Domestic violence, commonly known as assault and battery against a family or household member, is a serious offense that can carry extreme penalties. Not only can these charges result in jail time and separation from your family, but they can also cause damage to your career and your reputation that can affect your life for years to into the future. If you have been charged with domestic assault, it is vital to have an experienced criminal defense attorney to fight against a conviction.
When Can a Person Be Charged With Domestic Violence in Virginia?
The definition of domestic assault under Code of Virginia § 18.2-57.2 goes far beyond physical attacks. In fact, you could legally be charged with domestic assault or battery even if you did not cause any physical injuries or no harm occurs to an alleged victim.
Under the law, “domestic violence” is any action involving a household or family member that involves:
- Battery. Any willful and unlawful touching of another person that is done in an angry, rude, or vengeful manner may constitute battery. The touching may occur through direct physical contact or through the use of an object, such as a belt. Battery does not have to cause an injury to result in charges or arrest.
- Assault. Assault is an intentional act done specifically to commit bodily harm by a person with a real and present ability to inflict harm. A person can be charged with assault if no injuries occurred, as long as their actions were intended to placing the alleged victim in fear of bodily harm.
- Harassment or Threats. Assault does not have to include any physical contact with the victim. Actions such as threats, stalking, or harassment that are intended to instill fear and result in a victim’s fear of harm can constitute assault under Virginia law.
Who Is Considered a Family Member Under Domestic Violence Laws?
Domestic violence laws do not just protect spouses and partners, but any members of a family or household. In Virginia, these family members may include:
- A spouse or former spouse (regardless of whether you live together)
- Individuals who have a child in common (regardless of whether you have ever been married or lived together)
- Individuals who have lived together in the past 12 months and any children living in the same household
- Immediate family members such as parents, grandparents, siblings, and children (regardless of whether they live with you)
- Step-family members, including step-parents, step-siblings, and stepchildren (regardless of whether they live with you)
- In-laws who live in the same household
What Happens When Police Respond to a Domestic Violence Call?
The criminal category of domestic violence was created to provide added protection for victims who live with (or are related to) an aggressor. The law recognizes the particular danger these victims are in when an incident of assault occurs and gives police and suspected victims certain powers to prevent future incidents of domestic and family violence.
You may be removed from your home or family after a domestic abuse incident through:
- Arrest. When police respond to a call of domestic violence, they are required to arrest the predominant physical aggressor if they have probable cause of assault. The arrest can be made without a warrant if police believe that a protective order was violated or there is evidence that assault occurred. Police can use a number of factors to determine who the predominant physical aggressor is, including prior incidents of domestic abuse, witness statements, presence of injuries, and other observations.
- Protective orders. Magistrates are required to issue an emergency protective order barring the defendant from contact with the alleged victim whenever a domestic violence warrant is issued. These protective orders may be extended, preventing you from visiting your home, spouse, or children, for an extended period of time—and there are serious penalties for violating these orders.
- Prosecution. It is important to note that the alleged victim cannot simply “drop the charges” against a defendant. The charges are brought by the Commonwealth of Virginia, so the alleged victim does not have the ability to stop the prosecution, even if they wanted to. The police and prosecutor will ultimately decide whether you will be prosecuted and the penalties you may face as a result.
What Are the Penalties for Domestic Violence in Virginia?
The penalties you face will depend on the severity and circumstances of the crime, but could include:
- Misdemeanor charges. A first offense of domestic assault is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Upon conviction, you may be incarcerated for up to 12 months and be fined up to $2,500, plus court costs.
- Probation. If you have been charged with simple assault against a family or household member, the court has the discretion to defer criminal proceedings in favor of probation. If you successfully fulfill the conditions of probation, proceedings will be dismissed and you will not have a conviction on your record (unless you commit a further offense). If you violate the terms and conditions of your probation, the court may reinstate criminal proceedings.
- Felony charges. If you have two or more convictions for domestic assault, battery, or abuse in any state in the past 20 years, you can be charged with a Class 6 felony and face a potential prison sentence of up to five years.
- Collateral consequences. Domestic assault charges can cause personal and professional consequences in addition to federal and state-imposed penalties. Under federal law, a conviction may bar you from possessing or carrying a firearm and may place your immigration status at risk. You may be unable to live in the home you have established for your partner and family, lose contact with your children, or be looked upon unfavorably in divorce proceedings.
You Need an Experienced Defense Attorney on Your Side
The wide scope of Virginia’s domestic violence laws could change an innocent domestic dispute into a criminal incident with long-lasting repercussions. If you find yourself facing an accusation of domestic violence, our criminal defense team can explain your options and aggressively defend you throughout your criminal case. Contact our office today to have us get started on the best possible outcome.