Domestic violence includes threats, assaults, and other acts of abuse against a family or household member. Missouri law provides both civil and criminal remedies for domestic violence.
This article will discuss Missouri's criminal and related penalties that aim to hold offenders accountable and protect domestic victims from further abuse. Criminal law responses include the arrest, prosecution, and punishment of the offender.
Domestic violence includes a range of abusive conduct against a family or household member. Missouri law divides the most common domestic violence crime—domestic assault—into degrees based on the circumstances and the amount of harm involved.
A person commits assault any time they attempt, cause, or place another in fear of physical injury or pain. When an assault is committed against a "domestic victim," the crime falls under domestic assault.
Missouri law defines a domestic victim as any of the following family or household members:
Missouri divides domestic assault crimes into four degrees, with first-degree being the most serious and fourth-degree the least. Fourth-degree domestic assault starts as a misdemeanor, but the penalties quickly move up to felonies. The degree of the offense depends primarily on the defendant's culpability (acting negligently or recklessly versus intentionally), the intended harm (fear, physical injuries, or risk of death), the resulting harm (pain, injuries, or serious injuries), and whether a deadly weapon was used.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 455.010, 565.002 (2022).)
Offenders commit domestic assault in the fourth degree when they commit any of the following acts against a domestic victim:
Example. Say Richard holds his hand up to his live-in girlfriend's face like he is going to punch her and then hides her phone and car keys so she can't call her family and friends. He might be charged with two counts of fourth-degree domestic assault for placing her in fear of physical injury and restricting her access to a communication device and transportation.
Punishment. Domestic assault in the fourth degree is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Offenders with two or more prior domestic violence-related offenses can be charged with a Class E felony and face up to four years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 565.076, 558.011, 558.022 (2022).)
Domestic assault in the third degree occurs when an offender attempts to cause physical injury or knowingly causes physical pain or illness to a domestic victim.
Example. Brenda punches her husband in the face. She might be charged with third-degree domestic violence for causing him physical pain. Even if she swings and misses, she can be charged with third-degree domestic assault because she attempted to cause him physical pain.
Punishment. Domestic assault in the third degree is a Class E felony, punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 565.074, 558.011, 558.022 (2022).)
An offender who commits the following acts against a domestic victim could face charges for domestic assault in the second degree:
Example. Samantha swings a baseball bat in the direction of her live-in boyfriend. She loses control of the bat, and it hits him in the back causing him significant pain and bruising. She might be charged with second-degree domestic assault for recklessly injuring him with a deadly weapon.
Punishment. Domestic assault in the second degree is a class D felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 565.073, 558.011, 558.022 (2022).)
An offender who knowingly inflicts or attempts to inflict serious physical injury to a domestic victim commits first-degree domestic assault. An attempt to kill a domestic victim also falls under first-degree domestic assault.
Example. Say Lucas strangles his wife with the intent to kill her. She fights him off and survives. He can be charged with first-degree domestic assault because he attempted to kill her.
Punishment. Domestic assault in the first degree is a class B felony, punishable by not less than 5 years and up to 15 years in prison. But, offenders who end up inflicting serious physical injury on their victims can be charged with a class A felony, punishable by not less than 10 years and up to 30 years, or life in prison.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 565.072, 565.077, 558.011 (2022).)
Offenders charged with felony domestic assault face a prison term one class higher than their current charge if they have one prior assault conviction in the past five years. For example, an offender charged with domestic assault in the third degree faces class D instead of class E penalties.
Punishment for "persistent offenders"—those convicted of two or more prior assault convictions in the past 10 years—increases by one or two felony classes depending on the degree of the current felony charged.
First off, domestic violence doesn't stop as assault. Related offenses in Missouri include unlawful imprisonment, coercion, harassment, stalking, and sexual assault, to name a few. A violation of a civil order of protection is also a crime.
In addition to incarceration and fines, Missouri law imposes the following conditions and restrictions for domestic violence cases.
In Missouri, an officer may arrest someone without a warrant when probable cause exists to believe the offender committed domestic abuse, even if the officer didn't witness the offense. Officers who decline to make an arrest on a domestic violence-related call must write a report explaining why no arrest was made. If officers return to the same address within 12 hours of a nonarrest report incident and probable cause exists, officers must arrest the offender and the nonarrest report can be used as evidence against the offender. The victim's refusal to sign an official complaint against the offender doesn't prevent an arrest.
Missouri law allows judges to deny bail in any case when the prosecution can show that the defendant poses a danger to the victim, witness, or the community. Judges can also impose release conditions like no-contact orders, removing the defendant from the victim's home, and prohibiting the defendant from possessing a firearm.
Missouri law prohibits defendants convicted of any felony from purchasing or possessing a firearm. Federal firearm bans apply to defendants convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence and persons subject to domestic violence orders of protection.
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 455.085, 544.676, 571.070 (2022).)
If you are charged with a crime of domestic violence or served with a petition for an order of protection, contact a Missouri criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney will help you navigate the court system and help you obtain the best possible outcome for your case.