In the past, many domestic violence charges could be – and often were – dropped altogether. That changed with the latest round of Texas criminal justice reforms, which automatically charge repeat domestic violence offenders with a felony, making it more important than ever to fight back.
Today’s post provides the basics about domestic violence, what penalties convictions carry, and how the courts currently view these cases.
If you are facing domestic violence charges, and need help negotiating reduced charges and getting back on the right track, an experienced Texas family violence attorney can help.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Texas recognizes three different crimes of domestic violence: domestic assault, aggravated domestic assault, and continuous violence against the family. These charges may be brought when an act of violence is committed against a family or household member, or someone the alleged offender is dating or has dated.
Domestic Assault is committed when a person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly comes into physical contact with a family or household member which a) causes bodily injury, or b) the offender knows or should reasonably know the victim would find provocative or offensive. Even the threat of imminent bodily injury can incite domestic assault charges.
For a first-time offense, domestic assault is considered a Class A misdemeanor. However, if there are any prior convictions, the charges are elevated to third degree felony. Conviction carries a sentence of either a year in jail plus a $4,000 fine max, or 2-10 years and up to $10,000 in fines, respectively.
Aggravated Domestic Assault is an act that results in serious bodily injury or where the offender brandished a weapon during the course of committing the assault. It is a felony in the first degree.
First-degree felonies are punishable in Texas by a life-term or between five and 99 years, and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Continuous Violence will be the charge if a Texan is charged with committing two domestic assaults in 12 months against someone with whom they are in a domestic relationship.
This charge can come without either previous assault leading to arrest or conviction, and the two assaults can be committed against different victims. This crime is a third-degree felony.
While reforms to Texas domestic violence laws have resulted in greater charges, judges understand the complex nature of family violence, and currently consider the impact on the entire family unit when deciding a case.
As University of Texas School of Social Work Professor Noel Bridget Busch-Armedariz explains, “these are complicated cases, and the truth is many victims and offenders will continue to be connected because of shared children.”
Fortunately, cases are still tried by real people, weighing all circumstances involved. Because the fact remains that often the accused is the primary provider and source of economic stability in the home.
The associate dean for research adds: “It’s not so simple to say, ‘We are going to prosecute them all and put them in jail,’ because these are not just emotional connections, but financial ones.”
Supporting this notion, the Austin American-Statesman analyzed 900+ felony domestic violence cases and found about half the defendants had priors, and 65 percent of the time, felony charges were dropped or reduced. For those facing domestic violence charges right now, this means there is still time to work through the reforms within reason.
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, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.