In Georgia, crimes involving domestic or family violence can result in enhanced penalties, restraining orders, bail conditions, and firearm restrictions. Family violence offenses typically carry greater potential penalties than identical violent acts committed among non-family members. The law also places certain responsibilities upon law enforcement officers when investigating allegations of family violence.
Georgia defines "family violence" as any felony crime or a misdemeanor crime for battery, assault, stalking, criminal damage to property, unlawful restraint, or criminal trespass, when the crime involves:
The last category of "persons currently or formerly living in the same household" pulls in relationships that go beyond spouses, parents, and children, such as roommates, siblings, extended family members, and unmarried dating partners. But notably, unlike some other states, none of the specified relationships covers dating partners who've never lived together or don't share a child. Georgia's law also expressly excludes from the definition of family violence a parent's "reasonable discipline" of a child that takes the form of corporal punishment, restraint, or detention.
(O.C.G.A. § 19-13-1 (2023).)
Family violence offenses can result in various criminal charges depending on the circumstances of the crime, the harm involved, and a defendant's prior convictions. Georgia's criminal justice system punishes most acts involving family violence more severely than identical acts committed between people who are not in a domestic relationship.
As you'll see below, most simple assaults are punished as misdemeanors but the same assaults involving family violence can be punished more severely as misdemeanors of a high and aggravated nature. Battery illustrates another good instance of the harsher penalties involved with domestic violence convictions. While a second conviction for family violence battery results in a felony, batteries not involving family violence don't increase to felonies until the defendant's third conviction for battery committed against the same victim.
Common family violence charges include assault and battery. A person commits simple assault by attempting to commit a violent injury against someone or doing something that places another in fear of imminent violent injury. Simple battery involves a person intentionally causing physical harm to another or making physical contact in order to insult or provoke another. When a simple assault or battery involves family violence, a person faces up to 12 months in jail and a $5,000 fine
Family violence battery that results in visible bodily harm also carries up to 12 months in jail. However, if the offender has a previous family violence forcible felony conviction (from any state), the battery becomes a felony, which subjects the offender to one to five years in prison. Repeat family violence battery offenses against the same or another victim also result in that same felony sentencing range.
(O.C.G.A. §§ 16-5-20, 16-5-23, 16-5-23.1 (2023).)
More serious family violence charges include aggravated assault and battery.
A person commits aggravated assault by assaulting another:
Aggravated battery occurs when a person maliciously causes bodily harm to another, such as harm resulting in broken bones, hearing loss, serious sprains or swelling to a body part, or serious disfigurement.
Both of these felonies carry 3 to 20 years in prison if the offenses involve family violence.
(O.C.G.A. §§ 16-5-21, 16-5-24 (2023).)
A person commits stalking by contacting another person for the purpose of harassing and intimidating. Such an offense subjects the stalker to up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine for a first offense and one to ten years in prison for each subsequent offense.
Aggravated stalking consists of more serious behavior from the stalker including following or placing the victim under surveillance in violation of a protective order. Aggravated stalking carries penalties including one to ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
(O.C.G.A. §§ 16-5-90, 16-5-91 (2023).)
A person who violates a family violence protective order can be punished by being held in contempt of court or charged criminally. Criminal penalties are limited to certain no-contact violations, such as the offender calling the victim or showing up at their workplace or house. The crime of violating a protective order is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
(O.C.G.A. §§ 16-5-95, 19-13-6 (2023).)
In addition to incarceration and fines, Georgia law imposes the following conditions and restrictions for family violence cases.
Georgia law allows police officers to make arrests based on probable cause that an act of family violence occurred or an offender violated a criminal family violence protective order. Even if the victim no longer wishes to pursue charges against the offender, law enforcement can still arrest or charge the offender.
The law places certain requirements and prohibitions on law enforcement officers when investigating family violence allegations. For instance, officers must attempt to identify and only arrest the primary aggressor where two or more opposing parties allege family violence.
When a police officer makes a warrantless arrest for a family violence offense, the person charged cannot bail out until they get in front of a judge, which means the offender might have to spend the night or even the weekend in jail. Common bond conditions in domestic-related cases involve having no contact with the victim or the victim's residence and prohibiting the offender from possessing a firearm. Certain cases, such as stalking, require the victim to receive notice of a defendant's release from custody and of any bail hearing in the case.
As noted above, pretrial release conditions can include the loss of the suspect's right to possess a firearm. Georgia law also authorizes judges to include firearm restrictions when entering temporary protective orders (TPOs). Once a permanent order is entered, federal law prohibits the respondent from having a gun. A person who violates the state's prohibition against gun possession faces one to ten years in prison. Federal law also prohibits the possession of firearms for a misdemeanor domestic violence offense.
(O.C.G.A. §§ 16-5-93, 16-11-131, 17-4-20, 17-4-20.1, 17-6-1 (2023); 18 U.S.C. § 922 (2023).)
If you're accused of committing a family violence offense in Georgia, contact an experienced lawyer as soon as possible. A skilled attorney can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the case against you and advise you of available defenses. A local criminal defense attorney will be able to discuss any potential negative consequences that follow a family violence criminal conviction and review all your options.