When a Domestic Violence Charge Is a Felony in Texas

Gavel, handcuffs, and a book about domestic violence charges in Killeen, Texas

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Domestic violence charges are always serious, but when they cross the line into felony territory, they become severe. Felony charges come with hard prison time, and a conviction can be life-altering.

If you’ve been charged with domestic violence, regardless of whether it’s a misdemeanor or a felony, you need skilled legal guidance. Don’t wait to consult with an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney.

Domestic Violence Charges

The State of Texas addresses the matter of domestic violence (or family violence) under the umbrella of assault. If the victim is a family member, a member of one’s household, or a romantic partner, the charge is elevated and brings more serious legal consequences.

Domestic assault in Texas breaks down into several categories.

Domestic Violence that Is Simple Assault

Simple assault in Texas refers to any one of the following offenses:

  • Knowingly intentionally, or recklessly causing someone else to be physically harmed

  • Credibly threatening another person with imminent physical harm

  • Coming into contact with another person in a manner that one knows – or reasonably should know – will cause them to be offended or provoked

When the other person is a family member, a member of one’s household, or a former or current romantic partner, the resulting charge is domestic violence.

Domestic Violence that Is Aggravated Assault

An assault charge is elevated to aggravated assault when either of the following factors apply:

  • The victim is seriously harmed

  • The accused displays or uses a deadly weapon in the course of the assault

Deadly weapon in this context refers to virtually anything that can be used to seriously harm or kill another person, such as a gun, a knife, a bat, a tool, or anything else that can inflict serious physical harm. Again, if the person harmed is a family member, lives in the same house, or is a current or past romantic partner, the aggravated assault charge qualifies as domestic violence.

Domestic Violence that Is Continuous Violence against the Family

Domestic violence charges naturally become more serious when the charge against the accused isn’t the first. Under certain situations, the enhanced charge of continuous domestic violence against the family applies. If the accused faces two domestic violence charges in the span of 12 months, continuous domestic violence against the family applies.

It’s important to note that the accused needn’t be convicted of the first domestic violence charge for the charge of continuous domestic violence against the family to hold. The same is true when the separate acts of domestic violence don’t involve the same victim.

Is It Domestic Violence?

The State of Texas uses a broad definition for domestic violence. If the person harmed can be connected to the assailant by any of the following relationships, the charge of domestic violence applies:

  • A current or former spouse

  • A blood relative

  • A current or former relative by marriage, such as an in-law

  • A current or former member of one’s household

  • A current or former date

Reach out to a seasoned Killeen criminal defense attorney to learn more about these designations and how they apply to your case.

Fines and Penalties for Domestic Violence

The fines and penalties for domestic violence convictions in Texas can be very serious and greatly affect your life.

The Fines and Penalties for Domestic Violence: Simple Assault

If the domestic violence charge is for simple assault that didn’t cause the injured party to suffer a serious physical injury, it’s a Class A misdemeanor, which carries up to a year behind bars and fines of up to $4,000.

If the charge isn’t the first domestic violence charge against the accused, the offense can be raised to a third-degree felony. A conviction can lead to 2 to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

The Fines and Penalties for Domestic Violence: Aggravated Assault

Aggravated assault charges involve aggravating factors like the following:

  • The harmed party suffered serious injuries.

  • The accused used or displayed a deadly weapon in the commission of the crime.

Domestic violence that is classified as aggravated assault is a second-degree felony, which carries from 2 to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

The Fines and Penalties for Domestic Violence: Continuous Violence against the Family

When someone is accused of two acts of domestic violence over the course of 12 months, the charge of continuous violence against the family, which is a third-degree felony, stands. A conviction means a prison sentence of 2 to 10 years and fines of up to $10,000.

Domestic Violence Statistics

The Texas Office of Court Administration reports that domestic violence charges generally indicate a pattern of abuse. Past behavior is considered the surest indicator of future behavior, especially for acts of domestic violence. Further, domestic violence that begins at the simple assault – or misdemeanor – level can evolve into something far more serious far too quickly.

Consider the following grim national statistics:

  • More than 70 percent of those who die as a result of domestic violence experienced prior acts of abuse.

  • Approximately 76 percent of all women who are killed by domestic violence are stalked prior to the final act of violence they experience.

Risk Factors

Certain primary factors increase the risk that domestic violence will escalate from simple assault to the felony level:

When the Charge Is a Misdemeanor

The majority of domestic violence charges in Texas are classified as simple assault, which means they are misdemeanors. However, all it takes to nudge a misdemeanor charge into a felony classification is one of the following factors:

  • A credible threat of causing serious injury

  • A prior domestic violence conviction

  • Strangulation

If you are facing domestic violence charges, contact a compassionate Killeen criminal defense attorney to learn more about how your charges will be brought and what factors may affect your charges.

The Matter of Strangulation

It’s important to specifically address the issue of strangulation as it applies to domestic violence charges. Strangulation is singled out for heightened charges because it is a risk factor for escalation and because it is so dangerous in and of itself. Consider all of the following facts about strangulation:

  • A victim of strangulation can lose consciousness in the span of a few seconds.

