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What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is a crime based on an abusive action or series of abusive actions perpetrated between people who have a familial or household relationship to one another. This typically includes parents, children, siblings, spouses or partners, ex-partners, and housemates.
There are many categories of domestic abuse:
- Physical abuse, including assault and battery
- Financial abuse, including withholding someone’s access to money, preventing them from working, or taking their money from them
- Emotional abuse, including insults and degrading language, stalking, and coercive control
- Sexual abuse, including rape and reproductive coercion
Domestic violence charges commonly overlap with other crimes, but because the nature of domestic violence magnifies a victim’s vulnerability, the courts categorize them separately. Domestic violence victims sharing a living space with the perpetrator can make it very difficult for them to get to safety. When the domestic violence involves intimate partner violence (a romantic partner abusing another) they may have comingled finances, shared children, and joint property that makes it difficult for a victim to extract themselves from a dangerous situation.
While domestic violence cases are most often associated with physical abuse of a spouse, child, or elderly family member, a wide range of general crimes can be counted as domestic violence if committed against someone within a qualifying relationship.
What Happens in a Domestic Violence Charge?
If you’ve been arrested and charged with domestic violence, one of the first things the court may do is grant the other party a temporary no-contact or restraining order. These court mandates will restrict your communication with, and proximity to, the other party. These may stay in place until your trial concludes.
There will be several stages to the trial if you choose to fight the charges, and they can drag on for months. You’ll hear the official charges against you at the arraignment, and you’ll either plead guilty or not guilty to those charges. There will be hearings before the court, and then, if the case isn’t settled beforehand, you’ll go to trial.
The prosecution will attempt to prove their case against you using evidence that may include medical records of the person you’re accused of abusing, witness testimony, phone records, and copies of texts and emails you’ve sent. You’ll have the opportunity to counter their argument and present witnesses and evidence of your own.
If the court finds you guilty, you may have to wait several weeks to find out what your sentence will be. You may have grounds to file one or two appeals to overturn the conviction if need be.
What are the Penalties for Domestic Violence?
Your state may have specific guidelines that impact sentencing for a criminal domestic violence conviction, but in general, penalties can get quite severe.
First-time offenders arrested in an isolated incident will likely face a misdemeanor charge that can carry a few months’ jail time or fines ranging from a couple hundred to a thousand or so dollars. The court may also mandate counseling, anger management, or substance abuse treatment plans as applicable.
A number of aggravating factors can quickly increase the charges in a domestic violence case, however. Repeat offenses and convictions, violating the conditions of a restraining order, using a weapon, sexual assault, and the age of the victim can all ramp up to high-level felony charges that can carry years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.
A domestic violence conviction can have long-standing ramifications outside of the court’s assigned penalty. It could impact child custody, limit the ability to work in certain fields, and permanently invalidate firearms licenses.
Can a Domestic Violence Attorney Help?
Domestic violence crimes lead to incredibly sensitive cases that require finesse to carefully, but vigorously, defend against. And with such high possible penalties, mounting a strong defense is essential.
A qualified criminal defense attorney can help you analyze the facts of your case and build your defense strategy. A lawyer who knows domestic violence law in particular could have a solid understanding of how these laws work and know how to argue against the charges in court; they may identify evidence and witnesses that you might not consider on your own and can advocate for you during trial. Or, they may be able to help negotiate to lessen or remove your charges or to prevent or lift a restraining order.
Defense attorneys can also handle the procedural aspects of setting up a court case, which is crucial, because making errors in court paperwork and set up can have a negative impact on your case. Finding the right domestic violence criminal defense attorney could help you get better outcomes from your case.