Domestic Battery Charges
UPDATED: June 19, 2018
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Domestic battery charges start with a basic assault or battery allegation. The charge is also called domestic violence, domestic abuse, or assault family violence. Even though very similar to a regular criminal battery allegation, domestic battery charges can result in more severe consequences. Someone facing domestic battery charges should understand the charge, defenses, and consequences before accepting a plea bargain.
Understanding the Domestic Battery Charge
Like the name suggests, domestic battery charges first start with an assault or battery. A heated argument is not enough. Domestic battery charges must include proof of some type of assault, or physical contact, that resulted in the victim experiencing pain. If the victim wasn’t physically touched or did not feel any pain as the result of a touch, then the charges never expand to the second element.
The second element requires proof of a domestic relationship between the victim and the defendant. The term domestic relationship can be very narrow or broad, depending on the state's definition of domestic. Some states limit the domestic relationship to people who are from the same family or who are married to the defendant. This would include spouses, children, and elderly parents living in the home. Other states broaden domestic relationship to include anyone that the victim is dating or has dated in the recent past. How recent will depend on the state’s penal code.
Domestic Battery Defenses
The usual defense to a domestic battery charge is denial. This defense may or may not work depending on the extent of a victim’s injuries. The absence of any bruises or red marks would help this defense. When an officer comes out, a defendant may want to insist that the victim be photographed at the time of the report to prove there were no visible injuries. It’s not unusual for a victim to show up at the courthouse a week later with a black eye claiming that the bruise is just beginning to appear. The best defense is really a good offense in domestic battery cases. If the injuries are recent, substantial, or visible, the defense will have a limited impact. In fact, completely denying that anything happened when the evidence strongly shows something did happen, can actually make a defendant appear more guilty.
If a defendant wants this theory to be effective, he’ll have to produce fairly good evidence that the injuries were caused by something or someone else. This is called an alternative causation—the defendant acknowledges the injury, but offers a different reason for what caused it. Absent this type of evidence, a defendant’s defensive theory may instead focus on negating intent. This is where a defendant admits that he touched the victim, but tries to prove it was not because of intentionally malicious conduct. For example, if a defendant walks through the kitchen door and the door hits the victim, then the intent was never to hurt the victim.
Some accidents, however, are a harder to explain. When a defendant is good for the battery charges, his focus should turn to the relationship component. As mentioned, the assault is only the first part of a domestic battery charge. The prosecutor must also prove the domestic relationship. How far a defendant can go with this defense will depend on the state’s definition of domestic relationship. If a defendant can prove that he had not dated the victim in over two years, then he could at least mitigate his punishment to a regular battery charge instead of facing the punishment for a domestic battery conviction.
Consequences of Domestic Battery Charges
A defendant convicted of domestic battery can face a higher punishment range from a misdemeanor probation to felony prison time. Many states increase domestic battery charges depending on a defendant’s history and the circumstances surrounding the assault. A first time, basic charge will usually be charged as a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor punishment can include probation and up to two years in jail. Probation conditions can include counseling, batterer’s intervention programs, and no-contact provisions for the victim.
If a defendant is charged and convicted a second time, then many states will increase the range of punishment for the second offense to a felony, even if the conduct was exactly the same. The felony range of punishment for a second domestic battery conviction can also range from probation to up to ten years in prison. Even if a defendant has never been convicted of a domestic battery charge, he could still face a felony punishment if he used a weapon or tried to strangle the victim. These types of charges are sometimes referred to as aggravated domestic battery charges or aggravated assault. The punishment for an aggravated charge can increase the range of punishment by fifty years or more.
In addition to a felony conviction, many states now have more progressive protective order statutes. Some are built into bond conditions, which others are written into probation conditions. Some jurisdictions simply file a civil lawsuit to get the protective order. This means that a defendant will be involved in a criminal and civil suit at the same time and can result in higher attorney’s fees and costs. If the protective order is granted, then the state could prevent the defendant from possessing a firearm, even if the domestic battery allegation never resulted in a conviction. If a defendant violates the no-contact protective order, then the defendant could be charged with a new offense of violation of a protective order.
Domestic battery has received more state and national attention over the last several years. As a result, a domestic battery conviction can haunt a defendant after the plea. Employers may decline to hire someone with an assaultive history because they are concerned about liability issues. State agencies may revoke certain licenses because of a domestic battery conviction and liability concerns. Similarly, some apartment communities refuse to rent units to individuals who have been convicted of assaultive offenses. Immigration also takes assaultive offenses seriously, which means that a defendant who is not a U.S. citizen could be deported.
The main frustration for defendants accused of domestic battery is that the charge is so broad that offenders who just pushed their girlfriend can face the same punishment as a defendant who hit his girlfriend in the eye with a closed fist. Help is available, though, to assist a defendant sifting through the facts, the evidence, and the testimony related to a domestic battery allegation. A criminal defense attorney can assist in evaluating a defense or structuring a plea bargain to minimize the future impact of possible domestic battery charges.