Family Violence Charges In Texas: Understanding The Legal Standards, Penalties, And Defenses
An assault allegation in Texas can turn into a charge of “Family Violence” if the alleged incident occurred between members of a family, or members of the same household. A Family Violence charge is one of the more serious criminal allegations a person can face – not just due to the criminal penalties involved, but the social stigma and long-term family issues that can linger as a result.
An argument between family members or housemates can quickly escalate, sometimes leading to physical contact and a call to law enforcement. Once at the scene, police officers typically have to take some type of action in response to the call. This often means removing the alleged perpetrator from the scene, booking them in jail, and turning the case over to prosecutors. Once there – even if you believe you are innocent – the case may proceed, leaving you in “defense” mode.
Legal Standards for Family Violence Charges in Texas
Family Violence cases fall within Chapter 22 of the Texas Penal Code covering assaultive crimes. Under Texas law, a person commits assault when they:
- Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another;
- Intentionally or knowingly threaten another with imminent bodily injury;
- Intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.
Charges can be upgraded from misdemeanors to felonies if the assault caused serious injury, involved a deadly weapon, or inflicted harm upon a spouse or family member.
Most people think of family violence as involving a husband/wife argument, but only 45% of family violence reports generally involve spouses in Texas. The rest include incidents between parents and children (or stepchildren and foster children) and between other family members.
Section 71.004 of the Texas Penal Code defines Family Violence as “an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself.”
Section 71.0021 also includes Dating Violence as a potential offense, for those in a “dating relationship” – i.e., a continuing relationship that is romantic or intimate in nature. This can also include those who have had a past dating relationship. Prohibited acts include anything “intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the victim or applicant in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault.”
Potential Penalties for Family Violence Charges in Texas
Penalties for a family violence assault charge in Texas can vary greatly depending on the circumstances. Charges can range from a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500, to a First Degree Felony, punishable by up to 5-99 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Factors involved in charging and sentencing can include:
- The nature of the alleged contact and any injury involved
- The nature of the defendant’s relationship to the accuser
- The use of force or deadly weapons during the incident
- The defendant’s criminal record, particularly any past convictions for family violence or other assaultive crimes
The criminal consequences can be severe, as too can the collateral consequences: loss of employment, trouble with applications for housing or financing, and permanent damage to one’s family relationships.
Potential Defenses to Family Violence Charges in Texas
Defenses to a charge of family violence can include:
- No injury or bodily contact. If you are accused of assault, the prosecution will need to prove that an assault actually occurred. That is, there was a knowing and intentional bodily injury or physical contact, or at least a threat to carry out the act. If there is no proof, and the case devolves into a “he said, she said” argument, the prosecution’s case becomes less sustainable.
- No criminal intent. Assault, including family violence, is an intent-specific offense, and the prosecution bears the burden of showing the defendant acted intentionally to cause harm to the other. Sometimes, there are flaws in this argument, and the alleged victim may even recant and provide testimony that conflicts with the required intent element.
- Credibility issues. The alleged victim may have had some motive to get a perpetrator in trouble, or may not have been truthful when giving their statement to police. Moreover, they may have been intoxicated or impaired at the time of the alleged incident, creating inaccuracies and inconsistencies in their testimony.
What to Do if You Have Been Charged with Family Violence in Texas
The first thing to do is contact a trusted and skilled criminal defense attorney that has handled these cases and can walk you through your next steps. In addition to preparing a legal defense, an attorney can advise you in certain practical matters, such as avoiding contact with the alleged victim while the case is pending. Reaching out to your accuser – even on social media or by text – can complicate your case and even lead to additional charges or bond violations.
The Offices of Keith B. French Law, PLLC, Can Help Defend You Against Charges of Family Violence or Assault
There is no time to hesitate if you have been charged with a family violence crime in Texas. The consequences can be severe and damaging, and you want to prepare a vigorous defense from day one. Our Law Firm can review all facts and circumstances of your case, preparing a strong and detailed defense. As the facts may warrant, we can also discuss potential reduction or dismissal of charges against you in the pre-trial phases of a case. Contact a Pearland assault & battery lawyer at the offices of Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today online or call 832-243-6153 to evaluate your case and discuss all possible options.