Is Family Violence in Texas a Felony or Misdemeanor?

Family violence can sometimes emerge unexpectedly during tough conversations. When emotions escalate, things can get out of hand, even if there’s no intention to physically harm a partner. In such situations, if breaking the law is involved, someone may be arrested and charged.

But what exactly is the legal status of domestic violence in Texas? Is it considered a misdemeanor or a felony? And if it’s possible to encompass both, what distinguishes them? Let’s dissect these inquiries in simple terms.

Family Violence Overview

Family violence is a form of physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and even financial abuse that occurs in your family or an intimate relationship, like with a boyfriend or girlfriend, in a way that’s against the law.

These relationships can include spouses, roommates, individuals who share parenting responsibilities, boyfriends/girlfriends, or anyone residing in the same household. It can also extend to past relationships, involving former spouses or individuals who used to live together.

Family violence includes various forms of physical violence like pushing, hitting, and more severe forms such as rape. These actions are typically considered assault, battery, or sexual activity crimes in other situations. Recognizing and understanding these forms is crucial for preventing and addressing domestic violence.

How Does Texas Penal Code Define Family Violence?

Things that count as family or dating violence are protected by the law in Texas, according to Texas Penal Code § 71.004. When it comes to assault against a family member, someone in a dating relationship, or someone living together, there can be extra penalties if there was an assault.

Physical abuse happens when someone, on purpose or recklessly:

  • Hurts another person.
  • Engages in an immediate threat of physical harm to maintain power and control.
  • Touches someone in a way that they would find upsetting.

Aggravated assault is more serious. It’s when someone does a simple assault and:

  • Causes serious harm to another person, even a spouse.
  • Uses a dangerous weapon or a tool during the assault.

In Texas, assault laws can be used to address domestic violence, which includes family or dating violence. This means that people involved in such situations may face extra penalties.

Different Types of Domestic Violence

Domestic Assault:

When an assault happens between certain types of relationships in Texas, it’s called domestic assault. These relationships include:

  • Current or former dating partners
  • Current or former spouses
  • Household members
  • Foster children or foster parents
  • Blood relatives or those related through adoption or marriage

Texas law defines domestic assault as:

  • intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury.
  • intentionally or knowingly threatening serious bodily harm or causing offensive or provocative physical contact.

Aggravated Domestic Assault:

Aggravated domestic assault is more serious. It involves causing severe bodily injury or using a deadly weapon during an assault or threat. Severe physical abuse includes significant harm like head trauma or limb loss that needs hospitalization or surgery. Moreover, a deadly weapon is an object that can cause serious harm or death.

Continuous Violence Against The Family:

If you commit two domestic assaults within 12 months, even if there’s no arrest or conviction and the crimes involve different people, you can be charged with continuous violence against the family.

Classification of Family Violence Offenses

In Texas, family violence offenses can be classified as either felonies or misdemeanors, depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Misdemeanor Family Violence Offenses:

  • Class A Misdemeanor: Acts of family violence that result in physical injury fall under this category. A conviction for a Class A Misdemeanor can lead to fines up to $4,000 and up to one year in jail.
  • Class B Misdemeanor: Non-assaultive acts of family violence, such as threats, can be charged as a Class B Misdemeanor. This offense carries penalties of up to 180 days in jail and fines up to $2,000.

Felony Family Violence Offenses:

  • Third-Degree Felony: If the accused has a previous conviction for family violence, a subsequent offense can be charged as a third-degree felony. Penalties may include 2 to 10 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
  • Second-Degree Felony: Aggravating factors, such as severe physical injury or the use of a deadly weapon, can elevate a family violence offense to a second-degree felony. This carries a potential prison sentence of 2 to 20 years and fines up to $10,000.

Possible Defense Against Charges

  1. Self-Defense
    Arguing that the actions taken were in self-defense is a common strategy. If the accused believed they were in imminent danger and used force to protect themselves or others, it could be a valid defense. Additionally, demonstrating a genuine perception of imminent harm is crucial in supporting this defense.
  2.  False Accusations
    Saying that the accusations are not true or are made to sound worse than they really are. This defense might include showing proof that goes against what the person who says they were harmed is claiming, like having other people who saw what happened or pointing out things that don’t match up in what they said.
  3. Parental Discipline
    If the accusation is about disciplining a child, the defense could argue that it was fair and not too harsh, which is usually okay in Texas. But it’s really important to make clear the difference between discipline and being harmful.
  4. Evidence Suppression
    Questioning if the proof is allowed by checking if the search or taking of evidence was done the right way. Without legality, proof may not matter, making it more difficult for the accuser’s side. Moreover, this underscores the importance of proper legal procedures in maintaining the integrity of the evidence presented.
  5. False Reporting
    Establishing that the person who claimed to be hurt knowingly lied. Consequently, this could involve showing reasons why they might want to get back at someone or gain an advantage in a family issue.

Arrested? Don’t Plea, Call Me!

It’s important to treat any accusations of family violence seriously, even if you believe they’re untrue. In Texas, the courts don’t tolerate domestic violence, and those convicted face severe penalties.

A conviction can affect your life even after serving your sentence. You can’t remove family violence from your criminal record in Texas. That’s why it’s crucial to talk to a criminal defense lawyer as soon as you learn about accusations or charges against you.