Domestic violence is a legal term that refers to a situation where one person acts abusively towards another person who lives with them, such as a spouse, a significant other, a family member, or even a roommate. It is often one of the issues that comes up during many civil family law cases.
For instance, legal separation and/or divorce cases may involve an element of domestic abuse and could potentially be the reason as to why the couple is seeking marriage dissolution. These types of matters are considered civil cases, meaning the parties to the action are private individuals.
On the other hand, domestic violence can also lead to criminal charges and a criminal case, which is brought against the defendant by the state or government. This is because domestic violence frequently results in cyclical or recurring instances of assault and battery; both of which are criminal offenses.
In a domestic violence case, criminal charges are more likely to be filed if one of the following factors are present during an incident:
- Severe bodily harm;
- Use of a weapon;
- If the defendant violated a restraining order;
- Ongoing instances of abuse;
- Alcohol or drugs; or
- If a minor witnessed the abusive incident.
Finally, it is important to note that once a criminal charge is issued against the abuser, these charges can only be dismissed by the state or government since they are the ones who decide whether or not to prosecute the defendant because domestic violence is a crime. However, a victim does have the power to drop a civil case that they filed against their abuser.
What are Some Legal Penalties Associated with Domestic Violence?
As discussed in the above section, domestic violence can result in both a criminal charge and a civil claim. When a civil claim is filed, the plaintiff may be able to collect a monetary damages award if the outcome of the case is decided in their favor.
Monetary damages awards may be issued in cases where the defendant is required to compensate the victim for certain expenses. These include medical costs or lost earnings and wages, due to recovering from injuries received during the incident.
In addition, when criminal charges are also brought against an individual who committed domestic violence, it can result in having either a misdemeanor or felony offense on their public record.
If the defendant is convicted of a misdemeanor, then it may mean that they will have to pay a certain amount of criminal fines and could possibly have to serve some amount of jail time (lasting for up to one year). On the other hand, if the crime is charged as a felony, then they will most likely have to pay a heavier criminal fine and serve a longer prison sentence (usually for more than one year).
The reason for the differences in punishments is because felony domestic violence cases generally have an outrageous element to them, such as harm that is severe enough that it could lead to the victim’s death or if a deadly weapon was used during the incident.
Other consequences that the defendant may face due to a domestic violence conviction include loss of child custody or child visitation rights, and having a domestic violence protection order filed against them. If the defendant violates this type of order, then they can be arrested immediately without the need for probable cause and will be liable for even greater penalties.
Are There Any Defenses to Domestic Violence Charges?
There are some defenses available to a charge of domestic violence. For instance, self-defense can sometimes be used as a defense against a domestic violence charge. This defense may show up in situations where one of the spouses claims that their actions were done in response to the violent act that was performed against them first.
In such a scenario, the party who is raising self-defense must demonstrate that they were not the initial aggressor during the incident. Additionally, they must also prove that they used a reasonable amount of force in return (i.e., against the initial aggressor), in order to defend themselves.
For the most part, standard criminal defenses will apply in domestic violence criminal cases, however, the defendant will be responsible for providing proof that supports their asserted defense.
Lastly, the types of standard criminal defenses that may apply will vary according to the laws of a particular jurisdiction or state.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Domestic Violence Charges?
Domestic violence charges are extremely serious matters that can lead to major consequences, both legally and personally. Thus, if you are involved in a case that contains a domestic violence issue, then you should consider hiring a local family law attorney for further assistance.
An experienced family law attorney will be able to explain the potential outcomes of your case based on the relevant state laws and can help you protect your rights.
Alternatively, if you have already been criminally charged for domestic violence, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. They can discuss the potential penalties you might receive and will be able to determine whether there are any defenses available for your case.