Domestic violence – known as assault-family violence under Texas law – is one of the most commonly charged types of criminal offenses in the Houston area. Most first-time arrests for domestic violence are filed as misdemeanors, but depending on the facts of the case, a first-time arrest for domestic violence can also be filed as a felony. Regardless of how a domestic violence case is filed, the direct and indirect consequences of an arrest and conviction can be severe, so it is critical to hire an experienced domestic violence attorney right away.
In Texas, assault family violence is committed when a person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes “bodily injury” to a member of the person’s household or a person in a dating relationship. The first thing to consider when discussing a first-time arrest for domestic violence is the sentencing range. In Texas, first-time arrest for assault-family violence is filed as a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4000 fine. In the Houston area, the vast majority of first-time domestic violence cases are filed as misdemeanors. However, if there are certain aggravating factors present, then a first-time domestic violence case can be filed as a felony. The most common situations where a domestic violence case is charged as a felony include:
-Assault-family violence with choking: Under Texas Penal Code 22.01(b)(2)(B) if it alleged that domestic violence was committed involving choking, a first-time domestic violence arrest can be charged as a third-degree felony, punishable by 2-10 years.
-Assault of a pregnant person: Under Texas Penal Code 22.01(b)(7) if the alleged victim is pregnant, a first-time domestic violence case can be filed as a third-degree felony, punishable by 2-10 years.
-Assault-family violence with serious bodily injury and deadly weapon: Under Texas Penal Code 22.02(b)(1) if it is alleged that domestic violence was committed resulting in serious bodily injury and a deadly weapon was used in the commission of the offense, a first-time domestic violence arrest can be charged as a first-degree felony, punishable by 5-99 years.
-Assault-family violence by exhibiting a deadly weapon or causing serious bodily injury: Under Texas Penal Code 22.02(a) if a person commits domestic violence by causing serious bodily injury to another or using or exhibiting a deadly weapon, a first-time domestic violence arrest can be charged as a second-degree felony, punishable by 2-20.
It is very difficult for anyone to predict what the likely outcome of a domestic violence arrest will be. The goal of an experienced domestic violence defense attorney should always be to obtain a dismissal of the charges. In the Houston area, unless a defendant is charged with one of the above felonies, or has a lengthy criminal history, it is likely that probation will be offered for a first-time misdemeanor domestic violence arrest.
Even though probation will avoid jail time (unless some jail time is offered as a condition of probation), that does not mean that a defendant will not face severe repercussions due to an arrest for domestic violence. In fact, the consequences of a domestic violence arrest will typically be felt right away when a court issues bond conditions that can restrict where a person can live and force the defendant to have to leave home. Fortunately, in the Houston area, a domestic violence attorney may be able to get bond conditions or a protective order modified to allow a defendant to live a normal life while a case is being defended.
In addition to the direct consequences of an arrest for domestic violence, a conviction can lead to other “collateral” or secondary consequences of a criminal case. For an assault-family violence conviction, this can include the loss of the right to own a gun, the potential loss or denial of certain professional licenses and difficulty obtaining leases of a home or apartment. The collateral consequences of a domestic violence case can also include loss of legal status if a person is not a United States citizen. Under immigration law, cases involving family violence are treated more seriously than many other criminal offenses and can have a much more damaging impact on a person’s immigration status.
Additionally, Texas law prevents anyone who successfully completes a deferred adjudication probation for domestic violence from getting their record sealed. Normally, if a person successfully completes a deferred adjudication probation, the person would be eligible for a non-disclosure (also referred to as “sealing” records). If a person is granted a non-disclosure, that prevents private entities (like most employers) from being able to see the case on a criminal history search. Unfortunately, Texas law does not permit a non-disclosure after a person completes a deferred adjudication probation.
For these reasons, it is critical that you consult with an experienced domestic violence defense attorney if you have been charged with domestic violence. An effective domestic violence attorney should have a clear strategy for maximizing your chances of obtaining a dismissal or an acquittal or the charges against you. If you have been charged with domestic violence anywhere in the Greater Houston area, call Ceja Law Firm today to discuss your case and what the best strategy might be to keep a conviction for domestic violence off of your record.