Texas defines domestic violence as when a person intentionally causes psychological, physical, and emotional harm to a member of their household or their partner in a romantic relationship. The state prosecutes abusers based on Texas penal code, and the penalties depend on the class of domestic violence viz:
- domestic assault
- aggravated domestic assault
- continuous violence against the family
1. Domestic Assault
Domestic assault refers to the intentional or reckless act that inflicts bodily injury on another person or exposes the person to the threat of imminent bodily injury. Criminal justice agencies will charge a first-time offender with a Class A misdemeanor. However, persons with prior convictions for domestic assault face charges of a third-degree felony (Tex. Penal Code Ann. §22.01).
Examples of domestic assault
- Any act that causes minor bodily injury, such as scrapes and bruises;
- When a person causes injury by recklessly pushing a partner or family member out of the way, even if the person did not mean to cause bodily injury;
- When a person pokes their partner in the chest during an argument;
- Any act that is provocative or offensive and upsets or causes the victim to feel violated;
2. Aggravated Domestic Assault
Aggravated domestic assault is when a person intentionally or recklessly causes serious bodily injury to a spouse, family member, or romantic partner. Also, aggravated domestic assault can include when a person uses or exhibits a deadly weapon to commit an assault, threatens, or makes the victim feel unsafe using a deadly weapon (Tex. Penal Code Ann. §22.02)
Generally, aggravated domestic assault is a second-degree felony. However, if the person used a deadly weapon and causes serious bodily injury to the victim, it is a first-degree felony.
Examples of aggravated domestic assault
- Any act that causes significant injury such as a broken bone, disfigurement, loss of a limb;
- Any act that causes a serious head injury, or an injury that requires surgery or hospitalization;
- Using a weapon capable of causing death or serious bodily injury during a domestic assault, i.e., a deadly weapon;
- Using a rope to strangle someone or threaten to strangle a spouse, romantic partner, or family member;
- Running over or threatening to run over a domestic partner or family member with a vehicle;
3. Continuous Violence Against the Family
Continuous violence against the family refers to when a person commits two domestic assaults in twelve months, regardless of whether the incident resulted in an arrest or conviction. Furthermore, a case qualifies as continuous violence even if the two assaults happened against different victims. Continuous violence against the family is a third-degree felony in Texas.
Penalties for Domestic Violence In Texas
The penalties for domestic violence cases depend on the classification of the offense per the Texas Penal Code. Generally, persons convicted of domestic violence face the following:
Fines & Imprisonment
- Class A misdemeanor – up to twelve (12) months in jail and a fine up to $4,000
- Third-degree felony – 2 to 10 years in prison and $10,000 in fines
- Second-degree felony –2 to 20 years in prison and $10,000 in fines
- First-degree felony – 5 to 99 years in prison and $10,000 in fines
Besides fines, the court shall order a person convicted of domestic assault to pay restitution, i.e., compensate the victim for economic losses. The money generally covers any expenses resulting from the crime, such as the cost of medical treatment, therapy, repairing damaged property, replacing destroyed property, and lost wages.
Under certain circumstances, especially when a person presents no prior criminal history, Texas law allows the courts to impose community supervision as an alternative to jail or prison sentence, i.e., probation. The presiding judge has the discretion to set the terms and duration of supervision per state laws. For example, the court can grant community supervision for up to two years for a misdemeanor and up to ten years for a felony.
However, in some instances, the court can require the defendant to serve some time in jail or prison before beginning community supervision. Usually, this is 30 days for a misdemeanor and 180 days for a felony. Besides these, the defendant is bound by the terms of probation and must fulfill all conditions the court imposes.
The court usually grants deferred adjudication if a defendant pleads guilty to a domestic assault charge. Thus, instead of serving the applicable sentence, the court postpones sentencing on the conditions that the individual:
- Complies with probation requirements
- Is not arrested for new criminal offenses during the deferment period
- Completes domestic violence offender treatment
- Pays restitution
- Completes volunteering work or community service
These are the common conditions that the court imposes on persons convicted of domestic violence. If the defendant satisfies all the court’s requirements, the presiding judge shall discharge the defendant and dismiss the case. However, the arrest, deferral, and dismissal remain on the person’s permanent criminal record. Meanwhile, a defendant who violates the terms of deferred adjudication will face the original civil and criminal liabilities as appropriate.
First-time domestic violence offenders are more likely to receive deferred adjudication than continued violence offenders. Persons indicted of aggravated domestic assault are not usually eligible. Either way, the defendant will need an experienced family law attorney to represent them and negotiate the terms of deferment.
Besides the civil and criminal penalties mentioned earlier, a person indicted of domestic violence may incur other surcharges depending on the offense. These include the costs of probation, treatment, drug tests, and attorney fees.
These are consequences that impact a person convicted of domestic violence in Texas beyond court penalties. Most notable is that persons convicted of domestic violence risk losing their second amendment right to own or possess firearms. For students convicted of dating violence – a type of domestic violence, the conviction may render them ineligible for financial aid.
Family Law Attorneys In Domestic Violence Cases
Family law attorneys represent victims and defendants in domestic violence cases. These attorneys have experience in civil and criminal law as they apply to domestic cases in Texas. An experienced family law attorney reviews and investigates the case and advises the litigant on available options, such as entering a plea agreement or going to trial.