Domestic Violence

Developing a Safety Plan in a Texas Domestic Violence Case

By | Domestic Violence

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence gathers data from all US states, and the statistics on the frequency of domestic incidents in Texas are disturbing. Roughly one-third of women and a quarter of men experience some form of physical violence by a spouse, former spouse, or unmarried intimate partner. There were more than 185,000 calls to hotlines reporting violent domestic episodes in 2014: For some victims, a phone call was too late: 114 Texan women were killed as a result of domestic violence in 2012, which is around 10 percent of the nationwide total. Many organizations recommend developing a “safety plan” to protect yourself if you are in a dangerous situation or feel threatened by an attack. In conjunction with a Texas restraining order, these plans are an effective way to take control over your situation, so some background information should be useful.

Overview of Safety Plans in Houston

It can be difficult to know exactly how to remain safe while in an abusive domestic situation, whether you are currently in a relationship, thinking of leaving, or already left. A safety plan can offer guidance as you cope with emotions, take legal action, get support from family and friends, and work out a strategy for your future.

The content of the safety plan includes the important documentation and paperwork you need to move on with your life after escaping domestic violence. The most effective blueprint is personalized for your situation and can adapt to different circumstances. In a moment of crisis, your brain may not focus on your needs as well as when you are calm, so your safety plan helps you navigate the stress.

Items to Include in Your Safety Plan

Though every situation is unique, you should consider making certain necessities part of your safety plan, such as:

  • Developing an exit strategy from your home if you need to get out quickly;
  • Telling family, friends, and neighbors “code words” that you use to indicate trouble, without alerting your abuser;
  • Putting together a packet you can grab in a rush, which contains your passport, paperwork for your children, medical records, health insurance information, bank accounts, and other essential documents;
  • Installing new locks on windows and doors, and a security system;
  • Opening a bank account solely in your name; and,
  • Working out a safe place to stay if you need to leave under emergency circumstances.

In addition, you may consider talking to a lawyer if you are a victim of domestic violence or feel threatened. An attorney can help you obtain a restraining order against your abuser, directing that person to avoid all contact with you and other individuals. Include your lawyer’s information in your safety plan, so you can reach him or her right away to get started on the legal process for a restraining order.

Talk to an Experienced Galveston, TX Domestic Violence Attorney Right Away

Our lawyers at the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in League City assist with all types of domestic violence cases, including emergency, temporary, and permanent orders of protection. Please contact us today at 281-843-9776 or online to set up a consultation at our Galveston, TX office.

How Witnessing Domestic Violence Affects Children

By | Domestic Violence

While they may not experience the same physical pain that a direct victim of abuse does, the impacts of domestic violence on children who witness it are no less severe. “Witnessing” may involve child who sees an attack or hears fighting, but it may also include seeing the after effects, such as blood, bruises, or other injuries. It may also mean a general state of awareness, such as watching the victim’s fear and mannerism when the abuser enters a room.

The Childhood Domestic Violence Association reports that five million children observe domestic attacks every year in the US, and there are currently 40 million adults in this country that grew up in environments where domestic violence was the norm. Considering the high number of Americans who are or will be affected, it is worth reviewing the short and long term implications for children who observe domestic abuse.

Emotional Implications

Children who are exposed to domestic violence often suffer silently, becoming fearful, anxious, and distrustful. They worry for themselves, the victim, and their siblings, causing them to miss out on typical childhood emotions like excitement and enjoyment. Life at home is agony, as these children witnesses feel emotional abandonment and isolation, even from others in the household.

Because they lack the maturity to address their complicated feelings, children experience guilt, shame, and depression. They may also become angry, both at the abuser for engaging in violence and at the victim they perceive as allowing it.

Physical Effects

The emotional implications of witnessing domestic violence manifest themselves in children physically, most often through sleep deprivation and exhaustion. Younger children may be unable to control their rage, causing injury to themselves. Other physical responses to observing domestic abuse include stomach problems, headaches, bedwetting, difficulty concentrating, and others. In a worst-case scenario, a physical effect may be actual injury when a child tries to intervene in an attack and is injured as a result.

Long-Term Impacts

Children who witness domestic violence may experience physical and emotional issues for years, long after they are no longer even in an abusive environment. Long-term effects include:

  • Learning disabilities, lower scores on IQ and standardized testing;
  • Problems with motor skills, memory, and attention;
  • Conditions similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) akin to what combat veterans face;
  • Premature aging by up to 7-10 years;
  • A propensity to abuse drugs and/or alcohol, up to 50 percent more likely than in non-abusive situations;
  • An increased potential of resorting to suicide, at up to six times more likely; and,
  • The tendency to become involved in criminal activity, with a 74 percent chance of committing a violent crime against another person after reaching adulthood.

