During the pandemic, reports of domestic violence rose significantly. More people were stuck at home with family members, causing emotions to fray. However, not everyone reporting domestic abuse is telling the truth. Most are good people, but a few use Texas Penal Code Title 5 as a weapon against perceived wrongs done by a family member.
If you are accused of domestic violence, you need an attorney who can help you sort out and present the truth before you’re stuck with a criminal record you don’t deserve.
What is domestic violence according to Texas law, and what are the potential penalties and defenses?
Texas Domestic Violence Laws
Texas Penal Code: Title 5, Chapter 22, Section 22.01 spells out all the details on the domestic violence laws in Texas, from defining the act to penalties and sentencing alternatives.
Domestic violence is formally defined as the use of force in domestic situations that causes bodily injury, threatens to cause bodily injury, or causes any kind of physical contact the other person may regard as offensive or provocative.
Serious bodily injury includes broken bones, loss of limb, or an injury requiring surgery or hospitalization. However, the injury is unnecessary since the law also covers threats of injury. As long as the other person regards the threat or action as offensive or provocative, they can file charges of domestic violence.
Domestic violence includes assault, sexual assault, or threats to commit bodily harm to another family or household member. A family or household member can consist of:
- People residing in the same household, currently or formerly
- Individuals related by blood or affinity (marriage or adoption)
- Foster parents and foster children
- Dating relationships, current or former
Anyone falling under these categories can file a domestic violence complaint against you. Also, these actions carry more significant penalties than identical violent crimes committed against non-family members.
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Types of Domestic Violence
Many different actions fall under the umbrella of domestic violence, including:
- Domestic assault
- Aggravated domestic assault – involves the use or exhibition of a deadly weapon
- Continued violence against the family
- Violation of protective orders
- Stalking, kidnapping, and unlawful restraint
- Physical abuse, including hitting, kicking, hair-pulling, or slapping
- Psychological abuse, including emotional blackmail
- Financial abuse, including preventing a spouse from working or receiving an education
- Sexual abuse, including unwanted touching, sexual assault, and rape
- Emotional abuse, including humiliation
- Technological abuse, including harassment via social media or text messages
Texas specifically calls out reckless behavior and provocative or offensive conduct as domestic violence if it’s perpetrated against family members or romantic partners. Reckless and provocative behavior covers a wide range of actions.
For example, pushing someone out of the way to get through a crowd can be considered reckless if the person falls and becomes injured. Shoving someone in the chest during an argument can fall under domestic violence. Brushing against someone in a sexual manner or getting into someone’s personal space also counts.
Remember that threats are as good as actions. You don’t have to cause bodily injury to be charged with domestic assault. Threatening or intimidating behavior, refusing to allow the other person to work or learn, and controlling the purse strings are also domestic violence.
Technological abuse is relatively new but is becoming more common. It includes harassing, bullying, or intimidating a partner via social media, text messages, or other electronic communication.
Make no mistake; police will arrest you without a warrant if they believe there is probable cause. The officer must remain at the scene of the incident as long as necessary to verify the allegation and maintain the peace. You might not get to tell your side of the story.
However, Texas does not require mandatory arrests for family violence calls.
Proving Domestic Violence
If you are charged with domestic violence, you are not yet convicted. The prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant performed the act intentionally or knowingly. They may also provide evidence proving the actions were reckless if bodily injury occurred.
You have some possible defenses:
- Lack of knowledge
- Unintentional or mistaken actions
- No offense occurred
Before your trial, the judge can allow you to be released on bail, but law enforcement must inform the victim. If the charge includes a deadly weapon or the defendant has a history of family violence, the judge can order the defendant held for up to 48 hours before release.
If you are released on bail and violate a bond condition, you will be picked up and put in jail until your trial, plea deal, or dismissal of the charges.
Domestic violence runs from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony, depending on the severity of the action.
Everything depends on the defendant’s relationship to the victim, the defendant’s past convictions for domestic violence (or lack of any past convictions), and whether suffocation or strangulation is involved in the incident.
A specific Texas-style penalty occurs when the defendant is found to knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly cause bodily injury to another. The defendant is charged with a Class A misdemeanor in this case. However, there are exceptions to the law based on the specifics of the victim, the situation, and the violence involved. The penalty is increased or reduced depending on the circumstances.
- Class C Misdemeanor. Domestic assault involving threats of harm or provocative or offensive contact can result in up to a year in jail and up to $500 in fines.
- Class A Misdemeanor. Domestic assault involving bodily injury to the victim can result in up to a year in jail and up to $4,000 in fines.
- Third-Degree Felony. If the assault results in injury and the defendant has a prior domestic assault conviction or offense involving strangulation or suffocation, the resulting penalty can include two to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
- Second-Degree Felony. Aggravated domestic assault, meaning the defendant used or exhibited a deadly weapon, such as a gun, knife, or any object capable of causing death, can result in two to 20 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
- First-Degree Felony. Aggravated domestic assault involving a deadly weapon and causing serious bodily injury to the victim can result in five to 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
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Other Penalties and Outcomes
Firearms restrictions are common and are there to prevent future acts of domestic or family violence. The ban may be for life. However, the defendant may regain it if the court expunges the record or sets aside the conviction. The right to a firearm can be restored with other civil liberties if the defendant receives a pardon.
The defendant may be ordered to pay restitution or participate in substance abuse or domestic violence counseling or classes.
Unfortunately, a domestic violence conviction can interfere with your ability to find a job, housing, or receive some benefits. It can also hurt child custody cases in a divorce or separation.
Why You Need an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are accused of domestic violence, regardless of the truth of the matter, you need someone on your side who understands Texas domestic violence law. You need a lawyer who can present your case to your advantage and defend you against false accusations.
At the Office of Brett Podolsky, we represent you throughout the criminal justice process, advise you of your options and possible outcomes, and protect your rights.