Domestic violence laws in Alabama prohibit certain acts of physical violence between an aggressor and a victim, including a parent and child, husband and wife, and couples in a dating or engagement relationship. The crime of domestic violence can carry serious penalties.
In order to be found guilty of a domestic violence offense, a defendant must commit a specified violent act and the defendant and victim must share a certain relationship, as defined by the statute.
Aggressor and Victim
Alabama law recognizes three degrees of domestic violence, as well as the felony of domestic violence by strangulation or suffocation. Here are the definitions of who can be the aggressor, and who can be the victim, for each crime.
Domestic violence in the first, second, and third degree
In order for the prosecutor to charge domestic violence in the first, second, or third degree, the alleged aggressor and victim must be in one of the following relationships:
- current or former spouses
- parent and child
- parent or parents of a child
- current or former household members, and
- couples who are or were in a dating or engagement relationship.
Domestic violence by strangulation
Domestic violence by strangulation can occur between people in the relationships explained just above. However, if the defendant and victim were dating or were engaged, they must have been in the relationship within ten months of the offense. In addition to the relationships just described, domestic violence by strangulation or suffocation prohibits certain violent acts between a stepchild and stepparent.
What Constitutes Domestic Violence?
Alabama law specifies the circumstances that will permit a charge of domestic violence, assuming the aggressor and the victim share one of the relationships explained above.
- Domestic violence in the first degree. This crime may be charged when the aggressor commits either first-degree assault or aggravated stalking.
- Domestic violence in the second degree. This crime can occur when the aggressor commits second-degree assault, stalking (not aggravated), intimidates a witness, commits first- or second-degree burglary, or commits first-degree criminal mischief.
- Domestic violence in the third degree. Third-degree domestic violence occurs where the defendant commits the crimes of third-degree assault, menacing, reckless endangerment, criminal coercion, harassment, criminal surveillance, harassing communications, third-degree criminal trespass, second- or third-degree criminal mischief, or third-degree arson.
- Domestic violence by strangulation or suffocation. This offense occurs when an aggressor, by strangulation or suffocation (or attempting to strangle or suffocate) commits an assault with the intent to cause physical harm; or commits the crime of menacing.
Alabama punishes those convicted of domestic violence according to the degree of the crime, and takes into consideration prior acts of domestic violence.
A defendant convicted of domestic violence in the first degree is guilty of a Class A felony, which carries a maximum of life or 99 years in prison. Defendants who have prior convictions for first-degree domestic violence must serve a minimum of one year in prison for subsequent first-degree domestic violence convictions before being released on probation or parole, or receiving a reduction in prison time for good behavior.
Second-degree domestic violence and domestic violence by strangulation or suffocation
These crimes are classified as Class B felonies, carrying up to 20 years in prison. For second and subsequent convictions for second-degree domestic violence, the defendant must serve at least six months in custody before being released on probation or parole, or receiving credit for good behavior.
Domestic violence in the third degree is a class A misdemeanor, which carries up to a year in jail. For second and subsequent convictions for third-degree domestic violence, a defendant must serve a minimum of ten days in jail.
Violating a protective order
If the defendant is subject to a protective order (such as a restraining order) and violates it by committing domestic violence in the first or second degree, the minimum prison term authorized by law is doubled. A defendant who violates a protective order by committing third-degree domestic violence must serve a minimum of thirty days in jail.
A defendant charged with domestic violence may assert self-defense, arguing that the alleged victim was really the aggressor. A defendant may also argue that the underlying offense, such as assault, was not proven, or that the defendant and victim were not in one of the relationships protected by the domestic violence statutes. Although a defendant can be charged and convicted of both the underlying offense and the domestic violence offense, a judge can only impose a sentence for one of the offenses.
Domestic Violence Orders
A person alleging to be the victim of domestic violence can seek a domestic violence order from a court. Domestic violence orders are a type of protective order that typically require an alleged aggressor to refrain from communicating with or being within physical proximity to the alleged victim. Domestic violence orders include civil restraining orders and conditions placed on a defendant’s bail. A person violating a domestic violence order is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor; a second conviction for violating a domestic violence order requires a minimum of 30 days in jail, and third and subsequent convictions mandate a minimum of 120 days in jail.
Contact a Lawyer
If you are facing domestic violence charges in Alabama, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly handles such cases. An experienced lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s evidence against you, explore any possible defenses you might have, and explain your options. For example, it may be possible to negotiate for reduced charges, arrange a plea in exchange for a specified sentence, seek to have certain evidence thrown out, or even seek dismissal of your case. A lawyer will protect your interests every step of the way, as well as represent you in court if your case goes to trial.