If you are charged with domestic violence (known as assault-family violence under Texas law), you may feel overwhelmed, particularly if this is your first brush with the legal system. Most first-time domestic violence cases filed in the Greater Houston area are charged as Class “A” misdemeanors punishable by up to 1 year in jail. A second conviction, or an allegation of choking or the use of a deadly weapon could lead to the case being filed as a felony. Fortunately, an effective criminal defense attorney can help you navigate an assault-family violence case and maximize your chances of staying out of jail and keeping the incident off of your record. A dismissal of your assault-family violence case is always the goal. Below are the top four things to keep in mind about your case:
- Obey the protective order and bond conditions
In most assault-family violence cases, a judge will issue a protective order. Typically, protective orders are in effect for 60 or 90 days, depending on whether a deadly weapon was used. These orders prohibit, among other things, committing additional acts of family violence, communicating with a protected individual, possessing a firearm, or going near the home or work of a protected individual. If the alleged victim (the protected individual), lives with the defendant, often the order will require that the defendant leave the home while the order is in effect.
Even when the protective order expires, a judge in an assault-family violence case will usually have bond conditions in place that could also prohibit contact with the alleged victim or prohibit going to the alleged victim’s home or work. Unlike protective orders, bond conditions usually do not have an expiration date and stay in effect until the case is resolved, or a criminal defense lawyer asks the judge to modify the orders, as discussed below.
Violating a protective order or a bond condition in a domestic violence case is a grave mistake. First of all, a judge could revoke your bond. Typically, a defendant who violates his bond is entitled by law to a new bond. However, the Texas Constitution specifically permits a person who is charged with assault family violence to be held without bond for violating a bond condition. So violating a protective order in a domestic violence case could leave you in jail while the case is resolved, which can take months.
Next, you could be charged with violation of a protective order, which is actually a criminal offense in Texas. Under Texas Penal Code 25.07, it is a Class “A” misdemeanor to violate the terms of a bond condition or protective order in an assault-family violence case. Subsequent violations could be filed as felonies. Unfortunately, in the Greater Houston area, this charge is commonly filed, when defendants are caught communicating with the complaining witness or disobeying an order in some other way.
Apart from the possibility of being held in jail without bond and facing a new criminal charge, violating a protective order or bond condition will make it much more difficult for your attorney to obtain a dismissal or good result in your case. If possible, it is good for your attorney to be able to present you sympathetically – as a law-abiding person who got mixed up in a bad situation. If the judge throws you in jail because you are not following orders, this becomes more challenging.
It is possible for a criminal defense attorney to ask a judge to modify or remove a protective order or bond condition to allow you to return home, particularly for first-time offenses. Usually, this requires the cooperation of the alleged victim. If the alleged victim is willing to help, he or she will have to ask the judge to remove the order and state that the defendant does not present a danger.
- Let your lawyer do the work
An effective criminal defense attorney will interview all of the witnesses in domestic violence, including the complaining witness. The goal is to challenge the State’s theory of what happened and show that a person accused of assault-family violence was wrongly accused, acting in self-defense, or the victim of an attack. To be able to more effectively conduct interviews, often this will not be done until the evidence is in, and your attorney understands that accusation against you. A criminal defense attorney.
As a defendant in a domestic violence case, it is tempting to want to take matters into your own hands and contact witnesses to help your case. This is a bad idea. Contacting witnesses on your own opens you up to the accusation of witness tampering, or cause you to make admissions of guilt that could further damage your case. You should let your criminal defense attorney do the work for you. You should hire an attorney who you trust who has a clear strategy to get the best possible result in your domestic violence case. Ideally, your lawyer should be able to focus on the case, and you should be able to focus on your life.
- Be Patient
As noted, the first thing your criminal defense attorney has to do is gather the evidence in your domestic violence case. Your criminal defense lawyer can’t predict how your case will be resolved without fully evaluating the evidence against you. This includes the police report, 911 call, videos, medical records, photographs, and witness statements. The process for gathering evidence in a domestic violence case can take many months. The Houston Police Department often does not release body camera footage until many months after the incident.
Once the evidence has been received, your attorney can conduct interviews with the complaining witness and other witnesses. It often does not make sense to conduct witness interviews in domestic violence cases before all of the evidence has been received because your attorney simply won’t know what questions to ask. Ideally, a criminal defense lawyer will have a good grasp of the allegation and the “official” version of the events before talking to witnesses.
In cases alleging physical injury, an experienced criminal defense lawyer will also want to consult with an expert on whether the allegations are consistent with the injury. For example, in a choking case – which is a common case filed in the Houston area – there are certain symptoms that can be expected to be present where a person is actually choked. A medical expert can help a defense attorney establish that allegations of choking or other physical injuries in an assault-family violence case are exaggerated or fabricated. Properly handling an assault-family violence case can take time, but we always stress that it is far better to have a case handled correctly than quickly.
- Understand The Consequences
Every criminal case is resolved by dismissal, trial, or plea agreement. Obviously, dismissal is the goal in every case, but of course, not every case will be dismissed and only a prosecutor can dismiss a case (even a judge can’t dismiss a domestic violence case absent exceptional circumstances).
If you are in the position of having to choose between a trial and a plea, it is critical that you understand the consequences of each path. I have spoken to defendants who accepted a deferred adjudication on an assault-family violence case under the mistaken belief that they can later get the charges sealed or expunged. This is not the case. Under Texas law, assault-family violence cases are one of the few cases that are ineligible for a non-disclosure (aka record sealing). Assault-family violence cases also carry other potential consequences to gun ownership, for example. If you are not a citizen, it is crucial that you consult with an immigration lawyer. Under federal immigration law, a domestic violence case is considered a “crime of moral turpitude” which carries significant consequences to a person’s immigration status.
You should ask your lawyer about all of the consequences of a potential plea. If you enter a plea, in most instances you cannot appeal your plea or get out of it, so you need to be very clear about what you are getting yourself into. Although the vast majority of assault-family violence cases filed in the Greater Houston area are misdemeanors, the collateral consequences of convictions can make these cases seem more like felonies and it is critical to hire an attorney who can fully and accurately advise you of the consequences of any potential resolution.
Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor who has handled thousands of criminal cases in his career. He regularly obtains dismissals and acquittals in assault family violence cases. If you are charged with assault-family violence anywhere in the Greater Houston area, the Ceja Law Firm is an excellent choice. Contact us today.