Austin Family Violence Attorney
Austin Family Violence (Domestic Violence) Lawyer
Domestic violence is a serious issue that affects many individuals and families in Texas. The intimate nature of the crime – or alleged crime – also means that there are unfortunately many false accusations of domestic violence. The physical or mental injury caused by domestic abuse can be significant, and courts treat it harshly. If you or someone you know is facing charges for domestic violence, it’s important to seek legal representation from a skilled and experienced Austin domestic violence defense attorney. This page includes general information, but does not consider the specific circumstances of your particular case. A free consultation with a criminal defense attorney will help you understand your legal rights.
Contact Domestic Violence Attorney Rob Chesnutt
If you or someone you know is facing charges for domestic violence, it’s important to seek legal representation from a skilled and experienced Austin domestic violence defense attorney. Call ATX Legal at 512-677-5003 or fill out a contact form for a free initial consultation with a criminal defense attorney.
Assault against a Family MemberUnder Texas criminal law, an individual can be charged with assault for intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing physical injury to another person. If the act is committed against a family member, as in the case of spousal abuse, the offense is typically classified as a Class A misdemeanor offense. However, this can escalate to a third-degree felony if the defendant has been previously convicted of domestic abuse. Furthermore, if the domestic assault leads to serious bodily harm or involves a deadly weapon, it could be deemed an aggravated assault, a felony. If there is some question as to whether the aggravated assault should have been charged as a felony offense, a domestic violence attorney can raise the issue with the court.
Release On Bond for a DV Assault ChargeAs with all violent crimes, people who facing criminal charges for a domestic violence allegation often see more jail time than in other types of cases. Judges do not want to release someone who later goes on to commit a more serious crime. To prevent this, the Judge will often wait to release a defendant until there is a “cooling off” period. A domestic violence defense attorney can speak with the judge at this time and potentially lessen or remove the cooling off period, reducing initial jail time after a domestic assault arrest. Once released from county jail, there will often be conditions such as no contact with the alleged victim, a mandatory ankle monitor, anger management classes, or in extreme cases, even house arrest. Sometimes these conditions can be removed in the months following release. Again, a domestic violence lawyer can have input into these conditions.
Emergency Restraining Order for Domestic Assault ChargesA judge may also issue an emergency protective order (EPO) after an arrest for domestic violence or spousal abuse. This is to protect the alleged victim from further harm and can include provisions such as no contact with the victim or being required to stay away from their home or workplace. The restraining order can be a stand-alone order, or be part of the bond conditions and can lead to jail time if violated. Violating any of these conditions while out on bond can result in additional criminal charges, more jail time, and potentially harsher penalties in the future. Criminal defense attorneys should explain these conditions to the alleged abuser so he or she does not accidentally violate the conditions.
Who is Included as a Family Member Under Texas LawUnder Texas law, the definition of a family member for the purposes of a domestic violence laws is broad and includes current or former spouses, individuals who have a child together, people related by blood or marriage (including stepchildren and stepparents), and anyone currently living in the same household or who has lived together in the past. Additionally, Texas criminal law also includes individuals who are dating or have dated in the past as potential victims of domestic violence. This means that even if there was no romantic relationship involved, any physical assault or threat of harm towards someone you were romantically involved with could lead to domestic violence charges.
Domestic Violence PenaltiesUnder Texas domestic violence laws, the penalties for domestic violence assault vary depending on the severity of the offense and the offender’s prior convictions. For a first-time offender, a domestic violence assault charge is typically considered a Class A misdemeanor, which can result in up to one year in jail, a fine up to $4,000, or both. However, if the offender has a previous domestic violence conviction, the charge is enhanced to a third-degree felony. This carries a potential sentence of 2 to 10 years in a state prison and a fine up to $10,000. Furthermore, if the assault resulted in serious bodily harm or if a deadly weapon was used during the assault, the charge can be elevated to a first-degree felony with a potential sentence of 5 to 99 years or life in prison, and a fine up to $10,000. If charged with felony domestic abuse, a domestic violence lawyer may be able to have the charge reduced to misdemeanor.
