Understanding Domestic Violence Charges in Texas

With its financial obligations, job responsibilities, and personal problems, the stress of daily life can take its toll on anyone. Considering that couples and family members live with each other day in and day out, it's understandable that outside pressures could erupt into arguments. However, even if you cross the line, a one-time event should not have to destroy the rest of your life. If convicted of domestic violence, you could end up with a permanent criminal record and fewer future opportunities. Before you set foot in a courtroom, consult with an Austin criminal defense lawyer who can explain your options to you.

A former Texas criminal prosecutor for 15 years, criminal defense lawyer Jason S. English uses his experience to defend people accused of domestic violence. English also worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Cameron, Hays, and Travis Counties from 2002 to 2017, and his extensive experience includes years as the Chief Misdemeanor Prosecutor and Lead Felony Prosecutor. He has handled Violent Crimes, Drug Cases, Assault Cases, and DWI's. To put it simply, he has handled thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases and knows what to look for to resolve things in your favor. Contact Jason S. English Law, PLLC, right away to schedule a no-fee criminal case consultation.

How Do Domestic Violence Laws Work In Texas?

There are two classes of assault in Texas: simple or aggravated.

How does Texas define simple assault? Simple assault takes place when an individual intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:

  1. Inflicts bodily injury on another individual
  2. Threatens another individual with impending bodily injury, or
  3. Makes physical contact with another individual knowing (or reasonably should have known) that individual would regard it as provocative or offensive.

How does Texas define aggravated assault? Aggravated assault takes place when an individual engages in simple assault, and:

  1. Inflicts severe bodily injury to another individual, including a spouse; or
  2. Uses or brandishes a deadly weapon while engaged in the assault.

Family Or Household Member Or Individuals In A Dating Relationship

In Texas, the relationship between the alleged abuser and the alleged victim can impact the classification of the crime. A misdemeanor could rise to a felony, while the degree of a felony offense could increase. What is included in the special relationship of domestic assault?

  • Family Violence
  • Household Member Violence
  • Dating Violence

Defining Family Violence

Tex. Family Code § 71.004 defines family violence as an act against a family member intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault. Any threat that reasonably instills fear of impending harm, injury, or assault in another family member falls under family violence.

Texas defines family as inclusive of individuals related by blood or affinity (for example, marriage), such as:

  • Spouse
  • Former spouse
  • Parents of the same child
  • Adopted children
  • Foster children
  • Foster parents
  • Children
  • Grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Siblings
  • Aunts and uncles
  • Cousins

What Constitutes Household Member Violence?

Per Tex. Family Code § 71.005, a household member includes individuals who live in the same dwelling, regardless of relation, and any individual who previously lived in a household.

What Is Dating Violence?

Tex. Family Code § 71.0021 defines dating violence as a crime committed against a victim or an applicant for a protective order with whom the offender has either a current or previous dating relationship. It also includes marriage to or a dating relationship with an individual the actor is or has been in a dating relationship or marriage. Dating relationships include individuals who have or have had a romantic or intimate relationship.

For example, an act of violence committed against a boyfriend's ex-girlfriend could be considered dating violence even if the current girlfriend never had a direct relationship with the ex-girlfriend. However, in general, a casual acquaintance would not be considered a dating relationship.

What Is Simple Assault Against A Family Or Household Member?

Texas law generally classifies simple assault as a Class A misdemeanor. However, domestic simple assault becomes a 3rd-degree felony if the defendant:

  • Committed a prior domestic assault, or
  • The assault involved obstructing the normal breathing or circulation of the blood by applying pressure to the person's throat or neck or by blocking the person's nose or mouth.

Simple assault is a 2nd-degree felony if the defendant committed a prior domestic assault and the attack involves choking, strangulation, or blocking the victim's breathing.

Defining Aggravated Assault Against A Family Or Household Member

According to Texas law, aggravated assault is typically a 2nd-degree felony. However, domestic aggravated assault becomes a 1st-degree felony if the defendant uses a weapon during the assault and inflicts serious bodily injury.

