gavel-paper-domestic-violence-lawMany people often think of spouses as domestic assault victims, but Virginia law extends the definition of domestic assault victim to other family and household members too.

Domestic assault is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine if it is a first offense. If you are charged with domestic assault, it’s essential to understand the crime so that you and your Virginia criminal defense lawyer can raise all applicable defenses.

How Virginia Defines Family Members in Domestic Assault Cases

Domestic assault is described in Virginia Code 18.72-57.2 as assault and battery against a family or household member. 

Whether or not they live in the same home as the defendant, a domestic assault victim in Virginia can be a:

  • Spouse or former spouse
  • Parent or stepparent
  • Child or stepchild
  • Sibling or half-sibling
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Person who has a child in common with the defendant, regardless of marital status

If they reside in the same home, a domestic assault victim can also be a:

  • Mother-in-law or father-in-law
  • Son-in-law or daughter-in-law
  • Brother-in-law or sister-in-law
  • Person who cohabits or has cohabited in the past 12 months with the defendant

Accordingly, domestic assault law doesn’t only apply to family members. Under Virginia’s legal definition, the law also applies to unrelated roommates. They are household members. By extension, the law may also apply to boyfriends, girlfriends, and other partners, in some circumstances. 

Why This Is Important to Know

If the alleged domestic assault victim is not part of the family or household based on the legal definition, there cannot be a domestic assault charge. While you may face other charges, domestic assault law will not apply.

The “domestic assault” label can carry significant consequences. For example, you may:

  • Face jail time
  • Need to pay a fine
  • Be unable to live in your family home even after you serve your sentence
  • Be prohibited from possessing or purchasing a firearm
  • Be restricted from contacting or visiting your children or other loved ones for a prolonged period of time
  • Have a permanent criminal record that impacts your employment, education, housing, and reputation 

Domestic Assault Case Requirements

If you have been arrested for domestic violence in Virginia, you may be worried about your next steps. You may wonder what the prosecution needs to prove in your case. Before you can be convicted, the Commonwealth of Virginia must prove that:

  • A domestic relationship existed  between you and the alleged victim
  • The assault happened, even if it did not cause physical harm
  • The assault was intentional

How a Domestic Assault Defense Lawyer Can Help

Every case is different. A skilled Virginia defense lawyer can assess your case and explain your options. It is critical to hire a domestic assault defense attorney immediately to look at all possible ways to build a strong defense. 

For example, your domestic assault defense lawyer may argue that:

  • The alleged victim was not a domestic assault victim, according to Virginia law. In other words, the victim is not a relative or household member as described in Virginia law. Therefore, the domestic assault charges should be dismissed.
  • The allegations against you are false. Family and domestic relationships are complicated. If someone falsely accuses you of domestic assault, our law firm will review all applicable evidence to prove the allegations are false and fight for your rights in court.
  • You acted in self-defense or in the defense of others. Perhaps the action was to prevent yourself or someone else from getting hurt. Your defense lawyer can scrutinize the prosecution’s evidence or how the police may have violated your rights. 

Other possible defenses include mistaken identity, unlawful arrest, or lack of evidence.