Criminal Law

How Long Can You Go to Jail for Domestic Violence?

Key Takeaways:

  • The length of a sentence for a domestic violence criminal conviction varies widely by state.
  • Prosecutors in some states can still pursue cases and a maximum prison sentence without the alleged victim’s cooperation.
  • Mitigating factors in a sentence can include mutual violence, showing remorse and a willingness to get help, and a lack of prior convictions.

Domestic violence involves assault or battery against a family member, romantic partner, or anyone living in your household. Domestic violence is a serious criminal offense that can result in jail time, fines, and restricted access to your own home and children. It is important to take accusations of domestic assault seriously to prevent permanent harm to your reputation and being left with a criminal record.

This page gives a broad overview of domestic violence. Follow the links to get more detailed articles that can help you answer specific questions on domestic abuse penalties. Because criminal law is set by each individual state, we suggest consulting a domestic violence defense attorney in a city near you to give you the best advice about your unique circumstances.

What Is Considered Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence can include abuse of someone in a close personal relationship. Depending on the individual state law, abuse that qualifies as domestic abuse generally involves a family or household member, which could include:

  • Spouse or former spouse
  • Parents/children
  • Siblings
  • In-laws in the same household
  • Couples who have a child in common

Violence between people in a close relationship is treated differently than violence between strangers. Penalties associated with domestic assault may focus on reducing the risk of repeated offenses or future harm. Domestic abuse criminal charges can include a range of behaviors, including:

  • Physical abuse
  • Criminal threats of violence
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional or psychological abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Stalking and cyberstalking

Domestic violence crimes can be charged as misdemeanor crimes or as felony crimes. The difference in penalties between a misdemeanor and felony offense can be significant. A misdemeanor intimate partner violence charge can result in up to a year of jail but may lead to probation instead of time in jail. Felony charges can result in jail or prison time of more than a year and a permanent felony record that can limit your rights and future opportunities. Criminal defense lawyers may be able to negotiate to reduce felony domestic assault charges down to a misdemeanor.

Each state has its own approach and laws regarding domestic violence. In Texas, for example, there is not a specific domestic abuse statute. Family violence offenses fall under assault statutes, with additional penalties for individuals in a dating relationship or in the same household. Under Texas laws, the jail time for a Class A misdemeanor offense includes up to a year in county jail. A third-degree felony domestic assault can result in prison for two to 10 years. A conviction for first-degree felony aggravated domestic assault can include five to 99 years of prison time.

Misdemeanor Penalties for a Domestic Violence Conviction

Most misdemeanors have a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail. One year is generally the maximum amount of jail time for domestic battery misdemeanors, however, and the jail sentence can be much shorter. If there are mitigating factors, a judge may impose a 30-60-day jail sentence for a first-time offense. Mitigating factors that can reduce the amount of time you will be in jail for domestic violence accusations include:

  • The alleged abuse victims also engaged in violence
  • Showing remorse and a willingness to seek help
  • A lack of prior criminal offenses

Depending on the individual situation, some domestic violence convictions can result in probation instead of jail time, as long as the defendant complies with the terms of probation. As part of a plea deal for domestic violence, your criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate:

  • Lesser charges
  • Probation instead of time in jail
  • Dropping related charges

Under California domestic violence law, misdemeanor domestic battery is punishable by up to one year in county jail. However, a first-time offense could result in probation instead of jail time. Probation may require completing domestic violence or anger management classes, among other terms. Violating probation is a crime that may result in additional penalties, including jail.

Sentence Length for Felony Domestic Violence

Felony charges are generally more serious than misdemeanors. The prison sentence for a domestic violence charge can include more than a year in state prison. Depending on the individual situation, a sentence for a felony conviction can include up to 10 years or more in prison. How many years you can go to jail for assault depends on several factors. Factors that can impact jail time after a domestic assault include whether the incident involved:

  • Serious bodily injury
  • Physical injury to minor children
  • Sexual assault
  • Violation of a restraining order
  • Kidnapping
  • Prior criminal record for domestic violence
  • Resisting arrest or fleeing from law enforcement
  • Use of a firearm
  • Other criminal charges

In Ohio, for example, if the victim suffered serious injury as a result of domestic battery, the defendant could be charged with felony domestic violence. The sentence length depends on the felony criminal degree charged (many criminal laws contain degrees, with first-degree bringing the most serious penalties). A conviction for fifth-degree felony domestic violence in Ohio could result in up to a year of imprisonment. Potential penalties for third-degree felony domestic battery can include up to 5 years in prison.

Do I Have to Spend the Night in Jail After a Domestic Violence Arrest?

In most cases, someone arrested for domestic violence will have to spend at least a night in jail. Many states have a mandatory arrest policy for domestic abuse. If the police suspect domestic violence occurred, their state’s policies may require arresting one or more suspected offenders if there is probable cause. After an arrest, the suspect may have to wait until arraignment or a bail hearing before they are released from custody.

Whether you will be in jail for domestic assault does not matter whether the alleged victim wants to press charges or not. Even if the alleged victim does not want to press charges or does not cooperate with prosecutors, the prosecutor can still take the case to court, including recommending the maximum jail penalties be imposed. If you find yourself under investigation for domestic violence charges or have been arrested, talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

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