In Texas, domestic abuse is a criminal offense classified as “Assault Causing Bodily Injury to a Family Member.” Domestic abuse charges are extremely serious and, if followed by a conviction, can have devastating effects on your freedom and future.
Have you been wrongfully accused of committing domestic abuse? You only get one chance to keep your reputation clean and your future protected. The Dallas/Fort Worth domestic abuse defense lawyers at Westfall Sellers can help.
The following domestic violence information provides you with a rough guide to what to do if you or a loved one has been accused of assault of a family member.
What is domestic abuse (i.e. assault causing bodily injury to a family member)?
Assault is a criminal offense that covers a broad spectrum of conduct and punishment ranges. Specifically, assault of a family member means any contact that causes bodily injury to a family member, with
- Bodily injury being defined as causing physical pain, illness, or impairment of physical condition, and
- Family member being defined as anyone that lives with you, anyone you’re related to, or anyone who you’re dating or have dated.
In other words, if you cause pain to any family member, you can be charged.
Domestic abuse charges and penalties
The type of charges and penalties you may receive as a result of being accused of domestic abuse will depend on the circumstances of your case.
- Class A Misdemeanor: Any assault that causes bodily injury to a family member starts as a Class A Misdemeanor, which carries up to 1 year of jail time and up to $4,000 in fines. The charge can then be enhanced under certain circumstances.
- Third-Degree Felony: the offense becomes a Third-Degree Felony (2-10 years in prison, up to $10,000 in fines) if it is alleged the breathing or circulation was stopped or if you have either been previously convicted of assault to a family member or received deferred adjudication for the same offense.
- First-Degree Felony: the offense becomes a First-Degree Felony (5-99 years in prison, up to $10,000 in fines) if a deadly weapon is used during the incident.
What to do if you have been accused of domestic abuse
If you or a loved one have recently been accused of causing bodily injury to a family member, you may be struggling with what to do next. It’s natural to want to defend yourself from these accusations but, at the same time, you don’t want to somehow incriminate yourself when trying to prove your innocence.
From our extensive experience in these matters, the domestic abuse defense lawyers at Westfall Sellers can confidently recommend that you follow these 3 steps before making any additional moves.
1. Exercise your right to remain silent
DO NOT try to talk or explain your way out of a domestic abuse charge — especially to the police. In that moment, the nature of the police’s work makes it impossible for them to be your friends, buddies, or pals; they are there to quickly defuse the situation, understand what happened, and make an arrest. So while it may be difficult or feel disrespectful, the best thing you can do in this case is to exercise your right to remain silent.
2. Get a lawyer as soon as possible
A lawyer has the ability to stop your case from being filed. Lawyers can access records of the investigation, help explain your story to law enforcement, and perform other tasks the accused either cannot or should not attempt. Contact the attorneys at Westfall Sellers for a confidential consultation to discuss how we can help defend you against an assault allegation.
3. Work with your lawyer to prepare your defense
Your Tarrant County domestic abuse defense attorney will begin by gathering evidence. You should not try to find evidence by contacting your accuser or going to your accuser’s house. Instead, start by providing all of the details to your attorney so they can develop your story. In particular, you can:
- Gather all messages and communications that your accuser sent you before, during, and after the alleged incident, and give those to your attorney.
- Make a list of witnesses or persons of interest who might have information and give that to your attorney.
- Help your lawyer prepare your defense by preserving other evidence.
Keep in mind: Anything, no matter how bland or unimportant it may seem, may be the key to a positive result.
What is the investigation process in a case involving assault of a family member charges?
After the initial allegation, a detective will be assigned to investigate the case. This investigation might involve little time and work, like simply reviewing the reports, statements, and videos taken from the incident. But it may also be very comprehensive and complex, consisting of new interviews and searches for new evidence.
Once the investigation ends, the case is either filed with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office or closed without filing.
The investigation process highlights why it is so important to hire an attorney without delay. This process offers your lawyer an opportunity to provide the detective with evidence that discredits the allegations or even shows they are downright false. This opportunity could mean the difference between the case being filed or closed without a formal charge.
What happens after your domestic abuse case is filed?
In Tarrant County, there are three specific courts that handle the majority of Misdemeanor Assault of a Family Member cases. The primary court is County Criminal Court No. 5 (CCC5), which handles only Assault of a Family Member cases.
In most situations, CCC5 allows only two court appearances before the accused must make a decision to plea, take the case to a jury trial, or agree on an alternative disposition. The secondary courts allow for more court appearances, but the process largely remains the same.
If the case is a felony, it will be assigned to one of 10 felony district courts and must go through the grand jury indictment process. This provides an additional opportunity to have your case dismissed or reduced. Preparing a grand jury packet is an important decision and should not be used in every case. While it may lead to your case being dismissed or reduced, it also provides the prosecutor with information they may not have had that can be used against you at trial.
No matter if your case is filed as a misdemeanor or a felony, the attorneys at Westfall Sellers know the best method—start the preparation and investigation early, which allows us to make an informed, strategic decision in our clients’ best interests.
Are there alternatives to disposition?
Tarrant County has a few disposition alternatives available to individuals charged with Assault of a Family Member. They include Partners Abuse Intervention and Prevention (“PAIP”), Batterer’s Intervention and Prevention (“BIPP”), and conditional dismissal.
PAIP is provided through a local shelter and consists of a 22-week, 36-hour group counseling program. The program covers a range of topics designed to deescalate confrontations, strengthen relationships, economic stability, and co-parenting situations. In addition to the group therapy sessions, you will complete a progress report with a court liaison. At the conclusion of the program, you will provide the judge with what you have learned, and the case can be dismissed.
BIPP is a shorter program, only 10-weeks, that covers some of the same topics. Unfortunately, Tarrant County only offers BIPP on rare occasions.
The other alternative is a conditional dismissal, which basically means you complete a number of conditions upfront in return for a dismissal. The conditions are determined on a case-by-case basis and include community service, donations to local shelters, and counseling. Not everyone is eligible for these alternatives. Moreover, even if you are eligible, it still might not be in your best interest.
Contact a Dallas/Fort Worth domestic violence defense attorney at Westfall Sellers
The lawyers at Westfall Sellers have extensive experience helping our clients navigate domestic violence investigations and successfully handling cases involving assault of a family member charges. From the first accusation to trial, we know the best steps you can take to protect yourself from false allegations.
If you or a loved one has been accused of assault of a family member, it’s essential that you move quickly. At Westfall Sellars, we start preparing an investigation early, which in turn helps our clients make an informed, strategic decision based on their best interests.
This is not time to take unnecessary chances. Call Westfall Sellers at 817-928-4222 or contact us online today.