Fort Worth Domestic Violence Charges
Historically, domestic violence was not taken seriously. It was often viewed as a family problem which needed to be dealt with privately.
Police rarely made arrests for domestic violence offenses. As a result, many states have instituted mandatory arrest and prosecution statutes for when a crime occurs between those involved in domestic relationships. In Texas, this includes people who are related by blood or marriage, who were previously married, who have a child in common, or who are in or have been in a dating relationship.
What Type of Crimes Qualify?
The vast majority of domestic violence crimes involve the charge of assault. In Texas, the assault statute covers a wide array of conduct. In the context of domestic violence, a misdemeanor assault can be committed by either intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury, or intentionally or knowingly threatening with imminent bodily injury, any person with whom the offender has a domestic relationship.
Though most assault cases are misdemeanors, a domestic violence misdemeanor assault can be elevated to a felony if the defendant has a prior incident of domestic violence assault. In addition, if the assault causes serious bodily injury then the charge would likely be filed as a felony/aggravated assault. The charge could also be elevated to a felony if a deadly weapon is used or if the assault is committed by strangulation.
Violation of a protective order is another common domestic violence offense. While this crime is generally a misdemeanor, in Texas, the charge can be elevated to a felony if the new conduct constitutes either an assault or stalking and if the protective order was originally based on family violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Violations of a protective order are often charged incorrectly. This is a highly technical and specialized area of law. Having an advocate who has significant domestic violence experience is essential when defending against such an allegation.
How Is a Domestic Violence Offense Proven?
Since the majority of domestic violence offenses occur within the home where witnesses are unlikely, the victim is often the sole witness for the prosecution. That essential witness is almost always either the wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend of the accused.
When a witness is subpoenaed to testify, they are required to appear in court. Failure to obey a subpoena subjects the witness to possible contempt charges. However, most prosecution offices are very reluctant to charge a domestic violence victim with contempt. The state cannot simply read the victim’s statement to the police into evidence at trial. Doing so would violate the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution and is strictly prohibited. Due to that limitation, a victim’s refusal to testify often prevents the prosecution from proceeding with the charges because there is little other evidence. Sometimes the prosecution may have a 911 call or photographs they can enter into evidence but proving a case of this nature without the victim is extraordinarily difficult and is not even attempted by many prosecutors.
Even if the victim does appear for court, victims of domestic violence are often uncooperative with the state because they do not want their spouse or significant other to be convicted. Sometimes the victims will refuse to answer questions. Sometimes the victims answer questions but do so in an evasive way. Sometimes the victims testify that they struck the defendant first, giving the defendant a viable self-defense claim. Many domestic violence victims recant their initial statements entirely, indicating that they made the allegations up. Though this is risky for the victim as they could be charged with filing a false police report or, in extreme circumstances, with perjury, most prosecutor offices do not pursue such charges against domestic violence victims. Since the state cannot call a witness to the stand for the sole purpose of impeaching that witness, a recanting victim often forces the state to nolle pross (dismiss) the case.
In the rare instance when a victim of domestic violence does cooperate with the state, having an experienced attorney is essential to challenging the testimony of that victim. An advocate who can effectively cross examine the alleged victim in order to expose the inconsistencies in their version of events and who can also highlight the inherent bias that results from a failed relationship can help ensure a not guilty verdict.
What Type of Sentence Can Be Imposed?
Since most domestic violence offenses are misdemeanors, the sentences are usually limited to up to a year in jail, a fine, probation and/or batterer’s intervention classes. However, if the offense is a felony, prison time is a real possibility.
The sentence can often be reduced by being proactive long before sentencing. The defendant should take batterer’s intervention classes to show the judge how seriously he or she is about trying to change their behavior. If alcohol was involved, a record of regular attendance at AA meetings is vital. If the victim is still in a relationship with the defendant, the victim should testify at sentencing because a judge will often give great deference to a victim’s plea for leniency. Showing the judge a united front will often make the judge think twice before ripping a family apart with significant prison time.
Properly defending a domestic violence charge requires a keen understanding of constitutional law, case law and evidence as well as a practical understanding of victim participation in the case. If you have been charged with a Fort Worth domestic violence offense, be sure the attorney you select has the experience to get you an outcome that protects your family and your freedom.