Domestic violence is any act of violence against a member of the family or household member. This behavior consists of abuse from a person against another involved in a relationship (intimate, cohabitant or family). Violent acts include physical harm, bodily injury, sexual abuse or stalking. Domestic violence crimes can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies depending on the severity of crime, circumstances and factors. Penalties may include, jail, fines, probation, treatment programs, restraining orders, custodial rights and restitution among others.
What is assault?
In Texas, there are three ways a person can commit the crime of Assault. He/she can:
- Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause bodily injury to another,
- Intentionally or knowingly threaten another with imminent bodily injury, or
- Intentionally or knowingly cause physical contact with another when he knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.
What is aggravated assault?
In Texas, Aggravated Assault is when a person commits assault and he/she either:
- Causes serious bodily injury to another, or
- Uses or exhibits a deadly weapon during the commission of the assault.
What are the collateral consequences of a family violence conviction?
Overall, when one considers collateral consequences, the government treats the assault of a family member as a more serious crime than the assault of a stranger. It isn't uncommon for Travis County judges to issue emergency protective orders (EPOs) in family violence cases that forbid defendants from returning to their homes and sometimes even prevents them from seeing their children. If children were present at the time of the incident then Texas CPS (Child Protective Services) may also investigate.
In divorce court, a family violence conviction can be used to deny child custody and limit visitation rights. A family violence conviction can also cause you to permanently lose for any reason. If you are in the military, you may be discharged; if you work in law enforcement, you may be reassigned or fired.
A family violence conviction could cost you a professional license or, if you are a skilled tradesman, make it impossible for you to be bonded. It will appear in your criminal record and will show up in pre-employment and pre-leasing background checks.
Non-citizens convicted of family violence may be denied a green card or deported and denied re-entry.
If you are convicted of even the lowest level of family violence assault, any future misdemeanor family violence or stalking charges may be prosecuted and punished as third degree felonies and you are permanently disqualified for an order of non-disclosure if you successfully complete deferred adjudication probation for any type of offense in the future.
What if the alleged victim is not actually a family member?
Texas law allows prosecutors to seek a "family violence" conviction even when the defendant and alleged victim are not what one might ordinarily consider family. In addition to blood relatives, a family violence allegation can be made against a foster child or parent, former spouse, domestic partner, roommate, boyfriend, girlfriend, and even a former boyfriend or girlfriend. Depending on the relationship, the term "dating violence" is sometimes used in place of "family violence."
What does "bodily injury" mean in an assault case?
You might think the term "bodily injury" would require some sort of visible injury like a cut or even a bruise but the legal definition includes mere physical pain. As a result, you can be charged with "Assault with Bodily Injury," a Class A Misdemeanor and jailable offense, if you are accused of merely slapping another person or pulling his or her hair.
The definition of "serious bodily injury" is more intuitive. It means bodily injury that "creates a substantial risk of death or that causes death, serious permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ."
What if the alleged victim wasn't really hurt?
Texas law does not require the alleged victim to sustain an actual injury in an assault case. Physical contact that merely causes pain can suffice for an assault with "bodily injury," which is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in the county jail and a fine of up to $4,000 (note that a jail sentence may be probated, depending on various factors, in which case a defendant may not actually spend any time in jail).
Furthermore, a mere verbal threat or "offensive" physical contact can qualify as Class C Misdemeanor Assault under Texas law. This lesser assault is the equivalent of a traffic ticket.