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Family Violence Charges In Travis County

In addition to Assault, there are a number of charges that still fall under the family violence umbrella.  Sometimes these charges are tacked on to an assault charge, but they can often be charged by themselves. Additional charges like these can easily be added to another crime if not defended against correctly. That’s why representation from an experienced Austin family violence attorney is so crucial. Some of the more common family violence charges are listed below:

 

Terroristic Threat (22.07)

The term “terroristic threat” makes it sound like people are bombing buildings, but that’s not the case.  Any threat that places a person in fear of imminent or serious bodily injury can qualify as a terroristic threat.  Although not limited to family violence cases, it often occurs in that context.  And when it is a domestic violence situation, the charge elevates from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor, with potential jail time of up to one year.

The threat can be verbal, or by text message, or other written means.  Because this charge involves the threat of violence, but not actual violence, there is no finding of Family Violence for terroristic threat.  This is important when it comes to protecting against future consequences.

Harassment (42.07)

Harassment is one way that people can run afoul of the law without any violence.  A person commits harassment if, with intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass another, he or she threatens, repeatedly calls or texts, or engages in a long laundry list of behaviors that would bother someone.  It’s a very broad statute and it gives prosecutors the power to charge a wide range of behaviors. If they decide to use – or abuse – their prosecutorial discretion, this is one of the statutes they can use.

One important point is that harassment is a “specific intent” crime.  That is, the prosecutor must prove that the person specifically intended to harass, annoy, etc.  it’s not enough that they merely engaged in the behavior.  Still, the prosecutor can charge a frighteningly long list of behaviors.

Stalking (42.072)

Stalking is a strange charge from a legal perspective because in the American Justice System, we only prosecute for actual crimes, not “thought” crimes.  This can be a bad system for preventing future misdeeds, but for obvious reasons, we chose to make that type of policing unconstitutional.

Therefore, when evaluating a stalking charge it is important to focus on the actual conduct that has been observed.  Stalking is basically harassment that takes place on two or more occasions and is directed at a specific person.  It can also be stalking if the behavior would cause a reasonable person to fear bodily injury or death.  Note here that the standard is how a reasonable person would have felt from the threats, not whether the alleged victim actually felt that way.

One other element of stalking has drawn criticism from courts as being overbroad.  The prosecutor must show that the behavior causes the other person to “feel harassed, annoyed, alarmed, abused, tormented, embarrassed, or offended.”  I don’t know about you, but to me, it seems that almost any kind of behavior could fit into this definition.  Do we really want to make it a crime to make someone else feel embarrassed or annoyed?  Now, there’s more to it than that, obviously, but Stalking is charged as a Third-degree felony with a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison.  I would hope that the standard would be higher than the embarrassment of the other person. 

Interference with a 911 call (42.062)

It is common for interference with a 911 call to be charged along with a family violence assault.  It is charged if a person knowingly prevents another person from placing an emergency call, or recklessly renders unusable a device – like a phone when that person is trying to request assistance in an emergency situation.  Interference with an emergency request for assistance is charged as a class A misdemeanor but bumps up to a state jail felony if the person has been previously convicted for the same offense.

This is another charge that could theoretically come up outside of a family violence setting, but in practice rarely does.  Often it is much easier to prove this charge than it is to prove a domestic violence assault.  That is because the evidence is often the 911 call itself.  If a person is speaking to the 911 operator and is suddenly interrupted, that is clear evidence that someone is interfering with the call.  The same can be said for a damaged phone.  A smashed device is a very good evidence for the prosecution in these cases.  

Because these charges are easier to prove, sometimes the prosecutor will “split the difference” by dropping the more serious assault charge but convicting under interference with an emergency call.  Whether this is a good idea for the defendant depends on the totality of the circumstances.  A good family violence attorney in Travis County will break down all the pros and cons of such a plea before agreeing.

Unlawful Restraint (20.02)

Unlawful restraint is often charged in cases where one actor does not allow the alleged victim to leave.  If the actor physically holds them down this would usually be charged as assault.  Unlawful Restraint can be charged in addition to the assault, or in cases where no assault has occurred, like if the person is not allowed to leave the room or house.

Unlawful restraint is a class A misdemeanor but can be charged as a third-degree felony if recklessly exposes the alleged victim to a substantial risk of bodily injury.  The most common case for this type of enhancement is when the defendant is driving in a reckless manner and refuses to let the passenger out of the car.  

Defenses Family Violence Charges

Many of the charges listed above require specific intent.  In those cases, a good criminal defense attorney will force the prosecution to show with real evidence the intent of the actor.  In some cases, the extrinsic evidence pointing to intent is weak or does not exist.  

Other cases boil down to he said/she said.  It is essential to point out cases where there is little or no evidence beyond the word of the alleged victim.  Most of the time, this situation leads to at least some reasonable doubt.  Although it’s never comfortable to blame an alleged victim, it is also essential to look into their credibility.  It is an unfortunate fact that false accusations are common in domestic violence cases.

Contact an Experienced Austin Family Violence Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one is charged with unlawful restraint, harassment, stalking, or some other charge related to domestic violence, you should contact a trusted Austin family violence attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case.  We offer a free case evaluation by phone or Zoom.

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