Domestic assault charges are one of the most common causes of police service calls during a time of heightened anxiety and frustration in a relationship. Often, these allegations result in an arrest for domestic violence as soon as the police arrive. The laws surrounding domestic assault cases in Texas are complex, and the consequences of a conviction are serious.
Below, we discuss some frequently asked questions regarding domestic assault cases and how they can be resolved. If you have questions about your situation, your best bet is to discuss your options with an experienced Houston domestic violence defense attorney. Doug Murphy is an experienced board-certified criminal defense attorney that has successfully defended Houston residents accused of domestic violence. Call today to discuss your defense options.
Are domestic violence charges serious in Houston, TX?
Most county prosecutors take domestic violence charges seriously. In fact, most large counties dedicate entire divisions of the prosecutor's office to these offenses. The penalties for a domestic violence conviction have steepened over the years, meaning a conviction could result in substantial jail time in some cases.
What are the potential penalties for a conviction of domestic assault in Texas?
Any conviction for domestic assault is serious. Like with many offenses, the penalties become steeper with subsequent convictions. For a first-time offender, you could face up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $4,000. Second and subsequent offenses are treated as felonies. Felony offenses could lead to years behind bars in state prison.
There are also collateral consequences to be aware of. In addition to the fines and jail time that can come with a conviction, you could also lose your right to own a firearm. A conviction could also hurt your case in a custody battle and cost you your employment, among other consequences.
My landlord won't renew my lease because of a domestic assault conviction. Is that legal in Texas?
It is legal. Landlords have broad discretion in who they rent their property to. If a domestic violence conviction shows up in your background check, they are entitled to refuse your application on that basis. While there are certain protected classes a landlord may not discriminate against, this is not one of them. The best way to avoid difficulty obtaining housing is to prevail in your domestic assault case at the trial level.
What counts as domestic assault in Texas?
Domestic assault is the lowest degree of domestic violence offense. This offense involves a person causing or threatening to cause bodily harm to a family member. This must be an intentional or knowing act, meaning accidental harm will not constitute domestic assault.
What constitutes a family member in Texas?
Understanding the definition of a family member is important, as a domestic assault charge is only viable if the alleged act of violence involves a family member. According to state law, a family member is:
- Anyone related by blood
- Anyone related by marriage
- Former spouses
- Foster parents or children
- A member of the same household
- Anyone with a current or previous romantic relationship
What if the alleged victim is not a family member?
The police are not infallible. In fact, they routinely make mistakes when responding to calls related to domestic violence allegations. It is possible that the police could make a mistake regarding the relationship between the two parties. If this is the case, the State is barred from proceeding with the offense as a domestic violence charge. That does not mean they cannot pursue another form of assault charge, however.
What constitutes bodily injury?
The term “bodily injury” under state law is very broad. The legislature defined it broadly for a reason, with the goal to cover as many potential criminal acts as possible. According to Texas Penal Code Section 1.07(8), bodily injury involves physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical condition. This means domestic assault could occur even if the alleged complaining witness shows no outward signs of injury.
What if the accuser is lying about suffering a bodily injury?
Unfortunately, many domestic assault situations come down to the word of the two people involved. Domestic assault can occur even when an alleged complaining witness shows no outward signs of contact or injury, meaning the police will often simply take their word that they were injured. If you find yourself in this position, it is vital that you speak with experienced and board-certified criminal defense legal counsel right away. A Houston domestic violence defense attorney could guide you on building a defense and investigating the allegations against you. If your attorney can show the accuser is exaggerating or outright being untruthful, the state could drop the charges against you entirely.
Can an accuser drop charges in a domestic assault case in Houston?
While this is a common practice in procedural crime drama shows on television, the reality is that an accuser cannot simply drop a criminal charge once they have reported it to police. Once the report is made, the prosecution is in the hands of the State of Texas. The county prosecutor has the right to move forward with the case even if the accuser refuses to cooperate. This happens frequently in most cases.
That does not mean the prosecutor will never consider the alleged victim's wishes. In some cases, they might agree to drop the charges at the request of the alleged complaining witness. This is typically done following with an affidavit of non-prosecution.
What is an affidavit of non-prosecution?
County prosecutors require alleged domestic assault complaining witnesses to notify them in writing if they desire the case they are involved in to be dismissed. This document is known as an affidavit of non-prosecution. The document provides a paper trail should the alleged complaining witness later change their mind, or in the event of another charge down the road.
Just because an affidavit of non-prosecution is tendered by the complaining witness, do not expect a prosecutor to dismiss the charge. The majority of cases have a recanting complaining witness. Prosecutors often proceed forward with criminal charges even when a complaining witness no longer desires to pursue criminal charges.
What is a Magistrate's Order of Emergency Protection?
At the early stages of a domestic assault case, the court can issue what is known as a Magistrates Order of Emergency Protection. This emergency order often goes into effect at arraignment either at the request of the alleged complaining witness or the prosecutor. These orders might be designed to prevent the accused from harassing or harming the alleged complaining witness, but they often result in significant hardships for all involved. Especially if there are children.
The order can prevent the accused from returning to their home to get clothes or other possessions, and it can make it impossible to visit their children. These orders can complicate matters for an alleged victim as well, specifically in cases where they are financially reliant on the accused.
Violating these orders can lead to additional criminal charges. However, an experienced defense attorney could lessen the impact of these orders or potentially have them removed entirely. These orders typically expire after 90 days.
What are the other types of protection orders under Texas law?
There are other ways the court can mandate no contact between the parties in a domestic assault case. One of those ways is through no-contact bail conditions. In these cases, the accused must promise to refrain from any contact with the alleged victim as a condition of their bail.
The courts also have the power to issue a final protective order. These orders can last as long as two years and prohibit the same type of contact barred by emergency order.
If my significant other says they will not enforce the order, is it safe to contact them?
No. Much like with dropping criminal charges, the alleged complaining witness in a domestic assault case does not have the power to set aside a protective order. A complaining witness could face arrest if they violate the order regardless of what the defendant might have promised. Any agreement to reconcile between the parties has no bearing on the enforcement of an order of the court. Typically, only communication made between the parties lawyers and approved of by the court is allowed in these cases.
It is possible to have the terms of protective orders reduced, but that requires a hearing before the court. If both parties seek to loosen or eliminate a protective order, the court will ultimately determine if that is in the best interest of the parties or not.
Can I be denied bond in a domestic assault case?
In limited circumstances, the court can deny bond entirely in a domestic assault case. This is typically an option for the defendant who has been incarcerated more than once in the Texas Department of Corrections. In other cases, bail could be denied just long enough for the court to enter a Magistrates Order of Emergency Protection.
Is an attorney necessary if I am facing domestic assault charges in Houston, TX?
You are never required to have an attorney by your side in a criminal case, but proceeding without one is extremely risky. The law is complex, and a seemingly minor error could cost you dearly. With the help of skilled legal counsel, you could maximize your chance of a positive outcome. If you are facing domestic assault charges in the Houston area, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. as soon as possible to learn how a board-certified criminal defense attorney can help.