In Texas, crimes involving family violence typically carry greater potential penalties than identical violent acts committed among non-family members. The law also provides arrest and bail policies and firearm restrictions aimed at preventing future acts of family violence.
This article will discuss family violence crimes and penalties. For more on civil protection orders, check out Texas Protective Orders for Family Violence.
The law defines what constitutes family violence—what acts and by whom.
Family violence includes any of the following:
Family and household members are individuals who share one of the following relationships:
Family violence crimes. The most common family violence crimes include domestic assault, aggravated domestic assault, continuous violence against the family, and violation of protective orders. Other common offenses include stalking, kidnapping, unlawful restraint, and homicide.
(Tex. Fam. Code §§ 71.0021 to 71.006 (2021).)
A person commits assault by:
When committed by a family or household member (as defined above), the crime is domestic assault.
Hitting, kicking, choking, slapping, and hair-pulling are all examples of assault, as is threatening to do any of these acts or other types of harm. In Texas, it also includes reckless behavior and provocative or offensive conduct. So, pushing someone out of the way in a crowd in order to get through, without intending to injure the person, can be an assault if the person falls and becomes injured. Assault can also include poking someone in the chest during an argument, getting in someone's space, or brushing up against a person in a sexually suggestive manner.
Misdemeanor. Domestic assault involving threats of harm or provocative or offensive contact constitutes a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500. If a victim suffers bodily injury, the penalty increases to a class A misdemeanor. Class A misdemeanors carry penalties of up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Felony. An assault involving injury becomes a third-degree felony if the defendant has any prior domestic assault convictions or the offense involved strangulation or suffocation. A third-degree felony conviction subjects the offender to 2 to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
(Tex. Penal Code §§ 12.21, 12.23, 12.34, 22.01 (2021).)
A person commits aggravated domestic assault in Texas when the assault causes serious bodily injury to another or involves the use or exhibition of a deadly weapon.
Serious bodily injury includes harm such as a broken bone, loss of limb, or injury requiring surgery or hospitalization. A deadly weapon can be any object that's capable of causing death or serious bodily injury and used in such a manner. Examples include a firearm, a large hunting knife, rope, or even a baseball bat.
If aggravated domestic assault involves a deadly weapon and causes serious bodily injury to the victim, the defendant commits a first-degree felony and faces 5 to 99 years or life in prison and a $10,000 fine. Any other aggravated domestic assault constitutes a second-degree felony, subjecting the offender to 2 to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
(Tex. Penal Code §§ 12.32, 12.33, 22.02 (2021).)
A person in Texas can be convicted of a felony for continuous violence against the family by committing two or more domestic assaults in 12 months. No requirements exist that the previous domestic assaults resulted in arrests or convictions or were committed against the same victim. Continuous violence against the family constitutes a third-degree felony and carries penalties of 2 to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
(Tex. Penal Code §§ 12.34, 25.11 (2021).)
Violating a family protective order, such as by having prohibited contact with the victim, constitutes a class A misdemeanor. The penalty for a class A misdemeanor includes up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. If the defendant has two or more convictions for violating a family protective order or violated the order by committing an assault or stalking, the resulting charge can be a third-degree felony. Repeated violations of an order within a 12-month period, even without a conviction, also constitute a third-degree felony. This felony-level offense carries 2 to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
(Tex. Penal Code §§ 12.21, 12.34, 25.07, 25.072 (2021).)
Texas law limits certain alternatives to a jail or prison sentence for offenders charged with or convicted of domestic assault. First-time offenders may have the opportunity for deferred adjudication but only if the judge finds it's in the best interest of the victim. Judges who place defendants convicted of family violence on community supervision—often called probation—in lieu of incarceration can impose special conditions. For instance, the court may require the defendant to attend battering intervention programs or attend counseling.
(Tex. Code Crim. Proc. §§ 42A.053, 42A.102, 42A.504 (2021).)
In addition to incarceration and fines, Texas law imposes the following conditions, restrictions, and penalties for family violence cases.
When police officers have probable cause to believe someone committed a crime involving family violence, they may arrest the suspect without a warrant. Law enforcement must remain at the scene of the incident, for as long as necessary, to verify the allegation and maintain the peace. Unlike some states, Texas law does not require a mandatory arrest for family violence calls.
Bond conditions in family violence cases may include ordering the defendant to stay away from and have no contact with the victim, requiring GPS monitoring, and prohibiting possession of firearms. After an arrest for a family violence offense involving serious bodily injury or a deadly weapon, the judge must issue an order of emergency protection. In other family violence matters, such orders are discretionary.
Before releasing a suspect, police officers must make a reasonable attempt to inform the victim of the pending release. The officer can hold the suspect for an additional four hours when immediate release could result in violence. A judge can order the defendant held up to 48 hours if the defendant has a history of family violence or used a weapon in the offense.
If a defendant violates a bond condition in a family violence case, the judge can revoke bail, which means the offender may have to sit in jail until trial, plea, or dismissal of charges.
A defendant convicted of a family violence offense loses the right to possess firearms. Generally, these restrictions are lifetime bans. Defendants may regain their firearm rights if the court expunges or sets aside the conviction or the defendant receives a pardon with civil liberties restored. Federal law contains a similar provision regarding firearm restrictions.
(Tex. Code Crim. Proc. §§ 5.04, 17.152, 17.29, 17.292, 17.49; Tex. Penal Code §§ 25.07, 46.04; 18 U.S.C. §§ 921, 922 (2021).)
If you've been charged with an offense involving family violence or a related crime, contact a local criminal defense attorney today. Any criminal conviction—even a misdemeanor—becomes part of your permanent criminal record. A domestic violence conviction can result in lasting negative consequences, including suspension or loss of an occupational license or your ability to own a firearm. An experienced attorney will review your case with you and discuss the options.