If you have been accused of domestic violence, and the police are called, you will almost certainly be arrested, even when the only evidence against you is the word of the other person involved. The police are under pressure to diffuse family and dating violence situations, which means that they will act quickly and decisively – and sometimes mistakenly – and cart the alleged abuser off to jail.
In a situation where “innocent until proven guilty” appears not to apply, you need an aggressive Austin domestic violence lawyer in your corner. At the Law Office of Matthew Shrum, we can help. Mr. Shrum is an experienced Austin criminal attorney who knows the law and the legal system, and who will fight to insure that your rights are protected. If you are facing a family violence charge, call today for a free consultation.
Domestic violence is not specifically defined under Texas law. For some offenses, "family violence" is an element of the crime. In others, it is not. However, certain relationships are referred to in the Penal Code and the Family Code that set forth what family relationships are, and these definitions can make a difference in the charges you could face, as well as the consequences if you are convicted:
Family Relationships. Section 71.004 of the Texas Family Code defines "family violence" more broadly than you might expect. It includes violence not only between spouses, and against children and other blood relations, but also former spouses, members (and former members) of the same household, and violence involving foster parents and children. Family violence includes "dating violence."
Dating Relationships. Section 71.004 of the Family Code defines dating relationships for purposes of whether a particular act constitutes dating violence. They include present and former dating relationships; the test of whether your relationship fits within the scope of the statute is dependent upon the nature and length of the relationship, and the frequency of the interaction between the parties.
Having defined the relationships that will support a family violence charge, it is also important to understand which specific offenses are most often involved when we speak about domestic violence.
Although domestic violence is not listed as a specific offense under the Texas Penal Code, there are certain crimes that are commonly associated with family violence. Examples are:
Assault This includes not only intentionally causing physical injury, but also threats of bodily injury that place the other person in fear of imminent injury. Simple assault is ordinarily a class A misdemeanor, but when it involves people in a family or dating relationship, it is a third degree felony if (a) the defendant has a prior family violence conviction, or (b) it involves strangulation (impeding blood flow).
Interference with emergency request for assistance. Under section 42.062 of the Penal Code, interfering with a 911 call or similar request for emergency assistance is a class A misdemeanor.
Aggravated assault. A family violence assault using a deadly weapon, where the victim suffers serious bodily injury, is a first degree felony.
Stalking, in the context of domestic violence, is defined as more than one instance of harassment, threats of bodily injury, or threats against property, involving those in a family or dating relationship. A first offense is a third degree felony.
Sexual assault. The definition includes, among other things, forcible sexual intercourse (rape), including spousal rape.
Criminal trespass. Entering or remaining on or in the property of another person without consent, with knowledge that entry was prohibited, is a misdemeanor.
Criminal mischief. Intentionally damaging the property of another person is likewise a misdemeanor. Harassment is a misdemeanor, and it includes not only acts such as making harassing phone calls, but also threats of injury or of the commission of a felony against the victim or the victim's family.
Terroristic threats. Under section 22.07(a)(2), this includes threats of violence which are intended to place anyone in fear of imminent bodily injury. It is ordinarily a class B misdemeanor. However, where the act also constitutes family violence, it is a class A misdemeanor.
Protective order violation. Violation of a family violence protective order is generally a class A misdemeanor. PC 25.07.
Continuous violence against the family. This is a separate offense, consisting of two or more family violence offenses within a 12-month period. It is a third degree felony.
In addition, federal law (18 U.S.C. § 2261) makes it a felony to travel in interstate commerce to commit or attempt to commit certain domestic violence offenses.
Family violence can be a confusing area of the law in Texas. This is due, in part, to the fact that the definitions overlap, and there are often several possible charges that can be made against a defendant in one of these cases. For example, a simple threat against a former spouse can be charged under one or more of several different statutes. Each law has its own definition and elements, the proofs will vary depending upon the specific law you are charged with violating, and the penalties may differ substantially from one offense to the other. In addition, the rush to judgment in these cases often means that a quick and hasty arrest is made well before all the facts are in. This increases the chances of a mistake, particularly where the evidence consists largely of competing versions of what took place.
If you have been accused of family violence or dating violence, get the help you need. At the Law Office of Matthew Shrum, we will work hard on your behalf, and we will develop an intelligent defense strategy that provides you with the best chance for a successful result. Call Mr. Shrum today.