Texas Family Violence — A Guide to the Criminal Justice Process

May 20, 2024 | By Brandon Fulgham
Texas Family Violence — A Guide to the Criminal Justice Process
A gavel and a book on domestic violence law placed on a grey table.

Domestic violence crimes typically involve assaults, harassment, and other offenses involving individuals who live under the same roof. The penalties for a conviction can be extremely high and may include monetary fines and jail time. Therefore, if you are pending a domestic violence charge in Texas, always retain a skilled attorney to represent you throughout your case.

A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer in Texas can review the circumstances of your charge and arrest with you. They can also investigate the circumstances and determine your legal options. In some situations, your domestic violence attorney may be able to negotiate a favorable plea deal with a state prosecutor, while at other times, they may be able to raise a strong legal defense to your domestic violence charge in court.

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What is Domestic Violence in Texas?

Domestic violence in Texas refers to abusive behavior within intimate or familial relationships. It encompasses a range of actions, including physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse. This issue affects individuals of all genders, ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. In Texas, domestic violence is taken very seriously, and there are laws in place to protect victims and punish offenders.

Several crimes are associated with domestic violence in Texas. These include assault, aggravated assault, stalking, harassment, sexual assault, and violations of protective orders. Assault, for example, involves intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another person, including a family member or household member. Aggravated assault occurs when the accused (defendant) has inflicted serious bodily injury or used a deadly weapon.

The prosecution’s legal burden of proof in a Texas domestic violence case is to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that they must present evidence that proves the defendant’s guilt to such a high degree that there is no reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors or judge. The burden of proof rests solely on the prosecution, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

To meet this burden of proof, the prosecution typically presents various types of evidence, including eyewitness testimony, medical records documenting injuries, photographs of injuries or property damage, 9-1-1 calls or police reports, and any statements the defendant made. In cases where the victim is unwilling or unable to testify, the prosecution may still proceed with the case using other evidence.

In addition to criminal penalties, Texas provides civil remedies for victims of domestic violence, such as protective orders that prohibit the offender from contacting or being near the victim. Violating a protective order is a separate criminal offense in Texas.

Domestic violence is a serious issue in Texas, and a conviction can lead to various penalties and collateral consequences. An experienced criminal defense lawyer in Texas can explain the potential penalties and determine your eligibility for raising a legal defense in court.

Potential Penalties for a Texas Domestic Violence Conviction

A man grips a belt in his fist while a woman cries in the background, illustrating the concept of domestic violence.

Domestic violence convictions can have serious consequences in Texas, ranging from fines and probation to imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history.

For misdemeanor domestic violence convictions, penalties typically include fines up to $4,000 and jail time ranging from a few days to a year. Additionally, the court may order the defendant to attend counseling or anger management programs, complete community service, and adhere to a restraining order to stay away from the victim.

In cases where the violence results in serious bodily injury or involves the use of a deadly weapon, the offense may be a felony charge. Felony domestic violence convictions carry harsher penalties, including substantial fines and imprisonment for several years or more. The exact penalties depend on factors such as the severity of the injuries inflicted, prior criminal history, and whether the defendant violated any protective orders.

In Texas, domestic violence offenses can also result in the loss of certain rights and privileges. For instance, the court may prohibit individuals convicted of domestic violence from owning or possessing firearms, which can affect their ability to work in certain professions or participate in activities such as hunting or shooting sports.

Furthermore, a domestic violence conviction can have long-lasting consequences beyond the criminal penalties. It can damage relationships, reputation, and employment prospects. Many employers conduct background checks, and a domestic violence conviction may make it difficult to secure certain jobs or professional licenses.

Moreover, individuals convicted of domestic violence may face challenges in child custody proceedings. Courts consider domestic violence when determining custody arrangements, prioritizing the safety and well-being of the children involved. A domestic violence conviction can significantly affect a parent’s ability to obtain custody or visitation rights.

Domestic violence convictions may result in financial repercussions in addition to legal penalties. Defendants may be required to pay restitution to the victim for medical expenses, property damage, or other losses incurred due to the violence. They may also be responsible for covering the costs of court-ordered counseling or treatment programs.

The potential penalties for a domestic violence conviction in Texas are significant and can have far-reaching implications for the defendant’s life. Individuals facing domestic violence charges need to seek legal representation to understand their rights, options, and potential consequences.

How Does the Court Process Work in a Texas Domestic Violence Case?

Scales of justice atop law books with a government courthouse in the background, representing the concepts of justice, law, and jurisprudence.

In Texas, the court process for domestic violence cases is an important part of ensuring justice and protecting victims. It involves several key stages:

The first stage is the reporting of the incident to law enforcement. When an individual experiences domestic violence or witnesses it, they can contact the police to file a report. Law enforcement officers will respond to the call, assess the situation, gather evidence, and document the incident. This initial step is crucial as it sets the legal process in motion.

Following the report, the next stage involves the accused’s arrest, assuming there is sufficient evidence to support a claim of domestic violence. Law enforcement will take the accused into custody, and they will remain in jail pending a bail hearing or arraignment.

