Domestic Violence is technically not a classification of crimes in Texas. Rather, Texas relies upon its Assault, Aggravated Assault, and related statutes to cover this area. What differentiates these types of cases from a simple assault case is the nature of the relationship between the individuals. Additionally, depending upon the severity of the injury, charges range from Class A Misdemeanors all the way up to First Degree Felonies.
In Texas, if the “victim” is related to you as a spouse, sibling, parent, child, former spouse, or you are or were in an ongoing romantic relationship, you are in the family violence realm. What makes the “family violence” designation a bit different in Texas is that it also includes those folks living together in the same dwelling, regardless of blood relation. So, that friend that you are sharing an apartment with, or the individual that answered the Craigs List add to rent a room in your two room condo, they fall within the domestic violence definition.
In Texas, an assault is defined as:
- They intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause bodily injury to another, including the person’s spouse
- They intentionally, or knowingly threaten another with imminent bodily injury, including person’s spouse
- Intentionally or knowingly cause physical contact with another when the person knows, or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.
Most domestic violence cases in Texas focus on an action that falls with the first definition set forth above. The key is did a “bodily injury” occur. While this seems pretty straightforward, it is not.
Most folks consider “bodily injury” to be an injury that resulted in a broken bone, a sprain, stitches, or possibly a broken nose. Unfortunately, Texas Courts determined that “bodily injury” is nothing that sever. If you cause “pain” when you hit/strike/touch the person, that is bodily injury.
This means that the slap that stings, but doesn’t leave a red mark, if it is against a family member, or roommate, it is a Class A Misdemeanor. That bruise you left because you squeezed the arm too tightly, that is a “bodily injury” and if against a loved one a Class A Misdemeanor.
If you have a prior conviction for Assault Causing Bodily Injury, Family Violence, a second charge is treated as a Third Degree Felony – even if it is a different victim. This means you are now looking at 2-10 years in prison, as opposed to 0-365 days in jail as a Class A misdemeanor.
If you impede someone breath or circulation, and it is someone that falls within the family or household definition, a first offense results in a Third Degree Felony charge.
With that said, if you were previous convicted of Assault Causing Bodily Injury, Family Violence, and you then restrict the breathing or circulation of a family member, it is now a Second Degree Felony, which means the penalty goes from 2-10 to 2-20 years in prison.
Similarly, if you commit an assault that causes “serious bodily injury”, think broken bone, internal injuries, an injury that creates a substantial risk of death, or serious permanent disfigurement, and that person is a family or household member, you are looking at a Second Degree Felony.
However, if you cause serious bodily injury to a family or household member and used a deadly weapon, you are now looking at a First Degree Felony. This means that the punishment went from 2-20 years to 5-99 years. Now, you may be thinking, hey, I just hit them with a two-by-four, or my closed fist, not a knife or police baton, so no “weapon” was involved – think again. Yes, a knife, firearm, or “anything manifestly designed, made or adapted for the purposes of inflicting death or serious bodily injury is a deadly weapon. Additionally, anything that “in the manner of its use or intended use” that is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury, is also a deadly weapon. Think of your car or truck, your closed fists, or that bottle of wine used as a club – all of those are deadly weapons.
While the criminal penalties for such crimes are severe, it is the so called collateral consequences, those unknown side effects, that really add punch to the punitive nature of domestic violence cases.
In addition to the normal things that occur with a criminal conviction, you have to now check the box when an application asks if you were ever convicted of a crime, domestic violence cases carry some other consequences that other crimes do not possess. In fact, these three consequences apply to Misdemeanor domestic violence convictions, not just felony convictions. As such, don’t take the attitude that hey, it’s just a misdemeanor, it’s not big deal. If domestic violence is alleged, it is a very big deal.
The three biggest collateral consequences in Texas related to domestic violence involve:
- Possession of weapons
- Child custody presumptions
- The potential for spousal support.
Generally speaking a misdemeanor assault conviction would not infringe upon your right to possess a firearm. It may make it harder to buy one, but not necessarily impede your ability to posses one. That all changes if the misdemeanor conviction involves domestic violence. Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of a domestic violence crime from possession a firearm or ammunition. This means no hunting rifle, no home defense shotgun, no firearm period. Possession of a firearm under these circumstances means that you could face a federal felony – something that no one wants to deal with.
The second and third consequences – child custody and spousal support – are presumptions that come into play during family law cases. Often times allegations of domestic violence are made to the police department soon after, or right before, a divorce petition is filed. Sometimes you end up with dueling allegations of domestic violence made to law enforcement by folks going through a divorce or a very bad breakup.
Such allegations lead to two presumptions being made in the family law case:
- The person accused of the domestic violence crime is no longer considered a viable custodial parent; and
- The victim may be entitled to spousal support because of the domestic violence inflicted upon them.
Lastly, allegations of domestic violence can lead to the issuance of an ex-parte protective order, meaning you cannot go by your own house until after a hearing or the order expires, to not being able to communicate with the other person. While the protective order provisions are civil in nature, it is important to understand how such an order can impact you in your defense against these charges.