In Texas, family violence offenses are taken seriously. From the initial arrest to the resolution of the case, various processes are in place to ensure that the alleged victim is protected and that the person found guilty of wrongdoing is punished for their actions. In this blog, we’ll look at some of the processes involved in family violence cases.
What Is Family Violence?
Also referred to as domestic violence, family violence is when a person harms their family or household member, or dating partner.
A family or household member includes:
- Former spouse
- Biological parents of the same child
- Foster parents and children
- Relatives by blood or marriage
- Current or former members of the same household
A dating partner is a person with whom an individual has or had a romantic or intimate relationship.
For an offense to be considered family violence, it must cause bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault to an individual listed above. However, physical harm does not always have to result for a person to be arrested for domestic violence. Even threats that make a family or household member fear that they are in imminent danger of harm can give rise to legal prosecution.
A family violence offense – whether or not it results in physical injury – can adversely impact the alleged victim. For example, they can suffer psychological or emotional harm. This, in turn, can lead to dangerous behavior, such as drug use, which can cause further harm.
Because of the effects family violence has on not just the individuals involved in the incident but also the community as a whole, Texas’ Legislatures have stated that it’s necessary for law enforcement officials to do everything they can to protect alleged victims. Additionally, people who have suffered harm at the hands of a family member, household member, or dating partner can seek legal remedies to obtain further protections.
What Are the Processes of a Family Violence Case?
A family violence matter may progress through a series of stages:
The Initial Report
Typically, a family violence matter begins with a report to law enforcement about an alleged incident of violence or threatened violence. The report can be made by the person experiencing the harm or a witness, such as a child present in the home or a neighbor.
If the responding officer has reason to believe that the alleged offender has harmed and/or will continue to harm a family or household member, they can arrest the individual.
The Order of Protection
After the family violence incident has been reported, the officer will inform the alleged victim that they have the right to apply for an order of protection. If a judge approves this request, the alleged offender will be prohibited from contacting the victim in any way. Generally, a violation of the order is a felony offense, which means the alleged offender can suffer additional penalties if found guilty of the family violence offense and a protective order violation.
The Criminal Complaint
The officer will complete a statement about the offense. Their report must include the names of the people involved, the date and time of the incident, and the injuries the alleged victim sustained – whether the officer saw them or was told of them by the alleged victim. The officer will also send a report of the incident to the Department of Family and Protective Services.
The Prosecution’s Review
The officer provides a prosecutor with their report of the alleged family violence incident. If the prosecutor believes enough evidence exists to pursue the case, they will file official charges. Note that it is the prosecutor who files charges. Thus, even if the alleged victim does not want to pursue the matter, they cannot drop the charges. That decision is up to the prosecutor.
The Initial Court Appearance
After criminal charges are filed, the alleged offender will be required to attend an initial court appearance. During this proceeding, a judge will inform them of their charges and ask for a plea. The judge may also set bail for release from jail.
The alleged offender will be scheduled for trial. In court, the prosecutor will attempt to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s important to note that not all family violence cases will proceed to trial. Many are settled through plea negotiations with the prosecutor.
If the defendant is found guilty of the offense, a judge will impose a sentence. Family violence crimes can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies, and the specific penalties depend on the nature of the offense.
If the defendant is convicted and they feel a legal error contributed to the final decision, they can file an appeal. An appeal is a request to have a higher court review the lower court’s judgment. In some cases, the appellate court can order a new trial to be held.