By: Mark Diaz
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How to Prove Innocence in a Domestic Violence Case in Texas
Domestic Violence Charges In Texas
You certainly want to know how to beat domestic violence charges if you were recently arrested. But the first thing to keep in mind is that you do NOT need to prove innocence in any Texas criminal case.
One of the basic tenets of the US Constitution, and the state equivalent, is that the burden is on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Of course, you should not take this to mean that there is little you can do to fight the allegations. Texas treats situations of domestic violence as a crime under the Penal Code statute on assault, so you could face serious penalties for a conviction.
Therefore, mounting a solid defense and taking advantage of other strategies is critical. Many arrests for domestic violence arise out of intense emotions and unrelated civil court proceedings, so false and misleading accusations are often at play.
Fortunately, there are ways to make the prosecutor’s job very difficult, and you may have other opportunities to obtain a favorable outcome. The key to your defense is being proactive, and a Galveston County domestic violence lawyer can help leverage your opportunities. You can also gain some insight by reviewing some basics on how to prove innocence in a domestic violence case in Texas.
The Burden of Proof in a Domestic Violence Criminal Case
The criminal aspects of a domestic violence case are based upon the definition of assault, so the prosecutor’s burden starts with proving the essential elements of this offense. In general, assault is defined as follows:
- Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause physical harm to another person.
The aspect that carries assault over into the realm of domestic violence is the identity of the victim since the laws specifically protect the family and household members. The definition is expanded to include:
- Current and former spouses, dating relationships, and romantic partners.
- Roommates, housemates, and other individuals sharing a residence.
- Parents who share a child, regardless of living arrangements.
- Relatives by blood, marriage, adoption, or foster relationships.
Fighting the Prosecutor’s Case-in-Chief
Keeping in mind that the government must prove each of the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, contesting the prosecutor’s case-in-chief will be an important part of your defense strategy. Any shadow of doubt or question you can raise in the minds of jurors can be beneficial. Your Galveston County domestic violence attorney will explore all possible options for exposing weaknesses, such as:
- State of Mind: When used in criminal law, the terms intentional, knowing, and reckless have very specific definitions. They refer to the state of mind, and the prosecutor is required to show that you acted with the requisite motivation. The general description of assault as described above includes a state of mind. “Intentionally” means that you were purposeful in your actions. “Knowingly” is defined as acting knowingly, or with knowledge, with respect to a result of his conduct when he is aware that his conduct is reasonably certain to cause the result. “Recklessly” is a gross disregard for how your conduct poses a risk of harm to someone, even if you did not intentionally cause physical injuries.
Defending Domestic Violence Charges
In some cases, fighting the prosecution’s case-in-chief could lead to a dismissal of your case. However, once the government rests, you have another opportunity to beat the allegations by presenting defenses. If you have additional witnesses or evidence, this is your chance to contradict the proof presented by the prosecutor. In addition, you may have grounds to introduce such defenses as:
- Defense of third person;
- Consent by the victim;
- Mutual combatants, i.e., you and a family or household member were engaged in a physical altercation that encompasses both consent and self-defense.
Keep in mind that your burden for proving certain affirmative defenses is lower than the prosecutor’s burden in proving its case against you. Depending on the defense, you are required to show proof by a preponderance of the evidence. In general, this standard encompasses somewhat of a 50/50 burden. That is, you need to establish that your evidence is more likely true than not, so 51% or more.
Penalties for a Domestic Violence Conviction in Texas
The lowest level offense for domestic assault is a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by $500. These charges ONLY apply to assault charges when there is no bodily injury. When there was actual bodily injury as described, domestic violence becomes a Class A Misdemeanor. You could face up to a year of incarceration and a maximum fine of $4,000. These charges for basic domestic violence presume the accused has no prior criminal history with these specific types of cases, and there were no aggravating factors present.
Domestic assault charges increase in severity under certain circumstances, so note that:
- Assault with injury will be charged as a Third-Degree Felony if you have a prior conviction for domestic violence or Family Violence finding on your record, or if the act involved strangulation. For a Third-Degree Felony, the punishment range is a minimum of 2 years, the max punishment is up to 10 years imprisonment, along with a possible $10,000 fine.
- You could face charges for aggravated domestic violence by causing serious bodily injury, or alternatively if you use or brandish a deadly weapon. For purposes of the statute, “serious” harm includes bone fractures, amputation, or any injury requiring surgery or hospitalization. The offense is a Second-Degree Felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison.
- If you cause serious bodily injury AND engage in a domestic assault with a deadly weapon, the offense is a First-Degree Felony. The mandatory minimum sentence is 5 years imprisonment, and the maximum is 99 years or life.
- With any conviction for domestic assault, there are also collateral consequences that are separate from your criminal sentence. In Texas, you could lose voting and Second Amendment rights and could encounter other personal and professional implications.
Other Implications for a Domestic Assault Arrest
Though the above information mainly focuses on the criminal aspects of domestic violence in Texas, you should be aware of what happens immediately upon an arrest. When police charge you, the incident results in an automatic magistrate’s emergency order. Or what you may know familiarly as a protective order.
The proceedings are civil in nature and intended to protect the individual who is accusing you of domestic assault. The domestic violence protective order will likely prohibit you from communicating with that person and require you to keep your distance, among other issues.
The emergency order is automatic, and you are not provided with an opportunity to defend the allegations. Therefore, it can only be in place temporarily. With this civil side of domestic violence, you will have the chance to fight the allegations at a later hearing. The issue in such a case is whether a longer-term protective order should be imposed.
Legal Help with Defending the Charges
Considering the ramifications for your freedom, finances, and rights, you must make it a priority to retain experienced legal counsel. A Galveston County domestic violence attorney supports your interests throughout the criminal process by:
- Advising you on your right to remain silent during police questioning.
- Assisting with your arraignment and securing bail for your release pending trial.
- Raising motions related to evidence, such as tossing unlawfully obtained information or compelling the prosecutor to turn over the evidence.
- Requesting that the court dismiss the charges based on the prosecutor’s lack of evidence.
- Discussing a plea bargain with the prosecution to reduce the charges and/or penalties.
- Employing discovery tools to obtain evidence, including a deposition of the individual accusing you of domestic violence.
- Fighting for your rights at trial.
- Advocating on your behalf during a sentencing hearing, if you are convicted.
Because of the legal connection between criminal and civil domestic violence, it is also wise to rely on an attorney to assist with the protective order that follows the arrest. You have important rights to protect and must fully understand the legal implications to avoid violating a protective order, which is a crime and could possibly result in more charges being filed against you.
A Galveston County Domestic Violence Lawyer Will Protect Your Rights
It may be a relief to know that the burden is NOT on you to prove innocence in a domestic violence case in Texas, but this information shows that there are numerous other complexities of concern.
Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Diaz is prepared to pursue all available opportunities, so please contact our firm to set up a no-cost consultation. Individuals in Galveston County and Greater Houston can call (409) 515-6170 to speak to our Galveston County domestic violence defense attorney. We can discuss strategies after reviewing your circumstances.
Mark Diaz & Associates is a Criminal Defense Law Firm in Galveston, Texas representing clients throughout Galveston, Chambers and Harris Counties including but not limited to Tiki Island, Jamaica Beach, Texas City, League City, Alvin, Algoa, Santa Fe, Hitchcock, La Marque, Bayou Vista, Bacliff, San Leon, Dickinson, Kemah, Bolivar Peninsula, Clear Lake Shores, and Friendswood.