In Missouri, domestic violence laws criminalize violence against spouses, family members and persons with whom the offender is or has been in a romantic relationship. The acts that constitute a domestic violence assault are somewhat different than those that constitute ordinary assault and the possible penalties can be more serious under certain circumstances.
A person is guilty of domestic assault if he commits an assault against any of the following victims:
- a current or former spouse
- a family member by blood or marriage
- a person with whom the offender lives or previously lived
- a person with whom the offender has or had a dating or romantic relationship, or
- a person with whom the offender has a child.
Domestic Assault in the Third Degree
A person commits a domestic assault in the third degree if he commits any of the following acts against a victim designated as a domestic victim:
- attempts to cause or recklessly [jump to Reckless] causes physical injury
- acting with criminal negligence [jump to Criminal Negligence], physically injures a domestic victim by means of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument
- threatens a victim, causing the victim to fear immediate bodily injury [jump to Physical Injury and Serious Physical Injury]
- recklessly engages in conduct that creates a grave risk of death or serious physical injury [jump to Physical Injury and Serious Physical Injury]
- intentionally engages in physical contact with the victim, knowing that the victim will find the contact offensive, or
- knowingly attempts to cause or causes isolation of the victim by unreasonably or substantially restricting or limiting access to other persons, communication devices or transportation.
Domestic assault in the third degree is a Class A misdemeanor in Missouri punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $1000, or both; however, if the offense is a third or subsequent conviction for third degree domestic assault or the equivalent (whether the prior convictions occurred in Missouri or another state or country), the crime is a Class D felony punishable by up to one year in jail or up to four years in prison and a fine up to $5000, or both. (Mo. Stat. Ann. §565.074.)
Domestic Assault in the Second Degree
A person is guilty of domestic assault in the second degree if he commits any of the following acts against a domestic victim:
- attempts to cause or knowingly causes physical injury by means of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument or by choking or strangulation
- recklessly causes serious physical injury, or
- recklessly causes physical injury by means of a deadly weapon.
Domestic assault in the second degree is Class C felony punishable by up to 7 years in prison and a fine up to $5000, or both. (Mo. Stat. Ann. §565.073.)
Domestic Assault in the First Degree
A person commits domestic assault in the third degree if he:
- attempts to kill a domestic victim, or
- knowingly causes or attempts to cause serious physical injury to a domestic victim.
If the offender actually causes serious physical injury to the victim in the course of committing this crime or has a prior conviction for this crime or its equivalent in Missouri or any other jurisdiction, it is a Class A felony punishable by 10 to 30 years or life in prison. If the crime does not result in serious physical injury to the victim, it is a Class B felony which is punishable by 5 to 15 years in prison. (Mo. Stat. Ann. §565.072.)
A person convicted of any degree of domestic assault in Missouri can be required to pay restitution, which involves reimbursing the victim for any expenses resulting from the crime, such as the cost of medical treatment or counseling or repair or replacement of damaged property.
A reckless act is one that is committed, not necessarily with intent to harm another, but without regard for the outcome. Pushing a domestic victim near a tall ledge without intending to injure that person but with utter disregard for his safety, could be domestic assault if the person falls and is injured. Shooting a gun in a room during a family fight but without aiming at any specific person and causing minor injury to a person also could be domestic assault because of the reckless behavior with a firearm.
A criminally negligent act is one which is not intentional but which occurs because the actor fails to exercise reasonable care. If someone is criminally negligent he has acted with a little more care then someone being reckless but still without enough care for the possible harmful results of his actions.
Physical Injury and Serious Physical Injury
Serious physical injury is more serious than a cut, scrape or bruise. It involves profound injury like a broken bone, disfigurement, loss of a limb, a serious head injury, or an injury that requires surgery and/or hospitalization.
Physical injury refers to minor injury to the human body, including scrapes and bruises.
Deadly Weapon or Dangerous Instrument
A deadly weapon is an object which, by definition, can cause death or serious physical injury. Examples include firearms, large hunting knives, and brass knuckles. A dangerous instrument is an object which may not normally be a weapon but which is used in a manner that can cause death or serious physical injury. A rope used to strangle someone, a metal pipe used to strike someone and a vehicle used to intentionally strike a pedestrian are all dangerous instruments because of the manner in which they were used.
Suspended Sentence and Probation
A court in Missouri can impose a jail or prison sentence and then suspend the sentence and place the defendant on probation.
If the court suspends execution of sentence, the court imposes a jail or prison sentence but allows the defendant to serve all or a portion of the time on probation rather than in jail or prison. This type of probation is known as SES probation in Missouri (suspended execution of sentence).
A person on probation must meet regularly with his probation officer and comply with any conditions imposed by the court or the probation officer, such as obtaining employment, participating in psychological treatment or refraining from criminal activity of any kind.
The Value of Good Representation
A conviction for domestic assault becomes part of your permanent criminal record. A conviction for domestic violence -- even a misdemeanor -- can hurt you when you are looking for a job or applying to rent a house or apartment. A conviction can also be grounds for revoking a professional license. An experienced attorney can determine whether you have any grounds for dismissal of the charges against you, explore plea options or represent you at trial. Only someone familiar with the local criminal court system and cases like yours will know what plea options are available, how good your chances are for a favorable outcome, and what you can expect at sentencing. A knowledgeable attorney will assist you in making decisions about your case and protect your rights.