What You Need To Know About Texas Domestic Violence Laws

This is a multi-part blog post dealing with what you need to know about Texas domestic violence laws.  I will discuss the issues upon arrest & consequences of a conviction or plea bargain in Texas domestic violence cases.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is defined as “an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself.” Tex. Fam. Code § 71.004.

What is a domestic violence offense?

There is not a Texas penal code statute entitled “Assault — Domestic Violence.” Despite what offense may have been written on the magistrate’s warning or bail bond, the actual offense is typically for “Assault.” In Texas, an assault offense can range from a Class C misdemeanor (similar to traffic citation) to a felony. The charge is a Class C misdemeanor if the physical contact is merely regarded as “offensive” or “provocative.” In those situations, the suspect usually receives a citation and promises to appear later in a Municipal Court where the maximum punishment is by fine up to $500.

The vast majority of family violence cases are charged as Class A misdemeanors in which it is alleged the defendant caused “bodily injury” to the victim. In cases in which “serious bodily injury” is alleged, the offense is characterized as a felony. It also will be a felony if “the defendant has been previously convicted of an offense against a member of the defendant’s family or household.”

What evidence do the police need to make an arrest?

An officer must arrest if probable cause exists to believe that bodily injury has occurred.

Do the police need a warrant to arrest me?

Texas state law authorizes the police to make an arrest without a warrant of:

“persons who the peace officer has probable cause to believe have committed an assault resulting in bodily injury to a member of the person’s family or household.” Tex. Code. Crim. Proc. Art. 14.03 (a) (4).

This legal authorization leads to an automatic arrest or “zero tolerance” policy by many police departments. Once a call for assistance was made to a “911” operator regarding a domestic disturbance, someone is going to jail if there is any evidence, credible or not, of bodily injury.

 

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