Because there is a new victim of domestic violence every 24 minutes, this charge is taken very seriously. Like most other violent crimes, it’s very likely that this will result in a felony charge, especially if the damage is particularly severe. Domestic violence itself comes with an aggravating circumstance, as it involves a relationship with control over another, meaning that these laws are often heavily enforced, sometimes leading to immediate arrests before fully understanding the situation. Here’s the details on what makes this crime a felony, how it’s defined, what penalties come with it, and more.
What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence, often referred to as intimate partner violence, is an act of assault and/or battery typically involving an assaulter and victim in a committed relationship. It’s a crime of violence, typically pursed as felony charges because of the severity of the crime.
It holds even more weight over an assault and battery charge, as the judicial system lends an extra responsibility on offenders who take advantage of their victims because of a relationship, authority, or other factor that makes the victim particularly vulnerable. The National Institute of Corrections explains that, “the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other.”
Because of this, it’s necessary to be aware of the definitions of assault and battery, as these are basically the same actions in domestic violence, just including a more specific victim.
An assault doesn’t even take an actual act of violence to occur. This is a case where the attacker (in this case a partner or family member) threatens to cause harm to someone and provides reasonable proof that they intend on carrying it out. Often times, it’s also necessary to prove that the victim felt that severity and fear from the interaction.
Battery differs in that this requires actual physical abuse or contact. Domestic violence is also sometimes referred to as domestic battery, as the only real difference between physical domestic violence and battery is the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. This can involve anything from minor physical harm, such as: biting, scratching, slapping, pushing, etc.; to severe beating; to extreme harm resulting in serious bodily damage, such as disfigurement, disability, or amputation; all the way to death.
Types of Domestic Violence
There’s many ways besides just physical abuse that domestic violence can occur. Not all symptoms are as clear as bruising and cuts; sometimes the damage is more emotional, but still leaving someone with a fear of their life or safety. Additionally, sexual abuse can still occur even in a marriage, while there is the lesser crime of stalking.
Physical abuse is the most evident example of domestic violence. This can include anything that is intentionally causing harm to a partner or other domestic victim without their consent. More often than not, this will result in a more serious conviction the more severe the harm is. This is usually the most evident of the types of abuse, but not always, and it is more comparable to a battery charge with a special type of victim. However, it can be easier to produce evidence of physical abuse than some of the others.
Some types of physical abuse are:
- Using weapons
- Driving recklessly
- Force of drug abuse
Emotional abuse can include anything from threats (making this more of an assault crime), humiliation, controlling finances or other aspects of life with threats or force, or isolation. This type of abuse is a little harder to recognize, sometimes even for the victim themselves.
While it may not be talked about often, sexual abuse can also happen in domestic relationships, even ones where consensual sex is also occurring. It can range anywhere from sexual assault, where sexual contact is forced or coerced – whether with physical force, intimidation, or use of weapons, or even rape with forced penetration. Seen with domestic violence (and all sexual assaults really) can also be abuse during sex, such as being too harmful with touching, choking, hitting, and other abusive acts that are not consented to. Important things to note are that consent is required at all points during a sexual encounter, the individual must be mentally and physically capable of consenting, and use of weapons and other factors may result in aggravated charges. More often than not, sexual abuse crimes, domestic or not, are convicted as felonies.
This is more involving harassing someone, usually a former partner, by following them, showing up at their place of work or home, threatening damage to property (threatening their harm with reasonable intent behind it could qualify as assault), spreading rumors, texting or contacting on social media excessively, and any other behaviors that could be harmful, threatening, or fearful to the individual. This can also occur with current intimate partners, or anyone else domestically related, looking to exert control or fear over their victim.
What Relationships Qualify as Domestic Violence?
The type of relationship that qualifies as domestic violence can vary greatly over jurisdictions, making this a harder definition to really pin down. Most of the time, when a law is discussing domestic violence, it’s usually referring to intimate partner violence, or abuse between people in a relationship. However, domestic is a broad term, and it can sometimes blanket over some other categories as well. While they may have their own specific laws regarding them, children and the elderly can possibly be victims of domestic violence as well. Co-habitation is also a factor when defining domestic violence, so it’s possible for this to even extend to roommates in some cases.
Who is an intimate partner?
As far as the laws involving domestic violence go, an intimate partner is usually referring to a spouse, former spouse, someone they have or do live with, someone they have a child with, or sometimes even girl/boyfriends. Pretty much any partner, regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion, education, or age, can be a victim or offender of domestic violence.
Specifically, the federal law recognizes an intimate partner as:
(A) A spouse or former spouse of the abuser, a person who shares a child in common with the abuser, and a person who cohabits or has cohabited as a spouse with the abuser; orFederal Law 18 U.S.C. § 2266
(II) a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the abuser, as determined by the length of the relationship, the type of relationship, and the frequency of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship;
(B) any other person similarly situated to a spouse who is protected by the domestic or family violence laws of the State or tribal jurisdiction in which the injury occurred or where the victim resides.
Abuse of Children
Child abuse is obviously a crime in itself, but it is technically a form of domestic violence, perhaps even more so for more adult children not protected by minor laws. If a child’s parent or parent’s partner commits domestic violence with a partner, it can be likely that any children in the home are also being abused.
