Domestic abuse is often more than just a one-time occurrence, with many abusers continuously assaulting or otherwise abusing domestic partners, children, or other household members.
Ongoing abuse tends to be more traumatic to the victims of domestic violence than a single instance, causing them to feel as if they deserve the abuse or cannot escape the situation. Further, domestic violence often escalates over time, with assaults becoming more severe and posing more of a threat to family members’ safety.
In order to help remedy these situations, Texas enacted the Continuous Family Violence Law, which mandates enhanced sentencing for repeated domestic violence offenses.
If you are facing domestic violence charges or think that this could be a concern, it is important to understand the Texas Continuous Family Violence Law to know what you’re up against. Below we cover the basics of the law, what could lead to this charge, and penalties you could face if convicted.
The Continuous Family Violence Law in Texas
Depending on the circumstances of the alleged assault, domestic violence is typically charged as a Class A misdemeanor or Gross misdemeanor in Texas. Offenders typically face a short prison sentence for misdemeanor-level offenses, or may be placed on probation without serving time behind bars.
Because lawmakers believed these penalties were often not sufficient to deter habitual domestic violence offenders, Texas passed the Continuous Family Violence Law in 2009.
Under the law, domestic violence offenders who commit repeated misdemeanor-level domestic assaults may be charged with a single felony-level offense, which would presumably deter repeat offenders from continued domestic violence.
What Leads to a Charge of Continuous Family Violence in Texas?
How does this work?
Under the Continuous Family Violence law, any two misdemeanor domestic assaults committed within the same 12 months are considered continuous family violence, and you may be brought up on felony-level charges. For example, multiple Class A misdemeanor assaults committed within a 12-month period are prosecuted as a single Third-degree felony.
The consequences of a felony-level domestic violence conviction are much more severe, carrying a lengthy prison sentence. Moreover, offenders are left with the lifelong consequences of being a convicted felon, such as having restrictions on firearm possession.
Importantly, even two relatively minor incidents could result in being charged under the law, leaving you with a very damaging criminal record.
Domestic violence (or claims of domestic violence) fall under a broad spectrum, ranging from minor domestic disturbances to quite-severe assaults that result in grievous bodily harm to the victim. Unfortunately, domestic violence sentencing and penalties in Texas do not account for these enormous differences in the relative severity of the alleged abuse.
Conviction on Continuous Family Violence in Texas Does not Require a Unanimous Verdict
Generally speaking, Texas requires a unanimous guilty verdict in order to convict a defendant of a felony-level offense. However, things are a bit different for Continuous Family Violence trials.
In 2015, the Sixth Court of Appeals ruled that in a case where three or more assaults allegedly occurred, the jury does not have to agree upon which specific assaults occurred to convict a defendant of Continuous Family Violence, so long as all jurors agree that at least two assaults took place within the 12-month period.
This means that if some jurors cannot find sufficient evidence for one alleged assault and some jurors cannot find sufficient evidence for another assault, you will still be convicted so long as there is unanimous agreement that at least two assaults occurred.
Because the evidence for domestic assault is often limited, it is common for jurors to disagree on whether a specific offense occurred. However, if you have more than two misdemeanor-level charges against you, a conviction becomes much more likely, as complete agreement among jurors is no longer necessary.
Penalties for Continuous Violence Against the Family in Texas
In our state, Continuous Violence Against the Family is considered a Third-degree felony, and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. Additionally, you may be required complete a rehabilitation program designed to rehabilitate domestic violence offenders, and as a convicted felon you will face lifelong restrictions on your freedoms and privileges.
Any domestic violence conviction can have significant civil consequences. For example, interfering with child custody, or requiring that the defendant find alternative housing but continue to pay for the victims’ housing under a protective order. However, these consequences become much more severe if you are considered a repeat offender, as family courts will often deem that you present a continued threat to your family.
A conviction for Continuous Violence Against the family could be life-changing in many ways. It’s therefore essential to fight back against these charges to avoid significant criminal penalties and the inability to see the people you love most.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.