Locking down under quarantine with family may be an effective defense against a pandemic like novel coronavirus, but for some families, it can create unhealthy or dangerous dynamics in other ways. Unfortunately, reported incidents of domestic violence saw a sharp spike in the weeks following lockdown orders, including here in Texas, where some domestic violence hotlines saw a forty percent increase in calls. The combined stresses of a national crisis and being cooped up in close quarters may result in heated conflict—possibly even resulting in physical conflict and arrest.
Unfortunately, in the eyes of Texas law, quarantine situations don't lessen the severity of a domestic violence allegation. Perhaps the unique situation caused you to overreact in ways you didn't expect, or perhaps it provoked some past behaviors you thought had been long dealt with. Whatever the case, If you have been arrested and charged with domestic violence during the lockdown, you need to seek effective legal counsel as soon as possible to make sure your rights as a defendant are protected and that you have all the advantages in the courtroom that the law allows. Contact Board Certified Criminal Defense Lawyer Doug Murphy today at 713-229-8333.
UNDERSTANDING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE LAWS IN TEXAS
The State of Texas takes domestic violence seriously. Even for first-time offenders charged with a misdemeanor offense, the penalties can be quite harsh if you are convicted, including stout fines, jail time, lengthy probation periods, and the loss of other rights (including, possibly, visitation rights). Prior offenses may cause your charge to be upgraded to a felony, which can result in lengthy jail times, and in the future, deeply affect your ability to vote or to hold a job in certain professions. Suffice it to say that without proper legal representation, an escalated misunderstanding at home could potentially result in devastating long-term consequences for you and your family if the courts don't lean in your direction.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DEFINED BY TEXAS LAW
Domestic violence in Texas is referred to in the law as “family violence,” which is defined legally as any of the following:
· “An act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself.”
· “Abuse… by a member of a family or household toward a child of the family or household.”
· “Dating violence… an act by an individual against another individual with whom that person has or has had a dating relationship and is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself.”
Under this broad definition, domestic violence encompasses physical violence or threats of imminent harm to spouses, relatives, household members, children, or people you are dating or have dated.
Types of Domestic Violence Charges
If you are arrested and charged with domestic violence in Texas, you may be charged in one of three categories, depending on the severity: domestic assault, aggravated domestic assault, or continuous violence against family. Let's discuss each in a little greater detail.
A domestic assault charge alleges that the individual intentionally, knowingly or recklessly committed any of the following against a family member, household member or current/past dating partner:
· Caused bodily injury to another person;
· Threatened another person with imminent bodily injury; or
· Inflicted “provocative or offensive” physical contact –that is, contact that doesn't cause injury but would reasonably be considered aggressive or violating.
While this category is perhaps the least severe charge of domestic violence, notice that it includes terms like “reckless,” which suggests you don't have to have intended harm to be guilty of the offense—just that you should have realized your actions had the potential to cause harm or injury. Likewise, “provocative or offensive” contact is included in the definition, meaning you aren't necessarily “off the hook” for domestic assault just because your actions didn't cause injury, per se.
Aggravated Domestic Assault
If the alleged domestic violence offense resulted in serious bodily injury to the other person, or if you used a deadly weapon either to harm or threaten harm in the exchange, the charge of domestic assault is upgraded to aggravated domestic assault. This charge is considered more serious and will have more severe penalties if you are convicted.
Continuous Violence Against Family
If the allegation against you includes more than one domestic assault within twelve months, you may be charged continuous violence against family—even if the earlier incident did not result in an arrest or prior charge. In other words, you can be charged with continuous violence even if this is your first offense.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU ARE CONVICTED
If your domestic violence charge results in a conviction, the State of Texas applies the following penalties based on whether the charge was a misdemeanor or a felony. The standard penalties are as follows:
· For a Class A misdemeanor: Up to 1 year in jail, a fine up to $4,000, or both
· For a 3rd-degree felony – from 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000
· For a 2nd-degree felony – from 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000
· For a 1st-degree felony -- from 5 to 99 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000
Additional/Alternative Penalties for Domestic Violence
In addition to (or as an alternative to) the standard penalties above, the judge may opt to include any or all of the following in your sentence.
The judge may require you to reimburse your victim for any expenses they incurred as a result of the domestic violence. These may include medical expenses, counseling, loss of income, etc.
Community Supervision (Probation)
Many domestic violence convictions include some sort of community supervision, which may be imposed after jail/prison time has been served or in place of jail time. Community supervision may last up to 2 years for a misdemeanor and up to 10 years for a felony charge. During this time, you may be required to do any or all of the following in order not to have your probation revoked:
· Meet regularly with a probation officer
· Receive approved domestic violence offender treatment as required
· Stay gainfully employed
· Honor any mandated curfews
· Submit to regular drug testing
· Avoid further criminal activity or arrests
HOW WE DEFEND AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CHARGES
If you are arrested for domestic violence, don't assume you will be convicted or that you will go to jail. Not every domestic violence charge results in a conviction—there are often circumstances and factors the come into play by which someone's actions may be misconstrued or misinterpreted. A skilled defense attorney may be able to defend your case by arguing the following, based on the circumstances surrounding the alleged offense:
· Self defense (remember, acts of self-defense are not considered domestic violence per the law above)
· Mistake or lack of ill-intent
· Lack of knowledge of the law (for example, many people don't realize threats can be considered domestic violence)
· False accusation
· Incorrect arrest
WHAT IF THIS WAS MY FIRST OFFENSE?
If you were under duress during quarantine, you might have found yourself in a unique situation where things got out of hand at home, resulting in a domestic violence charge. Does that automatically mean you're going to jail if you are convicted?
Not necessarily. The judge has a certain amount of latitude when it comes to applying the abovementioned penalties, and most judges will evaluate all factors when rendering a sentence, including whether this was your first offense. Let's look at a couple of ways your penalties might be mitigated.
As a rule of thumb, first-time domestic violence offenders generally classify as a Class A Misdemeanor, the lowest category of criminal behavior allowable for domestic violence offenders. The exception to this rule might be if the offense were particularly violent—i.e., it involved serious injury or a deadly weapon—in which case the charges may be elevated to a felony.
Deferred adjudication is a provision typically reserved only for first-time offenders in which the court postpones sentencing on the agreement that you comply with all other stipulations laid out by the court (e.g., paying restitution, completing probation without violations, performing community service, submitting to treatment). As long as you complete all that the court requires, your case may be dismissed.
CONTACT A BOARD CERTIFIED CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY TODAY
If you have been charged with domestic violence while under quarantine in Texas, the one thing you don't want to do is take the charges likely. Even a single conviction can have severe ramifications for your family and your future. Call Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney Doug Murphy at 713-229-8333 today to discuss your case with an experienced and skilled Texas criminal defense attorney. Doug Murphy always strives for the best possible outcome.