Some key indicators that this may be occurring are:
- Frequently noticing injuries with no explanation or are just “accidents”
- Often missing school
- Not bringing home friends
- Feeling fearful
- Extreme sadness and frequent crying
This crime can also be accompanied with emotional abuse, much like the abuse a partner would suffer from, and it becomes a crime when threats are followed up with proof of intent or genuine fear of the victim. Even more likely to be pursued differently – and perhaps more aggressively – is sexual abuse of a minor. Unfortunately, this may often accompany these other forms of abuse in a household.
It’s more likely that any abuse of a minor will be handled as a separate case of child abuse, but there are some states that may factor this into their definition of domestic violence. However, this crime usually comes with different penalties and trials than general domestic violence cases, especially as the statistic of children dying each day from child abuse nears five.
This is another type of domestic violence that is more likely to be tried differently from a normal domestic abuse case. However, this is something that happens commonly in the home, especially when the offender is the caretaker. Elderly abuse is another case where an offender has especial control over their victim, which often comes with heavier penalties.
Some states are particularly lenient with their definition of domestic when concerning domestic violence laws, sometimes even including roommates, as they technically cohabitate and can have a domestic relationship with the assaulter.
For example, Connecticut has a particularly broad idea of the term, including parents, anyone related by blood or even marriage, anyone living with or has previously lived with, anyone with whom they have a child with, and even just anyone who has recently been in a dating relationship with or has gone on a date with the victim.
Laws Involving Domestic Violence
The laws shaping the crime of domestic violence are not all new ones; this has been a long process, although probably more recent than one would expect. There are bills that define punishments that will accompany a conviction, as well as ones that help the victims of the convicted.
Violence Against Women Act
The laws involving felony domestic violence that we see today largely originated from the Violence Against Women Act that was passed in 1994 under Bill Clinton’s administration. It established the standard of domestic abuse being a crime, as well as allowed the federal court to pursue cases when they broach into their territory or just needs their assistance. While it specifically addresses women, this is applicable for all involved in cases of domestic violence.
Their purpose is summed up in the words of Joseph R. Biden Jr., one of its first supporters: “The bill has three broad, but simple, goals: to make streets safer for women; to make homes safer for women; and to protect women’s civil rights.”
It’s renewal every five years often comes with improvements, such as including dating violence, verbal assault, and more victims rights and resources. It was renewed again in 2019, further adding more support for the women and men involved in domestic violence cases.
The Gun Control Act
Originally passed in 1968, the Federal Gun Control Act places restrictions on some felons once they have served their sentence. However, they took it a step further in 1996 and extended the restriction on gun ownership to apply to even just domestic violence misdemeanors. It has three goals:
- Someone who has committed an act of violence, specifically domestically in this case, does not have the ability to responsibly hold a firearm. This prevents violence offenders from obtaining one, thus protecting potential victims.
- It will cut down on necessary responses from law enforcement or further danger all involved, as it makes it less likely for violent individuals to be using them in cases of domestic abuse.
- This act can potentially cause a conviction to stick on a defendant when the prosecution unjustly falls short on all other costs. Even if intent to harm cannot be proven, perhaps possession of the weapon itself can be enough to get a just conviction.
The Act defines a felon who falls under this restriction as one who,
“has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.”United States Department of Justice
When deciding on the severity of a punishment, it’s likely that the judge will consider the extent of the crimes, the situations involving them, whether there have been prior offenses, if a weapon was involved, and any other aggravating circumstances. Children being present when the assault occurs can also count as one of these cases.
Another determining factor is whether the state will press separate charges for domestic violence, along with assault and battery, or any other applicable convictions. If this is the case, prison time and fines are very likely to be considerably worse, and it’s more likely to be upgraded to a felony.
Prison and Fines
If it’s a misdemeanor, the prison time may only be up to a year and possibly come with a fine. This is more likely to occur in less damaging, first-time offender, or stalking cases.
However, a felony conviction – which most domestic violence cases, being violent crimes, will be – can result in many years in prison and a higher fine. It may also come with probation terms once the sentence is served.
These cases may also see punishments of paying restitution to the victim(s), involving medical bills – whether for treating physical or emotional wounds – and any other costs the victim may come into with the case, such as lawyer fees, costs for protective order filing, child-care, and anything else the court deems fit.
Like other violent crimes, this felony might also come with required anger management or rehabilitation programs in an attempt to ensure the crime will not occur again and they get the help needed. This can include community service hours required once released.
Loss of Rights
As usual, a felony charge will also come with any number of rights lost. This typically includes a loss of voting privileges, loss of custody, and – especially relevant here – gun ownership rights. As the Gun Control Act protects, those charged with domestic violence are not able to obtain, own, or operate a firearm.
Additionally, domestic violence convictions can also result in the loss of a green card or other immigration status, which can cause the offender to run the risk of being deported (8 U.S.C. § 1227).
A protective order is something that quite commonly accompanies domestic violence charges, sometimes being put into place before an official trial is held for the case. While the terms and cases involving this may differ from state-to-state, this is generally just filing an order that states that the offender must cease the abuse, or even stay away from the victim and their spaces. If the assaulter fails to uphold the protective order, they run the risk of being arrested and charged for a violation, which sometimes can occur even if a case for domestic violence can’t be made.
Domestic violence is a crime that’s held to a high set of penalties, as it can be lead to further harm and even death. There are measures put into place in order to protect victims, hopefully encouraging them to come forward and put an end to the abuse. While the term is rather broad across states, domestic violence will often result in a felony charge, depending on aggravating circumstances. It’s important to be aware of what constitutes as domestic abuse, what charges and penalties come with it, and the laws that surround it.