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Criminal Defense Attorney

Domestic Violence Charges

A first-time conviction can result in a $4,000 fine or up to 12 months in jail. You need a criminal defense attorney experienced in contesting charges brought by the state.

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False Domestic Violence Charges Are Very Common

In Texas, domestic violence charges are part of a criminal charge referred to as “family violence.” Under the Texas criminal code, family violence is an assault against a member of the accused’s household. This can be a spouse, child, or other individuals who live in the home.

Although family violence is a serious and very real crime, this area of law is also rife with false allegations. When police are called to the scene of a domestic disturbance, they often arrest first and ask questions later. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to accuse their partner of domestic violence to gain an advantage in a contested divorce or custody case. Because the law makes it easy to bring these claims with very little evidence, men are especially vulnerable to unfair accusations.

If you are wrongfully accused of domestic violence, you stand to lose much more than your reputation. A first-time conviction can result in a $4,000 fine or up to 12 months in jail. Additionally, you can permanently lose your right to own a firearm, have visitation with your children restricted, forfeit your professional license, and miss out on employment opportunities.

What Acts Are Considered “Domestic Violence” in Texas?

The Texas Family Code broadly defines “family violence” to include any act committed by the offender against a member of their “family or household” intended to “result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault.” It is also considered family violence to merely threaten or place a family or household member in imminent fear of such actions.

In terms of specific crimes, there are a number of domestic violence and family violence enhancements contained in the Texas Penal Code. For instance, criminal assault is normally prosecuted as a Class A misdemeanor. But if the assault involves a member of a person’s family or household–i.e., it is an act of family violence–then prosecutors may be able to charge the accused with a third-degree felony.

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Only the Prosecutor Can Drop Charges

Once accused, your fate rests in the hands of the prosecutor. Texas law permits only criminal prosecutors to file or dismiss family violence cases. Even if your spouse or significant other wants to dismiss or “drop” the charges, it is not possible under state law.

As with all criminal cases, prosecutors must prove a defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” While you might think that would be impossible if the accusing witness changes their story, or even refuses to testify, that is not always the case. Depending on the facts of a given case, there may be other eyewitnesses–including members of law enforcement–who can testify as to the nature of any attack or injuries sustained by the original accuser. In short, you should never pin your hopes for a dropped charge or an acquittal on the accuser’s behavior.

This means that offenders can still be prosecuted even after an alleged victim withdraws the accusations or admits to lying to law enforcement officials. As a result, the accused often ends up feeling like the victim. When you are wrongfully accused, you need a criminal defense attorney experienced in contesting charges brought by the state.

Another reason to hire an attorney in this situation is they can advise you on what not to do. For instance, when a person is falsely accused of domestic violence, their first instinct is often to confront the accuser in an attempt to convince them to recant.

This is always a mistake. Not only may it violate an existing protective order in place, but a prosecutor may also interpret such actions–no matter how well-intended–as a form of witness tampering. Indeed, it is possible you may be charged with obstructing a domestic violence investigation that never yields an actual domestic violence charge.

This means that offenders can still be prosecuted even after an alleged victim withdraws the accusations or admits to lying to law enforcement officials. As a result, the accused often ends up feeling like the victim. When you are wrongfully accused, you need a criminal defense attorney experienced in contesting charges brought by the state.

Challenging Protective Orders

Texas law permits alleged domestic violence victims to petition the court for a protective order. Once issued, these orders prohibit the accused from having any contact with the victim. This can prevent the accused from accessing his home and, in some cases, seeing his children. If a member of your household requests a protective order, you only have 14 days to prepare a defense in your case. If you show up to the hearing unprepared, you risk having a protective order issued against you.

An application for a protective order may be filed by the alleged victim, the local district attorney’s office, or the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Keep in mind, protective orders are not just available to individuals who belong to the same family or household. They are also available to people who are or have been, in a “dating relationship” with the accused.

The definition of a “dating relationship” is quite broad and may be broadly interpreted by a judge to include any past or present “continuing romantic or intimate relationship.” In determining whether this standard is met, the court will look at the length and nature of the parties’ relationship, as well as the frequency of their social interactions with one another.

It is also important to understand that some protective orders may be issued without your knowledge. A Texas court may issue what is known as a “temporary ex parte order” upon application. If the applicant can show the subject poses a “clear and present danger” of domestic violence, the judge can issue a 20-day protective order without affording the subject an opportunity to defend themselves in court.

However, a court may only issue a final or “permanent” protective order after giving the subject proper notice and a chance to present their case. In Texas, a final protective order normally lasts for 2 years, although the judge may extend it if there is evidence that domestic violence has taken place–even if the subject was never criminally charged.

A Domestic Violence Conviction Can Seriously Affect Your Constitutional Rights

Under federal law, a person convicted of any felony–including felony acts of domestic violence, such as aggravated assault–lose their right to possess a firearm. Indeed, federal law goes a step further and prohibits any person “who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” from possessing a firearm as well. So even if you are found guilty of committing a Class C misdemeanor in Texas–the equivalent of a traffic ticket–if the underlying crime involves some form of domestic violence, you may forever lose your right to own any type of gun.

Now, it is worth noting that federal law defines “domestic violence” less broadly than Texas. For instance, the federal definition of domestic violence does not include purely “dating” relationships. Nor does it include certain family members like aunts, uncles, cousins, or in-laws, all of whom can qualify as family under Texas domestic violence laws.

Defending Yourself Against Domestic Violence Charges

As noted above, many people are falsely accused of domestic violence. But even when an accuser pursues their complaint and does not recant their story, there may still be other ways to challenge their account of what happened in court.

By their very nature, domestic violence cases are factually complicated and messy. Depending on the circumstances, an accused person may be able to assert one or more of the following defenses:

  • It Was an Accident – Police often rush to judgment when they find evidence of physical contact between a suspect and their accuser. But sometimes, the accuser’s injuries were legitimately the result of purely accidental contact. Remember, Texas law requires proof the defendant acted “recklessly,” not clumsily or without intent, to sustain a domestic violence-related conviction.
  • I Acted in Self-Defense – Although it is not discussed as much in public, there are many cases of domestic violence by women against men; in these scenarios, it is not uncommon for the man to act in lawful self-defense yet still find themselves unfairly charged with domestic violence.
  • I Did Not Choke My Accuser – Whether an accuser was choked in a domestic violence incident can make the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony charge; the prosecution, therefore, must prove the alleged victim was in fact choked–i.e., their blood flow or breathing was actually impaired by the defendant’s actions. Once again, mere incidental contact is not enough to establish guilt.

A qualified Galveston domestic violence defense attorney can review your case and advise you on the best available legal strategy for your situation. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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