Domestic violence laws in Alabama prohibit certain acts of physical violence or attempts or threats of the same between an aggressor and a victim, including a parent and child, spouses, and dating or engaged couples. This article will cover Alabama's criminal penalties for these domestic violence offenses.
Alabama law defines what constitutes domestic violence—what acts and by whom. A domestic abuse offense need not be labeled as such. Rather, the prosecutor looks at the factors and circumstances involved in the crime when determining whether to charge the crime as a domestic violence offense.
In order to be found guilty of a domestic violence offense, a defendant must commit a specified violent act (such as assault) and the defendant and victim must share a certain relationship, as defined by the statute.
Domestic violence involves a defendant's act, attempt, or threat of violence against a victim with whom they share a special relationship.
Alabama generally includes the following offenses as acts of domestic violence: arson, assault, child abuse, criminal coercion, criminal trespass, harassment, kidnapping, menacing, reckless endangerment, sexual abuse, stalking, and unlawful imprisonment. Threats of this unlawful conduct include any word or action the defendant makes in order to cause the victim to fear for their safety or that of another.
In order for a prosecutor to charge someone with a domestic violence-related offense, the alleged aggressor and victim must share at least one of the following relationships:
If a defendant commits an act of domestic violence against one of the above victims, the prosecutor can charge the offense as domestic violence in the first, second, or third degree.
Alabama punishes those convicted of domestic violence according to the degree of the underlying crime. In addition, the law takes into consideration the offender's prior acts of domestic violence. The law recognizes three degrees of domestic violence, as well as violating a domestic violence protection order and the felony of domestic violence by strangulation or suffocation.
A person is guilty of first-degree domestic violence by committing first-degree assault, first-degree burglary, or aggravated stalking.
First-degree domestic violence constitutes a class A felony, which carries a maximum of life or 10 to 99 years in prison and a $60,000 fine. 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.
Second-degree domestic violence occurs when the aggressor commits second-degree assault, stalking (not aggravated), second- or third-degree burglary, first-degree criminal mischief, or intimidating a witness.
Domestic violence in the second degree constitutes a class B felony, which subjects a guilty defendant to two to 20 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. For second and subsequent convictions of second-degree domestic violence, the defendant must serve at least six months in custody.
Third-degree domestic violence occurs when 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.
Penalties for this class A misdemeanor include up to one year in jail and a $6,000 fine. The penalty increases to a class C felony:
Any repeat conviction requires a defendant to serve a minimum of ten days in jail.
An offender is guilty of this class B felony when, by strangulation or suffocation, they commit an assault with the intent to cause physical harm or the crime of menacing.
A class B felony carries two to 20 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. If the defendant and victim were dating or engaged, they must have been in the relationship within ten months of the offense.
Alabama law provides for enhanced penalties when an offender commits a domestic violence crime in violation of a protection order or in the presence of a child.
First- and second-degree enhancements. A defendant subject to a protective order (such as a restraining order) who violates it by committing a second or subsequent domestic violence offense in the first or second degree can receive double the minimum prison term required by law. The same enhancement applies for repeat first- or second-degree domestic violence crimes committed in the presence of a child younger than 14. The child must be the defendant or victim's child or stepchild or a child residing in or visiting one of their households.
Third-degree enhancement. A defendant who violates a protective order by committing third-degree domestic violence must serve a minimum of thirty days in jail.
In addition to imprisonment and monetary penalties, Alabama law establishes the following conditions, restrictions, and penalties for domestic violence cases. Whether an offense constitutes domestic violence depends on the factors involved and not how the crime is labeled.
When a police officer has reasonable cause to believe that an individual has committed a domestic violence offense or felony or misdemeanor in violation of a domestic violence protection order, they can arrest the offender without a warrant. The police may hold the arrestee in jail until a judge reviews the request for bail, which must generally occur within 24 hours.
Pretrial release conditions in domestic violence cases typically include restrictions such as ordering the offender to stay away from and not contact the victim. Judges determine the bail amount and any conditions based on a defendant's flight risk and risk of harm to the victim and others. Conditions can include drug and alcohol monitoring, house arrest, and mental health counseling or anger management.
Alabama prohibits offenders convicted of a violent crime, misdemeanor offense of domestic violence, or subjected to a valid protection order for domestic abuse from possessing any firearm. Additionally, federal law contains firearms restrictions.
A defendant charged with domestic violence may assert self-defense, arguing that the alleged victim was really the aggressor. A defendant can also argue that the prosecutor did not prove the underlying offense, such as assault, or that the defendant and victim did not share one of the special 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.
If you've been arrested for or charged with a domestic violence-related offense in Alabama, contact a local 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. A lawyer can help to protect your interests every step of the way.
(Ala. Code §§ 13A-5-6, -7, -11, -12; 13A-6-130 to -132, -138; 13A-11-72; 15-10-3, 15-13-190; 30-5-2; 18 U.S.C. §§ 921, 922 (2022).)