Is Domestic Abuse a Criminal Charge?

According to a study conducted by the Institute of Domestic and Sexual Assault – University of Texas at Austin, nearly 32% of all Texans experience intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. When talking about this violence we often use the phrase domestic abuse. However, is domestic abuse the phrase prosecutors use when charging the accused? Attorney John L. Venza Jr. is here to give you the answer.

Domestic Abuse & Criminal Charges

It’s rational to think that prosecutors would have a charge of domestic abuse since this phrase is heavily used in news stories and social media to talk about violence between a couple who’s intimate; however, you may be surprised to learn that domestic abuse is not an offense in the Texas penal code. Let’s find out why that is.

Social Phrases Vs. Legal Jargon

We have socially acceptable words and phrases we use every day to talk about certain kinds of actions. However, these definitions rarely translate into courtroom scenarios directly.

For example, when talking about sexual assault and other sex crimes, news sources will often use the term consent. While consent to the general public means agreeing to do something, this simple definition can’t stretch to meet the demands of a criminal court case.

Think about this: what is consent in a criminal scenario? Is it verbal affirmation to a specific sexual act (“yes, I want to do that”)? Is it nodding “yes” when someone makes a sexual proposition? Can silence be consent? These are the questions that must be asked in every sexual assault case, and why consent can’t be a catch-all term. Now let’s apply this process to domestic abuse.

Definition of Domestic Abuse

As stated on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website, domestic abuse is defined as a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.

According to this definition, the following acts are considered domestic abuse:

  • Giving your loved one an allowance;
  • Making big decisions without consulting your loved one;
  • Using jealousy to justify actions;
  • Playing mind games;
  • Making your loved one feel bad about themselves.

While these acts do fit under the definition of domestic abuse mentioned above, none of these acts are barred by law. Therefore, the criminal justice system doesn’t use the phrase domestic abuse because domestic abuse isn’t necessarily illegal. However, what happens when the alleged domestic abuse is illegal?

When Domestic Abuse Is Illegal

Not every domestic abuse scenario is unlawful, but sometimes an alleged act of domestic abuse is illegal. That’s why it’s important to ask: what charge will the accused face after a domestic abuse scenario? In short, it depends on the circumstances of the case.

What we consider domestic abuse can be charged under the following crimes among others:

  • Stalking;
  • Assault;
  • Sexual Assault;
  • Homicide;
  • Criminal Trespass;
  • Criminal Mischief;
  • Harassment;
  • Family Violence Assault;
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault;
  • Aggravated Assault;
  • Injury to a Child;
  • Deadly Conduct.

As you can see, the typical definition of domestic abuse could never cover all these scenarios, and it’s impossible to compare all these charges (and their penalties.)

Potential Penalties for Domestic Abuse-Related Crimes

Let’s look at some of these penalties related to these charges. If someone is convicted of a first-time assault charge against a family member, he or she could face a class A misdemeanor in Texas.

A class A misdemeanor conviction could lead to the following penalties:

  • A fine of up to $4,000; or
  • A term in jail of up to one year; or
  • Both the fine and the jail term.

While this is a serious charge, it pales in comparison to other domestic abuse-related penalties. For example, if someone is convicted of a first-time aggravated assault charge against a family member, he or she could face a second-degree felony charge.

A second-degree felony conviction could lead to the following penalties:

  • A fine of up to $10,000; and
  • A prison term of no less than two years, but not more than 20 years.

There is a big difference between a prison term of up to a year and a guaranteed two-year jail sentence. Again, this is why domestic abuse is not a criminal charge, because it couldn’t possibly cover all of these scenarios on its own.

Recap of Domestic Abuse & Criminal Charges

  1. Domestic abuse is not a criminal charge because:
  1. Domestic abuse isn’t necessarily illegal;
  2. The definition of domestic abuse can’t cover all aspects of illegal family violence;
  3. Successful convictions of domestic abuse-related charges will result in varying penalties.

Convicted of a Domestic Abuse-Related Charge?

If you or a loved one is accused of a domestic abuse-related crime, the Law Office of John L. Venza Jr. can help! Attorney John L. Venza Jr. used to work as an assistant district attorney, which means he has experience on both sides of criminal defense cases! Put decades of criminal law experience on your side, contact attorney John L. Venza Jr. now!

Call (281) 817-8737 now for a free consultation for your case!

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