Facing Domestic Assault Charges in Virginia for Attacking an Unrelated Roommate 

man-sitting-head-in-handsAssault is a serious criminal offense in Virginia. Even when two people are unrelated and unmarried, domestic violence charges can still apply. Someone accused of roommate violence may be charged with domestic assault in some cases. Virginia law on domestic violence explicitly includes both family and household members. If you’ve been accused of domestic violence against a roommate, it’s crucial to consult with Chesapeake criminal defense attorney James E. Short right away. 

The Basics of Virginia Domestic Assault Laws 

Any form of violence enacted upon a household member may be considered domestic violence. Protected classes of domestic assault victims are not restricted to spouses or children. They can extend to roommates and cohabitants as well. This can include boyfriends and girlfriends. Allegations of domestic assault can carry harsh penalties and result in reputation-destroying social stigma. 

Code of Virginia § 18.2-57.2 defines assault and battery against a family or household member. It states that domestic assault, in this case, is at least a Class 1 misdemeanor. Depending on the situation, the definition of household member could include college roommates, like students living together at the University of Virginia. 

A vital factor here is that the roommates must be cohabitating or have cohabitated within the past 12 months. Household members also include any children of either party residing in the same household. Not all roommates are necessarily household members. 

The Difference Between Cohabitant and Roommate

While Virginia law may not explicitly differentiate between cohabitant and roommate in the context of domestic assault charges, distinguishing between the two terms is important. Roommates are cohabitating if they live in a marital-like relationship. Conjugal relations are not necessarily needed, but cohabitation typically implies the two people are romantically or intimately involved.

Simply living together as nothing more than roommates may not constitute cohabitation. At the same time, sharing bonds of obligation—like relying on one another to pay rent and utilities—may elevate the relationship to one of cohabitants. These subtle nuances are one of the reasons why it’s vital to have an experienced domestic assault lawyer on your side. Virginia attorney James Short can assess your situation and explain your legal options. 

Possible Assault Charges in Virginia

Depending on the seriousness of the alleged violence, domestic assault charges in Virginia can include:

  • Simple assault
  • Assault and battery
  • Unlawful wounding
  • Malicious wounding
  • Aggravated malicious wounding
  • Strangulation

Most domestic assault crimes are Class 1 misdemeanors, including simple assault. Exceptions include aggravated malicious wounding (a Class 2 felony) and strangulation (a Class 6 felony). Roommate violence is not defined as a distinct crime separate from other assault charges. 

Possible Sentences and Consequences If Convicted 

Along with other definitions, Code of Virginia § 18.2-57.2 also allows for an emergency protective order following allegations of domestic assault. Even if the accused party is innocent, they may be removed from their home. They may still be responsible for paying their portion of rent and utilities until the case is resolved and the protective order is lifted. Roommate violence is potentially similar to spousal abuse in this regard.

Further, it is possible to receive jail time for a first-time domestic assault conviction in Virginia. Possible sentences and penalties may include:

  • Up to 12 months in jail
  • Up to a $2,500 fine
  • Permanent criminal record
  • Probation
  • Community service

Someone convicted of domestic violence can face long-term consequences too. It can affect:

  • Employment opportunities
  • Immigration status
  • Access to student financial aid
  • Ability to secure housing
  • Child custody
  • Right to possess a firearm
  • Right to vote
  • Suspension or expulsion from school
  • Other disciplinary action

How to Defend Against Roommate Domestic Violence Charges

There are many potential defenses against false accusations of domestic assault against a roommate. These defense strategies can be similar to those for spousal assault. They depend on the specific circumstances of the case. Examples may include:

  • Veracity of the claim, if the alleged victim lied about what happened
  • Self-defense or defending others, if the roommate attacked you or someone else first
  • Consent, if the roommate was an equal participant in the fight
  • Accident, if any harm caused was purely unintentional
  • Not a household member, if the roommate is not a cohabitant 
  • Constitutional violations, if the police acted improperly when reporting to the scene

The Importance of Hiring an Experienced Lawyer

Accusations of domestic violence against a roommate can have harsh repercussions. The legal proceedings can be complex and nuanced, like defining whether the roommate qualifies as a household member. It is essential to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney who can guide you through this challenging process. Chesapeake attorney James E. Short has intimate knowledge of the intricacies of domestic violence law. He can advocate for your rights and fight to protect your future. 

Post A Comment