Family Violence Finding. What is it? And why is it so bad?
One of the most important aspects of a family violence allegation has to do with the family violence finding. If you are convicted of the charge and a family violence finding attaches, there are severe consequences that can affect the rest of your life. Some of the consequences are discussed in this article, but it is no substitute for legal advice. Be sure to go over all the consequences with your attorney if you are charged with assault-family violence.
What is a family violence finding?
A family violence finding attaches when a person is convicted of assaulting a family member, dating partner, or possibly even a roommate in some situations. It is an a punishment that is in addition to the normal misdemeanor or felony punishments of a fine and/or jail time.
A family violence finding can be made explicit in the record when the judge affirmatively states that there is a family violence finding, but it can also attach even if the judge says nothing. Even if a judge states specifically, on the record, that there is no family violence finding, a prosecutor in a different Court could convince a different judge otherwise in a future proceeding. It is crucial to understand that in many cases, the judge has no discretion to waive the family violence finding, even if he or she says so.
So, why is a family violence finding so bad? Not only does a family violence finding restrict your rights, but under current Texas law, it stays with you forever. That’s right, the family violence finding does not expire, nor can it be sealed or expunged.
With a family violence finding, you:
- Can never own or possess a gun
- Will face a felony charge in future family violence cases
- Can get deported if you are not a U.S. citizen
- May not be able to qualify for a PR bond if you are arrested in the future
- Cannot seal or expunge the arrest even with a deferred adjudication
- Will face social stigma from having a family violence charge
- May be less believable in the eyes of the police
Ok, let’s break down the consequences a little bit. If you own a gun, you would need to get rid of it. If a member of the same household owns a gun, they also would need to get rid of it or store it somewhere outside of the home. This is for life – the restriction does not expire
Family violence charges in the future are automatically charged as a felony. Even if the case is weak, or the facts are very mild, it is a felony charge and therefore more serious and costly to you – even if the charge is later dismissed.
If you are not a U.S. citizen, a family violence conviction – even a misdemeanor, is almost certain to get you deported. If you are charged with assault – or really any crime – it is a good idea to get the opinion of an immigration attorney in addition to you criminal defense attorney. Immigration consequences of a conviction can be very severe.
Senate Bill SB6 took effect in 2021-2022, and restricts who qualifies for a PR bond. A PR or Personal Recognizance bond allows a person to be released pending trial without having to pay a bond. However, now persons who have a family violence conviction in their past will be ineligible for a PR bond in most cases.
Most cases that end in a deferred adjudication can be sealed after successful completion of the probation and a waiting period. This is not the case with family violence assaults. In fact, a deferred adjudication in a family violence case may as well be a conviction because in most cases, the consequences are the same. You might think that a deferred adjudication would mean that there is no family violence finding since there wasn’t a conviction, but you would be wrong. The family violence finding attaches the same as if you were convicted of the charges.
Finally, the social stigma of a family violence finding is very real. It can affect future relationships, your ability to find housing or get a job. It can also leave you vulnerable to false charges in the future and police might assume guilt even without evidence.
How to avoid a family violence finding?
So now we know the reasons that the FV finding is so bad. Now let’s talk about avoiding it. It is possible to avoid it entirely in many cases, but to do this, you cannot take a conviction or agree to deferred adjudication. Either of these two results will lead to all the consequences listed above for life!
This means that you’re going to need a dismissal. You must force the prosecutor to at least consider trial. Often, once they take a good look at their case, they realize that it is weak in some area. Maybe a witness has holes in their story or is unavailable. Maybe there was no evidence of an assault and the witness is motivated to lie. There are infinite ways that a prosecutor’s case will seem much stronger until they take a good hard look and prepare for trial. And because of the severe consequences, that is exactly what you must do. Be wary of accepting any plea deal in a family violence case (with one exception – see below.)
The exception that proves the rule is something called a deferred prosecution. Despite a similar name, it is very different from a deferred adjudication. A deferred prosecution does not lead to a conviction. After you complete some classes, community service and perhaps some other requirements, your case is dismissed and can potentially be expunged. This option is not available in all jurisdictions. In Travis County, it is now called the Family Violence Intervention Program, or FVIP. I recommend FVIP to my clients when offered, but be careful of confusing this option with deferred adjudication.
Rob Chesnutt is an experienced criminal defense and personal injury attorney. With a principal office in Austin, Texas, his firm ATX Legal serves Travis, Hays and Williamson counties. This post is for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. If you would like legal advice on your specific case, we offer free case evaluations. Visit us at ATX.Legal.