In some cases, prosecutors in the State of Texas will seek to aggressively pursue charges based on allegations of ongoing abuse. When a person with prior domestic violence convictions is accused of an additional offense, the prosecutors can seek higher penalties based on their criminal history.
This option is not available in cases where the prior acts of violence were not adjudicated (meaning an actual finding of guilt). The offense of continuous violence against the family is intended to provide the state with steeper penalties if a prosecutor can establish a pattern of violence.
Much like with any charge of domestic violence, the police often rush to judgment when making an arrest for continuous violence against the family. Thankfully, these cases can often be won at trial with the right defense attorney. Doug Murphy is an experienced Houston domestic violence defense attorney with a long track record of success. Call today to learn more about your defense options.
The Elements of Continuous Violence Against the Family
The offense of continuous violence against the family is defined by Texas Penal Code Section 25.11. According to the statute, a conviction requires a showing that in a 12-month period the defendant committed two or more acts of assault with bodily injury against:
- A family or household member, or
- A person with whom the defendant had a dating relationship.
Because of the continuous nature of this offense, the burden of proof is unusual compared to most domestic violence offenses. These offenses can involve assaults against the same family member, or against two different victims. If the state alleges that more than two assaults occurred during the 12-month window, the jury needs only to determine at least two of them occurred. When deliberating, the jury is not required to identify which two specific assaults occurred.
Assaults that occur outside of the 12-month window cannot be used in a continuous violence against the family case. However, these incidents could be prosecuted separately.
Continuous violence against the family is a third-degree felony under Texas state law. While not the highest degree of felony, this charge still carries serious penalties. For a conviction of continuous violence against the family, you could face a state prison sentence of between 2 and 10 years. Additionally, it carries a fine of up to $10,000.
It is clear from the penalties why prosecutors would use this statute compared to the standard domestic assault charge. Domestic assault is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a much lighter sentence.
The penalties written into the statute for continuous violence against the family are not the only repercussions that come with these cases. In addition to jail time and fines, you could face a variety of collateral consequences upon conviction. These consequences are not set by statute, but their impact is real.
As a felony, these convictions could cost you a number of important rights and privileges. For example, you will lose your right to own firearms as well as your right to vote. What's more, a domestic violence conviction will prevent you from obtaining or renewing a Texas hunting or fishing license.
There are other consequences that follow a domestic violence conviction regardless of whether or not it is a felony. These convictions could impact ongoing divorce or child custody hearings. Judges in these proceedings could take these convictions into account when making a decision regarding your custody rights in particular.
A conviction for continuous violence against the family can also dramatically affect your quality of life. It could result in the termination of your employment and make it difficult to find a new job. In some cases, you could lose your professional license that you rely on to make a living.
A conviction could also impact your ability to obtain satisfactory housing. Much like with prospective employers, landlords typically run background checks prior to entering into a lease. A landlord is within their right to refuse an application based on a domestic violence conviction.
No matter how you might feel after an arrest for continuous violence against the family, it is worth remembering that these charges are defensible. These cases are often about credibility, and a strong defense could show a jury that the facts do not support the allegations against you.
There are many ways to approach your defense. While the options are many, it is vital to tailor your defense to the facts of your case. An experienced defense attorney could carefully review the facts of your case and advise you of how best to proceed. Below are some of the most common defenses in a continuous violence against the family trial.
There are very specific elements under the statute, and the failure to meet even one of them is fatal to a charge of continuous violence against the family. For example, this charge is only available if the state can show more than one assault with bodily injury that occurred during a 12-month span. If the jury only believes one of these incidents occurred, an acquittal on this charge is necessary. The same is true if the jury determines that the alleged victim did not receive bodily injuries, or that the two incidents occurred more than 12 months apart.
Lack of Evidence
In some cases, the best possible defense is to simply hold the state to its burden of proof. Remember: the prosecutor has the burden of establishing the crime that occurred. You are under no obligation to prove that you are innocent. In cases where the evidence against you is thin, the strongest defense is often to take the position that even taking the state's evidence as true it is not enough to prove you are guilty.
False allegations are an unfortunate reality in many domestic violence cases. These allegations are especially dangerous when there were no independent witnesses present at the time of the alleged incident.
There are many reasons why an alleged victim might make a false accusation. Often, they occur in the midst of a heated but non-violent argument. In other cases, a spouse seeking leverage in a custody or divorce case could make these accusations to tip the scales in the domestic case. Regardless of their reasons, these false allegations could be given weight by a jury.
Prosecutors often take the word of their alleged victim even when there is little evidence to back up their claim. This is often problematic, as the prosecutor is under no obligation to drop the charges if the alleged victim has a change of heart. It is possible that the state could move forward with charges against you even when the alleged victim has admitted they were untruthful.
Thankfully, not all false allegations are successful. Your attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine the accuser at trial and highlight any inconsistencies in their statements. This cross-examination can be crucial in showing the jury that the allegations are false.
Offenses like continuous violence against the family are crimes of intent. This means the injuries must have been intentional for a crime to have been committed. Because of this, it is a viable defense to claim that the injuries were an accident. For example, a husband swinging a hammer while doing renovations and accidentally striking their spouse would not qualify as an assault. Your attorney could provide evidence that the nature of the wounds matches your claims. If the jury determines only one of the two incidents was an accident, you could face other charges even if you are acquitted of continuous violence against the family.
You are entitled to defend yourself or your children from acts of violence from your spouse or other household members. If you injure that person in the process of defending yourself, you are not guilty of a crime. Self-defense claims are common in these cases, and there is often evidence that can be used to strengthen your defense. Your attorney can review the police report for admissions from the alleged victim that they were the aggressor. They could also take photographs of any defensive wounds that might be on your body. In many cases, the evidence of self-defense is strong enough that the state will drop the charges entirely.
Some defenses are viable even when the evidence against you is overwhelming. There are a number of technical requirements under that law that could lead to the dismissal of your case if they are not met. For example, you are entitled to a dismissal if the state brings charges against you after the statute of limitations expired. Likewise, the evidence against you could be thrown out if you are a victim of an illegal search or seizure.
How a Houston Domestic Violence Defense Attorney Could Help
The stress that comes with a charge of continuous violence against the family can be significant. While an attorney cannot guarantee a positive outcome in your case, they could work with you to provide the best chance of success possible. To learn how an experienced defense attorney could help relieve the burden of the charges you are facing, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away.