Domestic violence is harshly punished in the State of Florida. Not only can a judge sentence you to sentence, probation, or to pay a fine if you are convicted of domestic violence, but Florida law requires additional, far-reaching penalties to be imposed because of the domestic nature of the offense. If you are charged with domestic violence, it is important that you hire competent counsel to defend you and that you are properly informed of your rights.
WHAT IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?
In Florida, someone is charged with domestic violence for committing any of a broad array of criminal offenses against a family or household member. Some offenses that can fall under domestic violence include:
- Assault and aggravated assault
- Battery and aggravated battery
- Sexual assault
- False imprisonment
Family or Household Members
In order for these offenses to be considered domestic violence, they have to be committed by one “family or household member” against another. The Florida Statutes define family and household members as:
- Spouses or former spouses
- Person related by blood or marriage
- Persons who live together like a family
- Persons with a child in common, whether they are married or not
Except for those who have a child in common, the family or household members must be living together, or have at one point lived together, for an offense to be considered domestic violence. When it comes to persons who have a child in common, any of the offenses listed above will be considered domestic violence, whether they have ever lived together or not. §741.28.
Florida Statutes provide for specialized prosecutors in domestic violence cases. These prosecutors are specifically trained to deal with these types of cases, and are encouraged to follow a pro-prosecution policy. The statutes give these specialized prosecutors the sole discretion to determine whether or not to file charges for domestic violence; this means that even if the victim wants to drop the charges, the prosecutor has the ability to go forward with the case anyway. Because of the special nature of the prosecution of these cases, it is that much more important that you have a skilled lawyer on your side if you are charged with domestic violence.
PENALTIES AND CONSEQUENCES
In addition to the standard punishment that comes with being convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony, the State of Florida imposes other heavy consequences for those convicted of domestic violence.
Misdemeanor or Felony
Whether a domestic violence offense is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depends on the severity of the circumstances. An offense of assault, such as a threat to cause bodily harm, can result in a second degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. A domestic violence crime that results in severe injuries to the victim may be charged as a third degree felony—punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine—or worse.
Florida punishes domestic violence harshly, and a conviction comes with other mandatory penalties, including:
- A 6 month Batterer’s Intervention Program plus a year of probation
- A minimum of 5 days in jail if the offender intentionally caused bodily harm
- An injunction prohibiting any contact with the victim
- The loss of certain rights, such as a permit to carry concealed weapons
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DEFENSES
A lawyer can raise the defense of mutual combat in some domestic violence cases by asserting that the defendant and the alleged victim had both consented to the confrontation. If it can be shown that the defendant was not the primary aggressor and that both parties wanted to engage each other in a confrontation, then the confrontation was lawful and the defendant did not commit domestic violence.
People have a right to defend themselves if they are being assaulted. A defendant in a domestic violence case may assert that he or she was not the primary aggressor, but was merely defending him- or herself.
Additionally, the Florida legislature enacted the “Stand Your Ground” statutes in 2005, which eliminate the “duty of retreat.” Before these statutes, someone who was being assaulted had the duty of trying to escape to their best ability before they could use deadly force in their defense; now, as long as someone is in a place in which he or she has a right to be, that person can use deadly force without trying to escape if it is necessary for self-defense.
Lack of Evidence
A lawyer can also contest the evidence, or point to the lack thereof, linking the defendant to the offense. For example, the lawyer may show that there are no visible injuries on the alleged victim, or point to a lack of witness testimony supporting the alleged victim’s claim.