Texas recognizes three different crimes of domestic violence: domestic assault, aggravated domestic assault and continuous violence against the family. An act of violence constitutes domestic violence if it is committed against a family member, a household member or someone the offender is currently dating or dated in the past, including:
- a current or former spouse
- a child of a current or former spouse
- a person with whom the offender has a child or children
- a foster child or foster parent of the offender
- a family member of the offender by blood, marriage, or adoption
- someone with whom the offender lives, and
- a person with whom the offender has or had an ongoing dating or romantic relationship.
A person is guilty of domestic assault in Texas if he commits an assault against a family member, household member, or a current or past dating partner. An assault consists of:
- intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury to another person
- intentionally or knowingly threatening another person with imminent bodily injury; or
- intentionally or knowingly causing physical contact with another that the offender knows or reasonably should know the victim will find provocative or offensive. (Tex. Penal Code Ann. §22.01.)
Domestic assault is a Class A misdemeanor if the defendant has no prior domestic assault convictions. The crime is a third degree felony if the defendant has any prior domestic assault conviction.
A reckless act is one that is committed, not necessarily with intent to harm another, but without regard for the outcome. Pushing someone out of the way in a crowd so that you can get through, without intending to injure the person, could be an assault if the person falls and is injured.
Provocative or Offensive Contact
Assault by provocative or offensive contact refers to an act that does not cause physical injury or pain, but is upsetting or causes the victim to feel violated. This type of assault can include poking someone in the chest during an argument, “getting in someone’s space,” or brushing up against a person in a sexually suggestive manner.
Aggravated Domestic Assault
A person is guilty of aggravated domestic assault if he commits an aggravated assault against a spouse, family member, or romantic partner as listed above.
A person commits aggravated assault in Texas if he:
- intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes serious bodily injury to another person, or
- uses or exhibits a deadly weapon in the course of committing any assault crime, including threatening another with bodily injury or engaging in conduct that the victim likely will find offensive. (Tex. Penal Code Ann. §22.02.)
If the defendant commits an aggravated domestic assault with a deadly weapon and causes serious bodily injury to the victim, the crime is a first degree felony. Any other aggravated domestic assault is a second degree felony.
Bodily Injury and Serious Bodily Injury
Serious bodily injury is a significant injury such as a broken bone, disfigurement, loss of a limb, a serious head injury, or an injury that requires surgery and/or hospitalization. Bodily injury is any less serious injury, including minor scrapes and bruises.
Under Texas law, a deadly weapon is any object that is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury and that is used in a manner likely to cause that result. A firearm, large hunting knife, or brass knuckles are deadly weapons by definition. A rope used to strangle someone or a metal pipe or baseball bat used to strike or attempt to strike someone are all deadly weapons because of the manner in which they were used. A motor vehicle also could be a deadly weapon.
Continuous Violence Against the Family
In addition to assault crimes, a person in Texas can be convicted of the crime of continuous violence against the family if he commits two domestic assaults in twelve months. A defendant can be convicted of this crime without either assault having resulted in an arrest or conviction, and the two assaults need not have been committed against the same victim. This crime is a third degree felony.
Penalties for Domestic Violence Crimes
Domestic violence crimes are punishable in Texas as follows:
- Class A misdemeanor – up to one year in jail or a fine up to $4,000, or both
- 3rd degree felony – from 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000
- 2nd degree felony – from 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, and
- 1st degree felony -- from 5 to 99 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
A person convicted of simple assault in Texas 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.
Deferred Adjudication and Community Supervision
Texas law provides certain alternatives to a jail or prison sentence for a person charged with or convicted of domestic assault.
If a defendant pleads guilty to a domestic assault charge, the court may grant a deferred adjudication. The court postpones sentencing for a period of time on the condition that the defendant successfully complies with probation and certain other requirements, such as no new arrests or criminal offenses during the conditional period, completing domestic violence offender treatment, paying restitution, or doing volunteer work in the community. If the defendant satisfies all the court’s requirements, the court will discharge the defendant and dismiss the case. The arrest, deferral and dismissal will be part of the defendant’s criminal record. If the defendant fails to satisfy the court’s requirements, the court will impose a sentence and enter a conviction. This alternative is most typically granted to first offenders and in domestic assault rather than aggravated domestic assault cases.
If a defendant is convicted or pleads guilty, the court also can grant community supervision (probation) as an alternative to a jail or prison sentence for up to two years for a misdemeanor and up to ten years for a felony. The court can require the defendant to serve some time in jail or prison before beginning community supervision – 30 days for a misdemeanor and 180 days for a felony. The defendant must successfully complete probation and any other conditions the court imposes or the court can require him to complete the sentence in jail or prison.
A person on community supervision must meet with a probation officer, pay probation costs, and comply with conditions such as treatment, maintaining employment, curfews, drug tests, and avoiding any further criminal activity or arrests.
The Value of Good Representation
Any criminal conviction – even a misdemeanor – becomes part of your permanent criminal record. A person convicted of a domestic violence crime can lose the right to own or possess firearms and will be ineligible for certain types of education financial aid. Being a convicted felon for a violent crime also can seriously impact your life and limit your rights as a citizen. If you are facing a domestic violence charge, you should consider hiring an attorney. An experienced attorney can review and investigate your case and advise you on all the options you have from entering into a plea agreement to going to trial. A knowledgeable attorney will assist you in making decisions about your case and protect your rights.