What Constitutes Family Violence in Texas? Laws, Penalties, and Defenses

When stress and tension increase in a relationship, the potential for family members to get into a fight increases. If you have been involved in a heated argument, you may have taken things too far. A one-time mistake should not ruin the rest of your life. If you are convicted of domestic violence, you will have a permanent criminal record that will limit your future opportunities. Unfortunately, many people accused of domestic violence have been falsely accused. When you work with the Plano criminal defense attorneys at Wilder Law Firm, you can rest assured that we will aggressively defend you and your rights. 

* Please note: All articles on this blog are for informative purposes only, and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are being accused of a crime, please contact our law firm directly for professional representation.

Texas Domestic Violence Laws

There is no specific statute for domestic violence in Texas. Dating or family violence falls under the Texas assault statute. However, the defendant faces additional penalties and restrictions when the assault is against a family member, someone in a dating relationship, or someone in the same household. Domestic violence involving simple assault happens when someone intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:

  • Causes bodily injury to another person
  • Threatens another person with imminent bodily injury, or 
  • Causes physical contact with another person while knowing, or reasonably should have known, that the person would find it offensive or provocative

Aggravated assault happens when a person commits a simple assault, and:

  • Uses or exhibits a deadly weapon during the commission of the assault, or
  • Causes serious bodily injury to another person, including a spouse

Who is Considered a Family or Household Member?

The relationship between the alleged domestic abuser and the alleged victim is important in the criminal charge. The relationship can increase a misdemeanor to a felony charge or raise the degree of a felony offense. Under Texas law, the special relationship of domestic assault includes Family Violence, household member violence, and dating violence.  

Family violence happens when one person commits an act against a family member intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault. Family violence can also include someone making a threat that reasonably places a family member in fear of imminent harm, injury, or assault. The following individuals who are related by blood or marriage are considered family under the Texas’ domestic violence laws:

  • Spouse
  • Former spouse
  • Parents of the same child
  • Adopted children
  • Foster children
  • Foster parents
  • Children
  • Grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Siblings
  • Aunts and uncles
  • Cousins 

Dating violence is illegal in Texas and involves violence against a victim with whom the actor has had or currently has a dating relationship. Household domestic violence occurs when a member who lives in the same dwelling without regard to the relationship. It also includes a person who previously lived in a household. 

Penalties for a Texas Domestic Violence Conviction

Prosecutors can bring domestic violence charges as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances of the alleged crime. The penalties imposed for a domestic violence conviction depend on the facts of the case and the severity of the charge. If there was no provocative or offensive physical contact involved in the alleged domestic violence, the defendant will face Class C misdemeanor charges. The punishments include a fine of up to $500.

When the defendant caused bodily injury to a family or household member, they will face a Class A misdemeanor charge which carries up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $4,000. The most serious domestic violence charge is a third-degree felony. A defendant can face third-degree felony charges when:

  • The defendant has a previous conviction for this offense
  • The defendant caused bodily injury to a family or household member, or 
  • The assault involves impeding breath/circulation

The conviction for third-degree felony domestic violence includes between two and 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Texas has also created a family violence enhancement when it comes to any crime involving family members, such as child abuse or sex abuse of a family member. As a result, assault convictions involving family violence carry harsher penalties than other types of assault. Convictions can lead to longer jail sentences, higher fines, and an inability to possess or own a firearm. 

Defenses for Domestic Violence Charges in Texas

Many instances of domestic violence are false accusations. When police officers show up to a domestic violence call, they often place a person under arrest without hearing their side of the story or allowing them to explain what really happened. They may not take the time necessary to investigate the truth of the matter before making an arrest. As a result, many Texas residents are falsely accused of domestic violence. 

In breakups, divorces, and child custody battles, a former spouse or partner may make up accusations of domestic violence to punish someone out of anger or jealousy. One parent may try to accuse the other parent of domestic violence as a way to gain a strategic advantage in a child custody matter. 

Prosecutors need to prove that domestic violence occurred beyond a reasonable doubt. If you have been falsely accused, your attorney can work with you to gather evidence showing that you were falsely accused. You may be able to use an affirmative defense to your domestic violence charge by stating that you were acting to protect yourself or other people. For example, if the person who accused you was beating your child and you shoved your ex out of the way to protect your child, you would have an affirmative defense to domestic violence charges.

About Doug Wilder | Wilder Law Firm

Founding partner Doug Wilder began his legal career as a prosecutor, which he did from 1995-2000.  After prosecuting thousands of DWI’s and teaching police officers how to be more effective, he took all of his skill and knowledge and applied it to defending people, many of whom are wrongly accused. Doug Wilder is also a Field Sobriety Test Instructor and has taught the Student Field Sobriety Test Course around the country, and continues to be involved in teaching police officers as well.

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