leaves 55 percent that were not. Domestic violence charges involving parents and their children are the next most common, and the bulk of the rest is divided between family members, in-laws, and roommates.
What are the legal consequences of an assault conviction in Texas?
Since domestic violence charges are based on assault charges in the State of Texas, it is a good idea to understand the legal penalties involved.
Penalties Related to Simple Assault
Simple assault charges break down into the following classifications:
Class C Misdemeanor Assault – A Class C misdemeanor assault charge typically applies when the accused is alleged to have threatened harm (without causing any injury) or when the accused engages in physical contact that is considered provocative or offensive. While a conviction does not lead to jail time, a fine of up to $500 can apply.
Class A Misdemeanor Assault – A Class A misdemeanor assault charge typically applies when the accused intentionally or knowingly causes the other person to be harmed. A conviction can carry up to 1 year in jail and fines of up to $4,000.
Third-Degree Felony Assault – A third-degree felony assault charge typically applies when the person who makes the claim is a public servant, works as emergency personnel, is a security officer, or is a government official. A conviction can carry from 2 to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
Second-Degree Felony Assault – A second-degree felony assault charge typically applies when the person who makes the claim is an on-duty police officer or a judge – or when the claim involves family violence in which the victim’s airflow is impeded. A conviction can carry from 2 to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
Those convicted of simple assault are sometimes also required to pay restitution to those harmed, which can include reimbursing the person who brought the complaint for medical treatment, counseling, and/or property damage.
Penalties Related to Aggravated Assault
When the charge is aggravated assault, it typically falls into one of the following profoundly serious categories (dependent upon the severity of the alleged crime):
Second-Degree Felony Aggravated Assault – A conviction carries from 2 to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
First-Degree Felony Aggravated Assault – A conviction carries from 5 to 99 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
Restitution can also apply.
What additional effects can a domestic violence charge have?
In addition to fines and time behind bars, a domestic violence conviction can leave you facing serious social consequences, including affecting your civil liberties.
Your Custody Rights
Your basic parental rights can be significantly affected by a domestic violence conviction. If you are currently involved in a child custody dispute, the matter is that much more serious. In some instances, a domestic violence conviction can even cost you custody of your children.
If you are convicted of a domestic violence charge, it becomes a matter of public record, and your arrest and/or conviction can lead to you losing your current job. Further, it can directly affect your ability to obtain a job in the future. Criminal background checks are becoming more and more common, which means that the social ramifications of criminal convictions of every kind are becoming more and more difficult to overcome. Additionally, a criminal conviction can lead to the immediate loss of certain kinds of professional licensure.
Your Right to Own a Gun
Any felony conviction will cost you the right to own a gun (at both the federal and state level). Even a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence, however, will nix your legal right to own a firearm.
Landlords also have access to public records related to criminal convictions, and more and more of them are availing themselves of the information therein. If you have a domestic violence conviction on your record, it can make renting the house or apartment of your choosing very difficult. Further, it can affect your ability to obtain a home loan.
A domestic violence conviction can make it difficult for you to accomplish all of the following regarding your higher education goals:
Gaining acceptance into the college of your choice
Obtaining a federal student loan to attend the college of your choice
Living on campus with other students
How does hiring a criminal defense attorney help?
Successfully defending yourself against criminal charges is a complicated endeavor, and the fact that you are burdened with the stress of coping with the effects of a potential conviction and that you don’t know your way around the extremely challenging criminal justice system leaves you at a distinct disadvantage. Your focused criminal defense attorney will do all the following in pursuit of your case’s best possible resolution:
Gathering all the relevant evidence in the construction of your strongest defense
Communicating with the prosecution from the outset in an attempt to either have the charge against you dropped or to hammer out a plea deal that upholds your best interests (as applicable)
Helping you navigate the criminal justice system and make the right decisions for you along the way
Turn to an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney for the Help You Need
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a distinguished criminal defense attorney who takes great pride in his impressive track record of successfully defending the legal rights of clients like you. We’re here for you too, so please do not wait to contact or call us at 254-501-4040.