Domestic Assault / Domestic violence laws: The criminal charges and possible penalties in Texas
Domestic violence is probably treated more seriously than any other misdemeanor offense in Texas. A conviction carries additional fines, the loss of certain rights, and automatically increases any subsequent domestic arrests to felonies.
You can be charged with domestic assault for a range of actions, from threatening a spouse or girlfriend to attacking a family member with a deadly weapon. It isn’t necessary for you to injure the other person to be charged with domestic violence.
Domestic assault is one of the few misdemeanor offenses in Texas for which a police officer can arrest you on the spot without actually witnessing the incident. All the officer needs is probable cause, such as witness statements or evidence of injury, to believe that you made serious threats or committed violence.
The court system also tends to err on the side of caution in family violence cases, allowing a judge to issue a protective order barring you from contact with the family member – meaning you may not be able to return home – immediately after your arrest.
What is domestic assault?
The elements of a domestic violence assault are the same as the elements of simple assault on any other person, as set by the Texas Penal Code. They are:
1. Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to someone else.
2. Intentionally or knowingly threatening someone else with imminent bodily injury.
3. Intentionally or knowingly causing physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.
You can see that it doesn’t take much technically to constitute simple assault. Poking someone else in the chest a few times during an argument can be considered assault under Texas criminal law. However, if you use a weapon or cause serious injury, you can be charged with the much more serious aggravated assault
While there is not a specific “domestic violence” statute, an assault charge is considered domestic violence if the victim is a family member, former spouse, parent of a child in common, or someone with whom you are in a romantic relationship. In those cases, the judge will make a finding of family violence and enter it into the record.
Domestic violence penalties in Texas
Simple assault is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in a county jail, unless you have a previous conviction involving family violence. If so, it becomes a third-degree felony, carrying a possible 2 to 10 year prison sentence.
And for these purposes, a previous conviction is any family violence case in which you were found guilty, or pleaded guilty or nolo contendre, even if adjudication was deferred and you completed probation.
Aggravated assault against a family member is a second-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in a state prison. But, if you use a weapon and cause serious injury, the charge increases to a first-degree felony, which can mean up to life in prison.
Probation, or community supervision, is an option in domestic violence cases, with certain stipulations. The judge can require that you pay up to $100, in addition to other court costs, probation costs and fines, to a domestic violence shelter. And the judge can require that you seek counseling within 60 days of beginning probation. The judge also may require you to pay for any counseling the victim receives.
Additional domestic assault penalties
If you are convicted on domestic assault charges, even if it’s a misdemeanor, you will not be able to possess a firearm for up to five years of the end of your sentence or community supervision. After that, you may only be allowed to have a gun at your home.
A domestic violence conviction will also likely be accompanied by a protective order. A judge can issue an order valid for up to two years prohibiting you from going near where the victim lives, works, or attends school, and the judge can require you to complete a battering intervention and prevention program run by the state. You also may have to pay the victim’s attorney fees.
But remember, being charged with domestic violence does not mean you are automatically convicted. Depending on the circumstances, we have many options in mounting a strong defense for you, including arguing that no offense took place.
Many of these domestic assault cases rely solely on an accusation from a spouse or girlfriend, with no corroborating witnesses, and we may be able to challenge the accuser’s credibility by showing a lack of physical injuries, by demonstrating a past history of lying, or by arguing that the accuser is actually the one who committed the assault.