  • A few minutes of strangulation can prove fatal.

  • Only about half of all strangulation victims exhibit visible signs of abuse.

  • Very few strangulation injuries can be captured in photos.

  • Abusers who strangle their victims are nearly ten times more likely to progress to homicidal violence.

Physical Injury Isn’t Required for a Felony Charge to Apply

The charge of domestic violence can be brought as a felony even when the victim doesn’t suffer physical harm, such as when strangulation plays a part.

While strangulation is terrifying and can have lasting emotional consequences such as PTSD, it doesn’t necessarily harm the victim physically (although the line between no physical injury and death is extremely narrow). Because the line between life and death is so close and because the act is so closely associated with the risk of escalation, Texas takes strangulation extremely seriously.

A prior incident of domestic violence is another good example. One prior incident is enough to raise the second charge to the felony level, even if both domestic violence charges were simple assaults and the victim didn’t suffer a physical injury during either event.

Finally, an incident of violence that involves a credible threat of serious injury can leave the victim terrified that they’ll be harmed in the future, and, as a result, the charge can be elevated to a felony.

Work closely with a seasoned Killeen criminal defense attorney to learn more about the charges being brought against you as well as options that may be available to you for lowering the severity of the charges.

Social Consequences

Even when the domestic violence charge holds at the misdemeanor level, the consequences can be much more severe than just jail time. All the following serious social consequences apply after a domestic violence conviction:

  • The person convicted is subject to the federal gun ban.

  • The person convicted can have difficulty renting an apartment or obtaining a home loan.

  • The person convicted can have difficulty finding a new job or keeping a current job.

  • The person convicted can experience setbacks regarding professional licensure – and may lose licensure altogether.

  • The person convicted is not eligible for federal student loans, may not be able to live on campus, and may not gain acceptance into the college of their choice.

The consequences of a domestic violence conviction are serious. As such, if you are facing charges, your first priority should be reaching out to a seasoned Killeen criminal defense attorney who will help you protect your rights and ensure your case’s best possible outcome.

The Charge of Stalking

Stalking is another serious charge in the State of Texas that’s closely related to domestic violence. When the victim of stalking qualifies as a family member, a current or former member of one’s household, or a current or former romantic partner, domestic violence charges may also apply.

The Required Legal Elements

The legal elements of a stalking charge include all the following requirements:

  • The stalking behaviors of the accused are focused on a specific person.

  • The stalking behaviors of the accused happen on more than one occasion.

  • The stalking behaviors of the accused include conduct that they know or should reasonably know will cause their victim to feel threatened or harassed.

Acts of Stalking

When the person who is stalked qualifies under domestic violence specifications, all the following acts can be classified as stalking:

  • Any act that would cause a reasonable person to fear being injured or killed or that would cause them to fear that their romantic partner or a member of their family or household will be injured or killed

  • Any act that would cause a reasonable person to fear that their property will be damaged

  • Any act that would cause a reasonable person to feel abused, alarmed, annoyed, embarrassed, offended, or tormented

Common examples of stalking include all the following offenses:

  • Engaging in observation of the victim from a distance

  • Following the victim or following their romantic partner, a member of their household, or their family member

  • Hanging around spots where the victim is expected to be or where the victim is expected to show up or leave

  • Harming a pet of the victim or vandalizing their property

  • Bombarding the victim with unwanted gifts

  • Routinely driving by the victim’s home or other places they frequent

  • Secretly tracking the victim via hidden GPS

In other words, stalking charges under the domestic violence umbrella can apply to a broad range of actions.

Stalking: Fines and Penalties

Stalking is typically charged as a third-degree felony, and a conviction means 2 to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. If the accused has a prior charge under their belt, the charge can be levied as a second-degree felony, and a conviction can mean 2 to 20 years behind bars and fines of up to $10,000.

What If the Victim Drops the Domestic Violence Charge?

Once the police are called about a domestic violence charge, the state is involved, and the decision of whether or not the prosecutor will bring charges rests solely with the state. If the prosecution believes they have enough evidence to convict, they’re almost certain to move forward with the case. The fact that the victim wants to drop the charge is unlikely to affect this decision.

However, if you’re charged with domestic violence and the person who accused you in the first place no longer wants to press charges, it can strengthen your defense. In the end, not every domestic violence charge is valid – or even truthful – and the right defense strategy for you will hinge on the unique circumstances involved.

Don’t Wait to Consult with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney

Domestic violence charges are especially serious, and if charges have been brought against you, don’t hesitate to reach out for trusted legal guidance.

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – a well-respected Texas criminal defense group in Killeen – is a well-regarded criminal defense attorney who dedicates his imposing practice to skillfully championing the legal rights of valued clients like you. The outcome of your case will directly affect your future, and our practiced legal team is standing by to help.

We are squarely on your side, so please don’t hesitate to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 for more information about what we can do for you today.

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