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Thirty-five percent of both men and women in Texas have been the victims of domestic violence. In fact, Texas ranks tenth in the nation for domestic violence prevalence.
Despite how frequently domestic violence happens, many Texans know very little about domestic violence laws in Texas. This puts them at a serious disadvantage should a domestic violence situation ever occur in their lives.
Here’s what every Texan should know about state domestic violence laws.
What Is Domestic Violence in Texas?
Each state has the authority to handle domestic violence as it sees fit. In Texas, domestic violence cases are charged as assaults. The domestic relationship only becomes a factor during the penalty phase of a case.
Individuals convicted of assault in a domestic relationship can face additional or more severe penalties than individuals convicted of assaulting a stranger.
Under Texas domestic violence laws, residents involved in an incident can be charged with:
- Domestic assault
- Aggravated domestic assault
- Continuous violence against the family
Legally, domestic assault is when the accused recklessly or knowingly and intentionally:
- Injures someone
- Threatens someone with injury
- Initiates physical contact with someone that a reasonable person would consider offensive or inciting
Under the law, the definition of recklessness is acting without concern for the consequences or outcome. Ill intent is not required, only an injurious outcome.
For example, if one person hits another in anger or carelessness and injures them, that would count as recklessness. It would qualify the incident as assault.
Offensive or inciting contact refers to actions that:
- Do not result in physical injuries
- Do not cause physical pain
- Do upset, threaten, or violate the victim
Examples include touching someone in an inappropriately sexual way or non-injurious pushing or shoving during a fight.
Aggravated Domestic Assault
Charges upgrade to aggravated assault when someone meets the criteria for domestic assault but:
- The victim’s injuries are serious
- The accused uses a deadly weapon to cause or threaten harm
By law, non-serious injuries include minor cuts, scrapes, or bruises. Injuries qualify as “serious” when they involve:
- Head wounds
- Broken bones
- Loss of appendages or limbs
- A need for surgery
- Hospitalization of the victim
The law defines deadly weapons as objects that can cause death or severe bodily harm when used in a way likely to do so. Under this definition, any number of objects can qualify, such as:
- Baseball bats
- Brass knuckles
- Lengths of pipe
Continuous Violence Against the Family
Assailants qualify for continuous violence against the family charges if they commit two or more domestic assaults. Importantly:
- At least two of the assaults must occur within a short period
- Convictions on continuous violence against the family charges are possible even if the individual incidents in question did not result in arrest or conviction
- The assaults in question may have been on different victims
Continuous violence against the family is a third-degree felony charge.
Who Qualifies as Family Under Domestic Violence Laws in Texas?
Who counts as family for the purposes of domestic violence charges? In Texas, the answer is anyone:
- Related to you by blood or law
- Who lives or lived in your household
- With whom you are or were in a dating relationship
- Who was formerly in a dating relationship or marriage with your partner
Practically, this includes a long list of persons, including:
- Current and former partners or spouses
- Children and grandchildren by blood, adoption, marriage, or fostering
- Parents and grandparents by blood, adoption, marriage, or fostering
- Parents who share a child
- Aunts and Uncles
- People who live or lived in the same household, regardless of relation
- Current and former dating partners
- Current and former dating partners of one’s current or former partner, dating partner, or spouse
The Domestic Violence Process
Defendants in domestic violence cases may or may not be arrested at the time an incident occurs. In either case, the legal aspect of the domestic violence process officially starts when a criminal complaint is made.
Victims can file these complaints at the time of an incident or after the fact. Alternatively, law enforcement officers called to the scene can file complaints. Officers do not need agreement or consent from the victims to file these reports.
Complaints are then reviewed by a prosecutor who decides whether or not to pursue the case. If they choose to go forward:
- A warrant may be issued for the defendant’s arrest
- The defendant must appear at an initial court session where the charges are explained
- If the defendant was arrested, bail may be set or the defendant may remain detained
The case then goes before a grand jury, who decides if it merits a full trial. If the grand jury does not dismiss the case, there is a pretrial hearing at which the defendant may be able to make a plea bargain. If no plea bargain is made, the case goes to trial.
Defendants who are found guilty then face sentencing and have the opportunity to appeal.
Penalties for Domestic Violence Crimes
The penalties for domestic violence in Texas vary depending on the severity and details of each case.
Simple domestic assault is a Class A misdemeanor. The standard penalty is up to 12 months in jail, fines up to $4,000, or a combination of jail time and fines.
Dometic assault can scale up to a felony charge if the defendant is a repeat domestic offender or attempted to strangle or suffocate the victim. Penalties range between two and 10 years in jail and may include fines of as much as $10,000.
Aggravated assault will be charged as a first- or second-degree felony. Penalties include between two and 99 years in jail and fines up to $10,000.
Convicted offenders may also need to pay restitution to their victims for medical expenses and other costs incurred as a result of the attack.
Texans need to be aware that domestic violence convictions can come with other consequences, as well. Convicted offenders may:
- Need to complete court-ordered counseling programs
- Lose their right to possess firearms
- No longer qualify for some state or federal programs or benefits, such as housing assistance
- No longer be eligible to hold certain jobs
- Face disadvantages in divorce, separation, or custody proceedings
- Lose their right to vote
First-time offenders may qualify for alternatives to incarceration. These include:
- Deferred adjudication
- Community service
- Counseling or anger management
These options are not typically available to repeat offenders.
The Importance of a Good Defense
Being charged under domestic violence laws in Texas can have permanent, life-altering consequences. How you handle your case can change the course of your future. If you or someone you love is accused of domestic violence, don’t wait to take action.
Schedule a consultation right away to secure the legal help you need to protect your family and your future.