Misdemeanor domestic violence is a crime in all fifty states. Misdemeanor domestic violence occurs when a resident uses, attempts, or threatens to use physical force against another resident. Conviction of this crime can result in jail time and fines. 

What Acts Constitute Misdemeanor Domestic Violence?

Misdemeanor violence may consist of assault or battery. Battery and assault are crimes. Battery and assault involve physical harm.

Assault is the act of intentionally threatening another individual, so that the individual believes a threat of physical harm is being directed at them.  A defendant commits assault if they scare someone into thinking defendant will physically harm them.

Battery occurs when an individual uses physical force against another. To be considered battery, the physical force must result in contact that is unwanted, or in physical injury. 

Misdemeanor domestic violence can also consist of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can involve verbal abuse. Emotional abuse also consists of criticism, upsetting statements, screaming, belittling, and manipulation. 

Who Do Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Laws Protect?

Misdemeanor domestic violence laws protect individuals who live with each other. Individuals who live together include:

  • Spouses;
  • Roommates;
  • Housemates;
  • Elders and children;
  • Dating partners; or
  • Same-sex partners

What Are the Penalties for Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Crimes?

Misdemeanor domestic violence is punishable by:

  • Imprisonment of up to a year; and/or
  • Fines

Misdemeanor felony violence may also result in:

  • Community service for a specific amount of hours; or
  • A court imposing a protective order on the offender. The protective order prohibits the individual from contacting the victim. A protective order lasts for a period of time (e.g., one year). It can be renewed by a court if the court finds it necessary to protect the victim.

A judge may also order a defendant convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to participate in an anger management program or a domestic violence intervention program. In Massachusetts, for example, courts may order individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to attend an Intimate Partner Abuse Education Program (IPAEP). An IPAEP program is an educational program for those who have committed domestic abuse. Individuals who qualify for participation are given group counseling that aims to stop further acts of domestic violence.

Being convicted of misdemeanor consequences has additional legal consequences. A conviction may result in:

  • A court ordering a change in a child custody arrangement: A spouse who commits misdemeanor domestic violence may lose custody or visitation rights; 
  • Denial of employment opportunities: Employers may ask applicants whether they have been convicted of domestic violence. Applicants who answer “yes” may be denied employment; and
  • Loss of the right to possess a firearm: Under the federal Lautenberg Amendment,  individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence cannot purchase, transport, possess, or use a firearm. Under the Lautenberg Amendment, a person who sells or provides a firearm to someone they knew was convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, is guilty of a felony.

What is the Difference Between Misdemeanor Domestic Violence and Felony Domestic Violence?

A defendant may be charged with felony domestic violence if the victim’s injuries are more severe, or if the abuse was committed more frequently. If the defendant has already committed misdemeanor domestic violence or other criminal offenses, the defendant may be charged with felony domestic violence.

The punishment for felony domestic violence is harsher than for misdemeanor domestic violence. A defendant convicted of felony domestic violence can serve more than a year in state prison. A court may order a defendant to pay fines and perform community service. The amounts of the fines and community service are greater than those for a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction. 

Are There Defenses to a Charge of Misdemeanor Domestic Violence?

A defendant may assert specific defenses to a charge of misdemeanor domestic violence. Defenses include:

  • Self-defense: Self-defense is a defense to a charge of battery. To prove self-defense, defendant must believe self-defense was required to prevent a physical attack; and  
  • Duress: To prove duress, a defendant must show that defendant was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm by another. Defendant must also show there was no reasonable way to act to prevent that harm except by committing the crime. Duress is a defense to charges of assault or battery. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With a Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Charge?

If you are facing charges of misdemeanor domestic violence, you should consult with a criminal defense lawyer. An experienced criminal defense lawyer in your area can discuss the facts of your case, inform you of your rights, and represent you at hearings and at trial.

If you are a victim of the crime of misdemeanor domestic violence, you should consult with a family attorney near you. Your attorney can assist you with preparing and filing legal documents, providing legal advice for you, and can represent you in court.