Violent man about to be arrested

How serious is a first-time misdemeanor domestic violence arrest?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

Domestic violence – known in Texas as assault-family violence – is one of the most commonly charged offenses in the Greater Houston area. If you have been charged with misdemeanor assault-family violence, it is normal to be anxious about the outcome of the case and the consequences to your reputation and career. Depending on the facts alleged, a first-time arrest for domestic violence can be a misdemeanor or a felony, although most first-time domestic violence arrests are charged as misdemeanors. 

But just how serious is a first-time arrest for misdemeanor domestic violence? For most people, the seriousness of a domestic violence arrest relates to the consequences of an arrest. This article discusses the potential consequences of a first-time domestic violence arrest. 

The first thing to understand about a first-time arrest for misdemeanor domestic violence is the sentencing range. In Texas, assault-family violence is a Class “A” misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4000 fine. You can also be sentenced to probation for up to two years. 

Regardless of the eventual outcome of the case (and the goal of an assault family violence case is always dismissal), an arrest for assault-family violence will likely begin to impact your life immediately. When a defendant is arrested for assault-family violence, he or she will typically be subject to a protective order and bond conditions that will prohibit communication with the alleged victim and even prohibit a defendant from returning home. Although these orders can sometimes be modified, many judges impose more strict bond conditions on defendants charged with assault-family violence than many other types of misdemeanor defendants.  

In the Houston area, assault-family violence cases frequently take over a year to defend, during which time you will be subject to any bond conditions imposed by the court. Before a domestic violence attorney can properly evaluate and defend a case, he must first obtain all of the evidence, which typically includes a 911 call, police reports, photographs, witness statements, body cameras, and sometimes medical records. The process of gathering evidence in a domestic violence case can take many months. 

Every assault-family violence case will be resolved by dismissal, trial, or plea agreement. The way to minimize the impact of an assault-family violence arrest is to have your case dismissed, or to get acquitted (found “not guilty”) at trial. If your domestic violence case is dismissed or you are acquitted, you would be eligible for an expunction of your records. Under Texas law, an expunction is a legal procedure that results in the physical destruction of records relating to your arrest. Once your records are expunged, the arrest will not appear in a criminal history check and you can even legally deny the arrest ever happened in most circumstances.  

If your domestic violence case is not dismissed and you are not acquitted, then you are usually facing two outcomes – either a conviction, or deferred adjudication probation (which if completed successfully would not be treated as a “final” conviction). 

If you accept a regular probation, a jail sentence, or are found guilty at trial, you would receive a conviction for assault-family violence. For most people, the most significant consequence of a conviction is that it would stay on a criminal history forever, and can never be expunged of sealed (also known as a non-disclosure). This means that the conviction for assault-family violence would always appear on a criminal history search. This can impact a person’s ability to find a job, obtain certain professional licenses, or even find housing (some apartment complexes do not rent to applicants who have a criminal convictions for a violent crime, including domestic violence). Additionally, you could lose your right to own a firearm under Federal law. 

In many ways, a deferred adjudication probation is not a significantly better outcome for an assault-family violence case.  Under Texas law, a deferred adjudication probation is a special type of probation where the judge withholds making a finding of guilt while you complete the probation. If you complete the deferred adjudication probation successfully by complying with all of the terms of your probation, then you would not receive a “final” conviction. For most types of offenses, successfully completing a deferred adjudication probation would entitle a person to have their records sealed (which prevents most private individuals and companies from being able to see a record of the arrest). However, under Texas law, a deferred adjudication probation in an assault-family violence case is not eligible to be sealed. Moreover, because Federal law does not draw a distinction between a deferred adjudication probation and a regular probation, you would still lose your right to own a firearm under Federal law. 

As should be clear in this article, the seriousness of a first-time arrest for domestic violence is mostly determined by the outcome in your case. In order to obtain the best outcome – and properly understand the potential consequences – it is critical that you consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible. Ceja Law Firm regularly obtains excellent results in assault-family violence cases throughout the Greater Houston area. Call today to schedule a free consultation.

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.