In Vermont, a person commits domestic abuse by hurting, trying to harm, or threatening a person in their family or household. Domestic violence crimes can include domestic assault, aggravated domestic assault, stalking, and violating a relief from abuse order. This article will discuss Vermont's criminal penalties for domestic violence crimes.
In Vermont, domestic assault—assault against a family or household member—carries harsher penalties than the same crime committed against a victim who's not in a protected class.
Family and household members include people who:
For repeat or more serious acts of domestic assault, aggravated domestic assault penalties apply. The following definitions are used in determining the severity level of the crime.
Bodily injury involves physical pain or impairment. Physical pain could result, for example, from hitting, kicking, grabbing, shoving, or hair pulling. An impairment may involve bruising, cuts, or other injuries that don't rise to the level of serious bodily injury.
Serious bodily injury includes strangulation, suffocation, or any injury that creates a significant risk of death or causes substantial disfigurement or impairment of any part of the body. Such injuries could be a broken limb, severe sprain, or an injury leaving permanent scarring.
Deadly weapons can be a firearm or other weapon but also includes any object or substance that a person uses or intends to use in a way that could cause death or serious bodily injury.
Domestic assault penalties apply when a person:
Domestic assault constitutes a misdemeanor and carries penalties of up to 18 months' incarceration and a $5,000 fine.
Domestic assault increases to felony aggravated domestic assault when the crime involves an increased level of harm or repeat offense. Two degrees of aggravated domestic assault exist.
Second-degree penalties apply when an offender assaults a family or household member:
A defendant guilty of second-degree aggravated domestic assault faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
First-degree penalties apply when the domestic assault involves:
Once a person has a conviction for aggravated domestic assault, any subsequent domestic assault bumps up to a first-degree aggravated domestic assault.
A person convicted of first-degree aggravated domestic assault faces up to 15 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
(Vt. Stat. tit. 13, §§ 1021, 1030, 1041 to 1044; tit. 15, § 1101 (2021).)
Domestic abuse crimes involve more than assault-related offenses. Other unlawful acts include stalking and violating a relief from abuse order.
A person commits stalking by engaging in conduct that causes a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of someone else or causes substantial emotional distress.
Stalking carries penalties of up to two years of imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.
Aggravated stalking, a felony, occurs in the following circumstances:
A person convicted of aggravated stalking faces penalties of up to five years of incarceration and a $25,000 fine.
Violating a relief from abuse order constitutes a crime punishable by up to one year of incarceration and a $5,000 fine. The prosecutor may charge such a violation as a criminal contempt (violating a court's order), which carries up to six months in jail and a $10,000 fine. If the defendant has a previous conviction for violating a protective order or domestic assault, the maximum penalty increases to three years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
(Vt. Stat. tit. 13, §§ 1030, 1061 to 1063; tit. 15, § 1108 (2021).)
In addition to incarceration and fines, Vermont law imposes the following conditions, restrictions, and penalties for domestic violence cases.
In Vermont, if a police officer has probable cause to believe (a reasonable belief) that a person committed assault against a family or household member, the officer can arrest the offender without a warrant even if the officer didn't witness the assault. (Typically, an officer can make a warrantless arrest only when a misdemeanor occurred in the officer's presence.)
Judges can impose conditions of release for those defendants who bail out pending trial. Release conditions might include no contact with the victim, no possession of firearms, and no use of alcohol or drugs. A violation can mean having bail revoked or even additional criminal charges.
A defendant with a pending felony charge involving an act of violence against another person, such as aggravated domestic assault, can be held without bail when a great deal of evidence showing their guilty exists, the offender poses a substantial threat of physical violence to any person, and no conditions of release would prevent the violence from taking place.
At the time of arrest for domestic assault, a police officer may remove firearms from an alleged offender if law enforcement believes it is necessary in order to protect themselves, the arrestee or victim, or any family members of the victim. Pretrial release conditions may include releasing any removed firearms under certain circumstances.
A defendant convicted of a violent crime must not possess a firearm. The domestic violence offenses discussed throughout this article constitute violent crimes. Penalties for prohibited possession include up to two years of incarceration and a $1,000 fine. Federal law also makes it a crime to possess a firearm when the person has a domestic violence conviction.
(Vt. Stat. tit. 13, §§ 1048, 4017, 7553a; Vt. Crim. Proc. R. 3 (2021).)
If you've been charged with a domestic violence crime or a related offense, contact a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Any criminal conviction can become part of your permanent criminal record. A domestic abuse conviction can have a lasting negative impact on future employment, housing, and professional licenses. An experienced attorney will review your case with you and discuss potential options.