Collateral Consequences of Intimate Partner ViolenceBesides these penalties under criminal law, a conviction can also result in collateral consequences such as loss of child custody rights, a social stigma, and difficulty in finding employment or housing.
Issues for Child Custody CasesThe effects of a domestic violence case extend beyond the courtroom. One significant collateral consequence can be in relation to custody orders. If a parent is found guilty of domestic violence, it could greatly impact their custody or visitation rights for their children. A case will usually be opened with Child Protective Services, and they may investigate for signs of child abuse or child endangerment. Any history of violence or allegation of child abuse could be viewed as putting the child at risk. At ATX Legal, we are criminal defense attorneys, so we handle the domestic violence charge, but we do not represent clients for family law cases at the present time. You may need to seek a family lawyer in addition to your domestic violence lawyer if facing custody issues.
Social Stigma of Domestic Violence ChargesThe ripple effect of a domestic violence case can also extend beyond the law to your relationships, causing strain or anxiety. Thus, it’s not just the legal penalties of domestic violence that one needs to consider, but also your current relationship with your significant other, your friends, and your family.
Issues for EmploymentA domestic violence conviction, especially a felony offense, can profoundly affect employment prospects. Employers often conduct criminal background checks, and a conviction can lead to job loss or difficulty finding new employment. In certain professions, particularly those involving trust or safety, such as education, healthcare, law enforcement, or roles involving children, a record of domestic violence can be especially detrimental. Additionally, the time required for court appearances and the overall stress of the situation can negatively impact job performance and productivity. A good Domestic violence lawyer knows how important it is to keep working and will do what we can to help you keep your job. At ATX Legal, our criminal defense attorneys can provide guidance even outside the courtroom.
Related OffensesOther than assault, domestic violence can also manifest in other offenses under Texas law. Two common charges in Texas are interference with an emergency call and unlawful restraint. These might be charged in conjunction with domestic assault charges, or can stand alone.
Interference with an Emergency CallA person commits a criminal offense if they knowingly prevent or interfere with another individual’s ability to place an emergency call or to request assistance, including a request for emergency medical assistance, in the event of a perceived threat or actual occurrence of a crime. This crime is typically classified as a Class A misdemeanor, but can be elevated to a state jail felony if the offender has previously been convicted of the same offense. Additional charges like this are considered as a significant factor when handling the underling domestic violence charge.
Unlawful Restraint“Unlawful Restraint” occurs when an individual knowingly restrains another person, infringing upon their personal liberty, without consent or legal justification. Unlawful restraint involves intentionally or knowingly restraining another person. This could take form in a variety of ways, such as physical force, threat, or intimidation. It is typically categorized as a Class A misdemeanor. However, it can escalate to a state jail felony if the person restrained is a minor aged 14 years or less. In instances where the offender exposes the victim to serious bodily injury or uses or exhibits a deadly weapon during the commission of the offense, it is considered a third-degree felony.
Domestic Violence OutcomesA domestic violence lawyer is going to have a big role in the outcome of the case. There is a wide range of outcomes. The best defense will consider whether the accused acted in self defense, or if there is evidence that the allegations are completely fabricated. The Travis County Prosecutor’s domestic violence unit typically handles cases in County Court 4, and they handle domestic abuse cases all day, every day. If charged in Travis County, you should find a criminal defense attorney with experience in County Court #4.
