Domestic abuse includes threats or acts of physical harm against a family or household member. In Minnesota, acts of domestic violence can result in criminal penalties, restraining orders, mandatory jail holds, and firearm restrictions, among other penalties.
This article will discuss Minnesota's criminal and related penalties that aim to prevent and punish domestic violence crimes and protect victims. More information on civil protection orders can be found in our article on Minnesota Domestic Abuse Order for Protection.
When investigating, arresting, or charging for offenses involving physical harm, threats, or harassment, police and prosecutors must determine if the alleged offender and victim are considered family or household members under the law. If so, certain obligations and provisions kick in to protect the victim and prevent future harm. One of the most commonly investigated and charged domestic violence crimes is domestic assault.
Minnesota law defines assault as:
When a person assaults a "family or household member," the crime is domestic assault.
Family and household members include spouses, former spouses, parents and children, related individuals, people who live together or have lived together, people in a significant or sexual relationship, people who have a child together, and pregnant women and the alleged fathers of their children.
Domestic violence crimes don't stop as assault. Related offenses include attempted strangulation, terroristic threats, criminal sexual assault, and stalking, to name a few. A violation of a civil order for protection (OFP) also constitutes a crime.
In Minnesota, certain crimes can be punished more harshly if they involve a domestic abuse victim or occur within so many years of a prior "qualified domestic violence-related offense" (QDVRO). QDVROs are defined in law and include the following offenses whether or not a family or household member was the victim: murder, assault, criminal sexual conduct, terroristic threats, malicious punishment of a child, violation of an order for protection or no-contact order, stalking, nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images, or interfering with an emergency call.
(Minn. Stat. §§ 518B.01, 609.224, 609.2242 (2021).)
Domestic abuse can result in various criminal charges depending on the circumstances of the crime and the harm or risk involved. A prosecutor can also seek stiffer penalties for repeat offenders who have prior convictions for domestic violence-related offenses. Below we cover some of the most common penalties for domestic assault and related offenses.
A defendant who assaults a family or household member faces up to 90 days' jail time and a $1,000 fine. A first violation of an OFP also carries a misdemeanor penalty. These misdemeanor penalties become gross misdemeanors if the offender has a prior QDVRO conviction within the past ten years. A gross misdemeanor carries up to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine.
Domestic assault by strangulation incurs a three-year felony penalty unless a greater penalty is applicable (such as assault resulting in substantial bodily harm or death, see below). The law defines strangulation to include applying pressure on the throat or neck or blocking another's nose or mouth to impede breathing.
Prosecutors can also seek felony charges under the following circumstances.
Prior convictions. Whoever has two previous QDVRO convictions in the past ten years and commits domestic assault or violates an OFP faces a five-year felony and possible prison time.
Bodily harm or weapons. If the assault results in substantial bodily harm (SBH) or great bodily harm (GBH), the crime is a felony. For an assault resulting in SBH, the offender faces up to five years in prison. If the victim suffers GBH, the maximum penalty goes up to 20 years. It's also a felony to assault someone with a deadly weapon, which can lead to seven to ten years in prison.
Death. If domestic abuse or assault results in the victim's death, the offender can face first- or second-degree murder charges and up to life in prison.
On top of incarceration and fines, the law imposes the following conditions, restrictions, and penalties for domestic abuse.
Arrests. In Minnesota, an officer may arrest someone without a warrant when probable cause exists to believe the defendant committed domestic abuse within the past 72 hours. If the officer has reason to believe a person violated an OFP or no-contact order, the officer must arrest and hold the person in jail for at least 36 hours (unless released earlier by a judge).
Bail conditions. When deciding conditions for pretrial release, the judge must consider whether the defendant's release poses a threat of harm to the alleged victim or their family. The court can impose release conditions such as no-contact orders, removing the defendant from the victim's home, and prohibiting the defendant from possessing a firearm.
Bond payment. If convicted of violating an OFP, the judge may order the defendant to pay a bond of up to $10,000 to deter future violations of the order.
No-contact order. While a criminal proceeding for domestic abuse is pending, the court can issue a domestic abuse no-contact order (DANCO) against the defendant. Penalties for violating a no-contact order are similar to those imposed for domestic assault and OFP violations (see above).
Firearm restrictions. If a defendant is convicted of domestic assault or violation of an OFP, a defendant is prohibited from possessing a firearm for three or more years. If the defendant used the firearm in the offense, the court must order the defendant to forfeit (give up) the firearm. Violating the firearm prohibition is a gross misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a fine of $3,000. Federal firearm restrictions will also apply.
(Minn. Stat. §§ 518B.01, 609.02, 609.03, 609.224, 609.2242, 609.2243, 609.2247, 629.341, 629.471, 629.72, 629.75 (2021).)
If you are charged with a crime of domestic violence or served with a petition for an OFP, you should contact a Minnesota criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney will be able to help you navigate the court system and help you obtain the best possible outcome for your case.