Threatening A Family Or Household Member

Even if an individual does not physically harm another individual, making a serious enough threat could result in terrorist threat charges. Under Tex. Penal Code § 22.07, a threat of violence to a person that instills fear of imminent severe bodily injury is generally a Class B misdemeanor. However, a terrorist threat against a family or household member is a Class A misdemeanor.

Continuous Family Violence Assault In Texas

According to Tex. Penal Code § 25.11, “(a) A person commits an offense if, during a period that is 12 months or less in duration, the person two or more times engages in conduct that constitutes an offense under Section 22.01 (Assault)(a)(1) against another person or persons whose relationship to or association with the defendant is described by Section 71.0021 (Dating Violence)(b), 71.003 (Family), or 71.005 (Household), Family Code.” An offense under this section is a felony of the third degree and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

In short, § 25.11 applies when two or more alleged domestic assaults against family or household members occurred within 12 months. These alleged domestic assaults may occur over a short time, such as a few days or weeks, or even on one day. The charge of continuous family violence applies even if each incident is committed against a different family member.

Continuous family violence can occur not only against a spouse or blood relative but also against the following:

  • Parents of children, even if not married
  • Former spouse
  • Foster parents
  • Foster children
  • Individual in a dating relationship

Under Texas law, you do not need to be living together to be considered a family member.

What Are The Penalties For A Domestic Violence Conviction In Texas?

Numerous factors impact the penalties for domestic violence, including if the victim suffered a severe injury to the body and the defendant's prior criminal history.

  • Class A misdemeanor domestic violence assault conviction can result in up to a year in county jail and a fine of up to $4,000.
  • 3rd Degree felony domestic assault can include incarceration for 2 to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • 2nd Degree felony domestic assault can include incarceration for 2 to 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • 1st Degree felony aggravated domestic assault can include incarceration for 5 to 99 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

Aside from prison time and fines, the defendant may have to pay restitution to the victim, complete domestic violence or substance abuse counseling, and forfeit their right to own or possess a firearm. A felony conviction can make it more challenging to find a job, secure housing, or obtain certain benefits.

Furthermore, a domestic violence conviction can damage your child custody case in a divorce or separation. A court may be more likely to restrict custody to a parent with a domestic violence conviction or require supervised visitation. You could suffer the consequences of a domestic violence conviction for many years after serving your time. That's why it's crucial to talk to a Texas criminal defense lawyer about your rights and the ways you can keep a criminal conviction off your record.

Defenses To Domestic Violence Charges In Texas

When the police respond to a domestic violence call and show up at your door, they may arrest you without hearing your side of the story or allowing you to clarify what took place. Although the cops could treat you as if you are guilty, that does not mean you must be convicted.

In a criminal case, the prosecutor can get a conviction only if:

  1. The defendant pleads guilty, or
  2. The prosecutor proves every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

For example, if the alleged victim is not considered a family member, household member, or in a dating relationship, you should not be found not guilty of domestic violence.

It's a fact that many people accused of domestic violence never committed a crime. Rather, due to anger or jealousy, someone falsely accuses them. In a bitter divorce, break-up, or child custody battle, the former partner, former partner's new boyfriend or girlfriend, or former partner's family members may fabricate abuse stories to punish another person. For these reasons, you must talk to your criminal defense attorney about building a strong defense against people bearing false witness.

If the defendant acted in self-defense or the defense of others, that could constitute an affirmative defense. For example, if you caught your ex beating up your child and shoved your ex away to protect the child, the law may consider it a defense to domestic violence charges if your ex claims you were committing an assault.

Austin Domestic Violence Defense

As someone who prosecuted cases like your domestic assault charge for over 15 years, Jason S. English understands the strategies prosecutors employ in domestic violence cases to coerce the accused into pleading guilty. Before you plead guilty to any crime, understand your rights and explore your options for fighting the criminal charges.

Have you been accused of domestic assault in Texas? It is crucial to consult with a criminal defense attorney right away. Contact Austin criminal defense lawyer Jason S. English online or call (512) 454-7548. Drawing upon his many years of experience prosecuting criminal cases, Jason S. English has the knowledge, skills, and experience you need to fight for your constitutional rights.