Domestic assault is a criminal act. Domestic assault narrows the definition of assault by focusing on the relationship of the victim and their attacker. The crime of domestic assault typically includes abuse, violence and threats by a family member or someone that lives with them towards another member of the family or member of the same household.

Depending on where one lives, the definition of assault varies. In general, assault can be defined as either:

  • The actual physical harm a person inflicts on a victim; or it can be described as,
  • A victim’s fear or apprehension instilled by the threats of another.

It is important to note that an injury does not necessarily have to occur to rise to the crime of assault. If a person believes they will be hurt and they are in imminent danger of an attack or injury, then it can be considered an assault. Domestic assault is sometimes referred to as domestic violence or domestic abuse.

What are Some Examples of Domestic Assault?

While domestic assault can occur between married couples and cohabiting couples, it is not limited to people that are in a relationship together. Domestic abuse can also happen amongst other family members in the same home or people that live together, such as roommates.

Additionally, some jurisdictions do not require that the victim and assailant currently live together, in order to be deemed a domestic assault case. An example of when this may occur is when a couple divorces or separates and no longer lives together but the assailant continues to abuse the victim. In a sense, they are no longer under the same roof but they are part of the same household or family unit.

The assault often includes actual violence against the victim. The violence can be physical or sexual, or both. However, domestic assault is not just limited to the occurence of an actual physical injury being inflicted upon the victim. A psychologically or emotionally abusive relationship can also give rise to the crime. The threat or fear of injury is also punishable by law.

What is the Punishment for Domestic Assault?

The domestic assault laws vary from state-to-state. There are also separate domestic assault laws on the federal level. Some jurisdictions treat the crime as a misdemeanor. Other states allow for the crime to be elevated to a gross-misdemeanor or felony level, especially if there is a previous criminal record on file. The punishments also depend on the state laws. Domestic assault charges and prosecution can lead to jail time or monetary fines or both.

Many states have a “mandatory arrest” policy. It requires the police, if called to the scene, to arrest at least one individual involved in the domestic dispute if there is any sign of abuse or that the issue will escalate once they leave. While this may seem like a good idea in practice, it has shown to lead to more serious complications. Especially when those involved are not truthful and will attempt to injure themselves to make it look like the other person was the attacker.

In either case, it’s important that you are prepared to cooperate with the police if they are involved. Their focus is to deescalate the situation and ensure that everyone, including any other residents and children in the home, are in a safe environment.

Are There Any Defenses for Domestic Assault?

Similar to assault, there are defenses that can be claimed by the defendant. There are also instances wherein, either due to a weak case or a change of testimony from the victim, the prosecution is unable to prove the domestic assault crime beyond a reasonable doubt and thus unable to proceed with the case against the defendant.

Possible defenses to a domestic assault charge include:

  • A self-defense claim wherein the defendant was protecting themselves from harm;
  • An accident occurred and the defendant did not purposely have the intent to harm the plaintiff; or
  • There is a case of mistaken identity and the defendant was not actually involved with the domestic assault crime.

This is not an exhaustive list of possible defenses. The specifics of a case will be reviewed by the defendant’s legal defense team to determine the best course of action. Remember, the law also varies from state to state so there may be some defenses available in certain jurisdictions but not allowed in others.

Should I Call an Attorney Regarding My Domestic Assault Issue?

If you are in immediate danger then you need to contact the police. Whether you are a victim of domestic assault or you have been accused of domestic assault, it is imperative to speak with a knowledgeable and experienced family attorney as soon as possible, to determine your rights and options moving forward.

No matter if the crime is referred to as domestic assault, domestic violence, domestic abuse or known by some other name, it is a serious crime that has life-long consequences for all parties involved. Each case is different and requires a dedicated attorney familiar with the local laws in your area.