After the arrest, the case proceeds to the pretrial stage. During this phase, both the prosecution and defense gather evidence, interview witnesses, and prepare their respective cases. The prosecution represents the state and is responsible for proving the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, while the defense advocates for the accused and challenges the evidence the prosecution has presented.

Once the pretrial preparations are complete, the case moves to trial. In Texas, domestic violence cases can be heard in either municipal or county courts, depending on the severity of the offense. A judge or jury will hear the evidence sides present and determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. If the court finds the defendant guilty, the judge will then sentence them accordingly.

The sentencing stage is the final phase of the court process. If the accused is convicted of domestic violence, they may face various penalties, including fines, probation, community service, counseling, and jail time. The severity of the sentence depends on factors such as the nature and extent of the violence, any prior criminal history, and the effects on the victim.

In addition to criminal proceedings, victims of domestic violence in Texas have the option to seek protective orders through civil court. A protective order, also known as a restraining order, prohibits the accused from contacting or coming near the victim and may include other provisions to ensure the victim’s safety.

If you are facing a domestic violence charge, never wait to hire a Texas criminal defense lawyer. Your lawyer can ensure that your constitutional rights remain protected throughout the process and determine if you may be eligible to raise one or more legal defenses in response to your charge.

What Happens During a Domestic Violence Trial in Texas?

A domestic violence trial takes place in a Texas criminal court. The trial begins with jury selection or voir dire, where the prosecution and defense attorneys question potential jurors to ensure they can be impartial and fair. After jury selection, the trial proceeds to opening statements. Here, both sides present their theories of the case and outline what they intend to prove through evidence.

Following opening statements, the prosecution presents its case. This typically involves calling witnesses, such as the victim, law enforcement officers, and any other individuals who can testify about the alleged abuse. The prosecution also introduces physical evidence, such as photographs, medical records, and other documentation, to support their case.

After the prosecution rests its case, the defense has the opportunity to present its own evidence and witnesses. The defense aims to challenge the prosecution’s case and raise doubts about the accused's guilt. Defense attorneys may cross-examine prosecution witnesses, present alibi witnesses, and introduce evidence to support their arguments.

Once both sides have presented their cases, the trial moves to closing arguments. During closing arguments, the prosecution and defense attorneys summarize the evidence presented and make their final pleas to the jury. They attempt to persuade the jury to reach a verdict in their favor based on the evidence and the law.

After closing arguments, the judge instructs the jury on the applicable law and the standard of proof required for a conviction. The jury then deliberates in private to reach a verdict. In Texas, a unanimous verdict is necessary for a conviction in a criminal trial.

If the jury finds the accused guilty, the trial proceeds to the sentencing phase. The judge imposes the appropriate punishment based on the severity of the offense, any aggravating or mitigating factors, and the defendant’s criminal history.

Close-up of a gavel: a male lawyer or judge consults with a client and reviews law books and case reports on the table in a modern office, symbolizing the concept of law and justice.

In Texas, individuals facing domestic violence charges have legal defenses they can use to challenge the allegations against them. These defenses aim to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case to either prove the defendant’s innocence or lessen the certainty of their guilt.

One common defense is self-defense. If the accused can demonstrate that they acted in self-defense or defense of others, they may avoid conviction. Texas law allows individuals to use reasonable force to protect themselves or others from imminent harm. To successfully assert self-defense, the defendant must show that their actions were necessary and proportional to the threat they faced.

Another defense is the defense of property. If the alleged violence occurred while the defendant was defending their property from trespass or theft, they may argue that their actions were justified under Texas law. However, the use of force must be reasonable and not excessive.

Mistaken identity is another potential defense. In some cases, the accused may claim that they were falsely accused or mistakenly identified as the perpetrator of the violence. This defense relies on undermining the credibility of the prosecution’s evidence and witnesses.

Consent is a defense in certain circumstances. If the alleged victim consented to the actions that led to the domestic violence charges, the defendant may argue that their conduct was lawful. However, consent may be difficult to establish in cases involving intimate partner violence, where coercion or fear may be present.

In addition, lack of evidence or insufficient evidence can be a defense. If the prosecution fails to present enough evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the court may acquit the defendant.

Furthermore, in some cases, the statute of limitations may serve as a defense. If the alleged incident occurred outside the applicable statute of limitations, the state cannot prosecute the defendant for the offense.

Each case is unique, and the availability and effectiveness of legal defenses depend on the specific circumstances and evidence involved. Consulting with a qualified criminal defense attorney is crucial for individuals facing domestic violence charges in Texas to understand their defense rights and options.

After a domestic violence-related arrest, immediately retain a knowledgeable Texas criminal defense attorney to represent you. Your attorney can safeguard all of your legal rights, determine your options, and pursue the best possible result in your case. Never try to fight your charges or appear in criminal court alone.

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About The Author:

Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor. Now, he uses that knowledge to anticipate opposing counsel’s arguments and protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth. His work has been recognized by Expertise (Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Forth Worth and Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, both 2020), Fort Worth Magazine, and The National Trial Lawyers, just to name a few.

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