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.
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:
Legally, domestic assault is when the accused recklessly or knowingly and intentionally:
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:
Examples include touching someone in an inappropriately sexual way or non-injurious pushing or shoving during a fight.
Charges upgrade to aggravated assault when someone meets the criteria for domestic assault but:
By law, non-serious injuries include minor cuts, scrapes, or bruises. Injuries qualify as “serious” when they involve:
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:
Assailants qualify for continuous violence against the family charges if they commit two or more domestic assaults. Importantly:
Continuous violence against the family is a third-degree felony charge.
Who counts as family for the purposes of domestic violence charges? In Texas, the answer is anyone:
Practically, this includes a long list of persons, including:
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:
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.
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:
First-time offenders may qualify for alternatives to incarceration. These include:
These options are not typically available to repeat offenders.
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.