As any Houston criminal defense lawyer will tell you, domestic violence charges are a serious matter that can drastically impact your life. To get the best outcome, you must understand the scope of these charges, the defense process, and what a guilty verdict means. Since this is a complex legal matter, you should seek counseling and a criminal defense lawyer immediately to review your particular case. Below are a few basic questions we can answer.
What Constitutes as Domestic Violence?
The definition of domestic violence varies by state code, but in essence, it is violence committed against a person who is either a family member, intimate partner, or household member. In Texas, this encompasses the following:
• Someone you are dating
• Someone you live with
• Someone related to you by marriage, blood, or adoption
• Someone who is your foster parent or child
• Someone with whom you have children
• Someone whom you were married to or currently are
• Someone who is the child of a person you are or were married to
Is Domestic Violence a Felony?
As with other types of violent crimes, there is a range of domestic violence charges. In Texas, there are four levels of severity:
• First-degree felony, which can result in a $10,000 fine and a prison sentence of up to 99 years
• Second-degree felony, which can result in a $10,000 fine and a prison sentence of up to 20 years
• Third-degree felony, which can result in a $10,000 fine and a prison sentence of up to 10 years
• Class A misdemeanor, which can result in a $4,000 fine, jail time of up to one year or both
How does the judicial system determine severity? Your criminal defense lawyer can help. The penal code considers factors such as the severity of the victim’s injuries and the presence of a weapon. For example, aggravated domestic assault with a deadly weapon is a first-degree felony, while aggravated domestic assault without a weapon is considered a second-degree felony. Domestic assault with prior convictions is a third-degree felony, while the first charge of domestic assault is considered a misdemeanor.
Can Charges Be Dropped?
There are circumstances in which domestic violence charges may be dropped; however, they’re not contingent on the victim’s willingness to press charges, but the state’s. Even if a victim doesn’t want to take the matter to trial, the state may proceed if there’s sufficient evidence.
However, if the evidence is lacking or contradictory, the state may dismiss the case. The victim’s recanting of testimony can play a role in this decision. If the state doesn’t believe the case can be won without the victim’s testimony, the charges may be dropped.
There is a circumstance in which victims decide whether or not to proceed: in civil court. At times, victims will seek restitution from offenders through the civil courts, which deal solely with monetary compensation rather than jail time. Because it’s not a criminal matter, victims can choose to drop the suit whether out of an unwillingness to continue or because the matter is settled out of court. Your criminal defense lawyer will explain this more in detail.
What If You’re Not a Citizen?
A conviction of domestic violence can have a significant impact on your immigration status. If you’re not a citizen or national, the law allows you to be deported to your country of origin.
Can You Contact the Alleged Victim Before and During Court Proceedings?
Accusations of domestic violence are often accompanied by protective orders, which prohibit contact between the accuser and the accused. A judge issues these for the victim’s safety. Offenders have sought retribution before and during trials before. The longevity of the order is set at the judge’s discretion, with temporary orders lasting a few days while others may be permanently in effect.
Violation of a protective order usually results in additional charges, which can be pursued even if the jury fails to convict the offender of domestic violence. Non-citizens who violate laws may also face deportation.
How Can a Lawyer Help?
A criminal defense lawyer can help you navigate the difficulties of a domestic violence charge, including the complexities that may arise if children or shared property are involved. Every person has the right to legal counsel, and an attorney can advise you on the best avenue to take.