Dismissal of the ChargeDespite the factors listed above, many domestic violence cases end in dismissal. Why? Let’s get into it. First, there are a lot of false accusations. Unfortunately, there are some women and men who use law enforcement and the justice system to cause their partner or ex-partner pain. There are a lot of toxic relationships out there, and there are people willing to go to extremes. Second, there are many cases where the accuser has second thoughts and does not wish to “press charges.” Contrary to what some people think, this does NOT mean that the prosecuting attorney will immediately drop the charges. However, it can lead to favorable plea offers, and/or dismissals. Third, domestic violence allegations are often difficult to prove because usually they happen in private. Often, one of the parties was merely defending themselves. Police officers have to make a determination based on incomplete information, and sometimes they will make an arrest solely to separate the arguing couple. Fortunately, in court, the State must show that the assault happened beyond a reasonable doubt, and this is a much more difficult burden. Family Violence cases are very serious, but they also have the lowest conviction rate – often because of a lack of evidence to support the charge. If dismissed, an expunction can erase the charge from your criminal record.
Pretrial DiversionIn domestic violence cases, pretrial diversion can be a very favorable outcome. This is designed to divert certain offenders to community-based services, such as counseling and treatment programs. One such example of this is the Travis County Family Violence Intervention Program (FVIP). The Travis County FVIP is a pretrial diversion program for individuals charged with misdemeanor domestic violence offenses. Participants are typically required to attend educational classes and of course refrain from further domestic violence. The FVIP program can offer accused individuals an opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction. It may not be appropriate for repeat offenders or those involved in cases with severe violence. If offered, your domestic violence attorney will likely advise you to consider it carefully.
TrialFor individuals who have never been charged with domestic violence, I do not usually recommend that they accept a criminal conviction or deferred adjudication, because both of these lead to a family violence finding. Therefore, if there is not a good plea offer on the table, trial might be the best option to get favorable results. The decision to proceed to trial or accept a plea deal is ultimately up to the defendant. Going to trial can be a lengthy and emotionally taxing process, but it also provides the opportunity for the defendant to present their side of the story and potentially be found not guilty. On the other hand, accepting a plea deal typically means pleading guilty to a lesser offense in exchange for a reduced sentence. This can avoid the stress and expense of going to trial, but it also means accepting responsibility for the crime and potentially facing consequences such as probation, fines, or even jail time.
The “Cycle of Violence”Prosecutors often cite the “cycle of violence” to shed light on the recurring patterns of aggressive behavior in domestic violence cases. This cycle typically involves three phases: tension building, acute violence, and a honeymoon period. In the tension-building phase, minor incidents may lead to escalated disputes, creating an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. The acute violence phase is characterized by intense, often physical, confrontations. After the eruption, the honeymoon phase ensues, marked by remorse, reconciliation, and promises to change. Prosecutors often cite the cycle of violence when they fail to drop charges even without cooperation from the accuser.
Family Violence FindingUnder Texas Law, the Family Violence finding is mandatory for any assault involving a family member. It cannot be waived by the prosecutor or judge. The consequences of an FV finding are that future Domestic Violence charges are elevated to a felony and the defendant may not possess a gun for life.
FAQs About Domestic Violence CasesQ: Can I have the restraining order lifted? A: In some cases, yes. It will require a court hearing where the protected individual will have to demonstrate to a judge that lifting the restraining order will not put them at risk of further violence. Q: The charges were completely fabricated – will this still be on my record? A: If you have been wrongfully accused of domestic violence and the charges were dismissed, you may have the ability to expunge the charge from your record. However, this process can be complex and may require the assistance of an expungement attorney. Q: I’m back together with my significant other. Will the charges be dropped? A: Not necessarily. The choice to drop charges generally lies with the prosecutor, not the victim of the alleged crime. Even if a victim recants their allegations, a prosecutor may choose to pursue the charges if they believe they have enough evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Travis County Guide to Domestic Violence ChargesATX Legal Domestic Violence Lawyer Rob Chesnutt has created a guide specifically tailored for Travis County domestic violence cases. Jump to a chapter below, or download the free pdf.
- Domestic Violence Arrest and Bond
- Bond Conditions and Protective Orders
- The Court Process and Criminal Proceedings
- Burden of Proof
- The Family Violence Finding
- FVIP and Pretrial Diversion
- Felony Enhancements
- Criminal History
- About the Author
- Helpful Resources