Domestic Violence–Criminal Justice Minute
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) defines domestic violence as the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically. NCADV reports that:
– In 2013, 76,704 victims reported abuse by current or former Texas spouses. Many others went unreported.
– In 2014, Texas domestic violence hotlines answered 185,373 calls
– In 2012, 114 Texan women were killed by intimate partners, over 10% of the national total
– 75% of Texas 16-24 year olds have either experienced dating violence or know another young person who has
– In 2013, 31% of victims/survivors of domestic violence requesting shelter were turned away due to lack of resources.
In Texas, domestic violence can be prosecuted in both misdemeanor and felony courts. In misdemeanor court domestic violence is statistically one of the top four offenses on our docket. Domestic violence occurs in assault, terroristic threat, harassment, criminal trespass, criminal mischief, and weapons offenses.
Harris County Criminal Courts-at-Law resolve these cases both in trials and in pre-trial interventions, community supervision and jail sentences. The convicting court will designate the case, if factually warranted, with a factual “affirmative finding of family violence” that has collateral consequences for defendants. One consequence is that if the defendant re-offends, they can be charged with a third-degree felony regardless of whether the first case was a misdemeanor and the second offense would have otherwise been a misdemeanor charge. If the finding involves an “intimate partner” there are federal consequences including the prohibition of possession and transfer of firearms and firearm ammunition.
Complainants / victims of domestic violence in Texas have many pre-trial protections, including the setting of conditions of bond prohibiting all or specified contact between the defendant and complainant, as well as emergency orders of protection. Our criminal and family courts are authorized under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure and Family Code to designate complainants and their families as “protected individuals,” and to order defendants to stay away from residences and places of employment or schools. Complainants can request these orders at the time of their police complaint, and if not requested, the State can make these requests as they deem appropriate. Defendants violating these orders can be re-arrested and held without bail, charged with the new offense as well as a separate offense called Violation of Protective Orders. Sentences on all these subsequent offenses can run consecutively by court order.
Complainants sometimes decide later to seek dismissal of the charge against their partners, but the state is not required to dismiss, and it may proceed to trial without their cooperation. US Supreme Court and Texas case law upholds domestic violence convictions without live testimony of complainants, sometimes based upon admissible hearsay, 911 recordings and testimony of third parties.
When defendants are convicted by plea or trial, they are often placed on community supervision with terms and conditions requiring batterer intervention classes, anger management classes, restitution, counseling for children who witnessed the assault, no contact orders, and other rehabilitative modalities.
I take these cases very seriously to ensure that defendants receive due process of law, and that complainants receive all rights granted to them in our codes and statutes.