Reach Out to a Compassionate League City Domestic Violence Lawyer

Domestic violence has significant consequences for children who witness it, but you do not have to address an abusive situation alone. Our dedicated Houston attorneys at the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates have extensive experience advocating for victims, helping them obtaining restraining orders and other aspects of a domestic violence case. Please contact us today at 281-843-9776 to schedule a consultation at our Galveston, TX office. You can also visit us online for more information about our legal services.

Is a 911 Call Admissible as Evidence of Domestic Abuse?

By | Domestic Violence

Domestic abuse incidents often involve sudden bursts of violence that can seriously threaten the lives of the victim and other people in the household. If you are a target of, or witness to, such abuse it is imperative to call 911 and seek police assistance, especially if physical violence has already occurred. Galveston-area police are trained in dealing with domestic abuse situations and, if a crime has occurred, dealing with the suspects in accordance with the law.

Supreme Court Rules Emergency Recordings Can Be “Non-Testimonial”

If you are arrested and charged with domestic abuse, it is important to understand that any 911 calls that led to police intervention may be used against you in court. This includes any statements made by the accuser or other witnesses at the scene. Even if these individuals do not testify directly at trial, the jury can still hear their voices on the 911 recording.

In a 2006 decision, the United States Supreme Court specifically addressed the admissibility of 911 calls in criminal domestic abuse cases. The Court reviewed two separate cases, one from Washington state and the other from Indiana, where 911 calls were used as evidence against the defendants. The legal question was whether each defendant had a constitutional right to cross-examine the individuals who made the 911 calls.

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of every criminal defendant to “confront” the witnesses against them. (The Texas state constitution contains a similar provision.) But the Supreme Court held that this right only applied to “testimonial” statements. And statements such as 911 calls may be classified as “nontestimonial”–and thus not subject to the Sixth Amendment’s cross-examination requirement–if they are made “under circumstances objectively indicating that the primary purpose … is to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency.”

What does this mean in practical terms? A recent case from Harris County offers a useful illustration. A 15-year-old male called 911 and told the operator that his father–the defendant–had physically attacked his mother. Two more 911 calls followed, one from the alleged victim and another from the son, before a Houston Police Department officer finally arrived at the scene to investigate.

During each of the three 911 calls, the operator asked a series of questions, such as whether there were any weapons used in the assault or if the defendant had any “mental-health issues” the police should know about. All of the 911 calls were played before the jury at the defendant’s subsequent trial. The only live witnesses for the prosecution were the arresting officers. Neither the defendant’s son nor his wife testified in-person.

The jury found the defendant guilty of misdemeanor assault of a family member. The Texas First District Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and sentence. The appeals court said the purpose of the 911 calls was to “facilitate police or medical assistance to meet an ongoing emergency.” The wife’s and son’s statements were therefore not “testimonial,” and the defendant had no constitutional right to cross-examine them.

Need Help From a Galveston Domestic Abuse Lawyer?

Domestic abuse is not simply a “family matter.” Galveston prosecutors will use every legal tool at their disposal to secure convictions for anyone accused of assaulting or injuring a family member, especially a spouse or child. That is why if you are charged with such crimes you need to work with an experienced Galveston domestic abuse defense attorney who understands the law in this area. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 843-9776 if you need to speak with a lawyer right away.

Can Non-Verbal “Communication” Violate a Domestic Violence Restraining Order?

By | Domestic Violence

Domestic violence allegations in the Galveston area frequently lead one party to seek a protective order against the other. In some cases the parties may agree to entry of a protective order in order to deescalate a tense situation–such as the breakup of a marriage–and give both sides some breathing room. Keep in mind, however, if you agree to a protective order as the subject, you may be charged with a criminal offense if you violate any of the conditions in the order.

Pasadena Man Receives Year in Jail After He’s Seen at Estranged Wife’s Home

Under Section 25.07 of the Texas Penal Code, the subject of a protective order commits a Class A misdemeanor if he “communicates … directly with a protected individual … in a threatening or harassing manner.” The use of the term “communicates” in this context is not limited to verbal threats or statements. A person may be found guilty of violating a domestic violence protective order if he engages in any action, verbal or nonverbal, that is perceived as threatening by the protected individual.

For example the Texas 1st District Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over domestic violence cases from Galveston County and the greater Houston area, recently upheld the conviction of a man who was seen standing outside his estranged wife’s apartment building in Pasadena. In April 2016, the defendant and his wife agreed to the entry of a protective order after she accused him of sexual assault. Among other terms, the order prohibited the defendant from “going within 200 feet” of his wife’s residence or communicating with her in a “threatening or harassing manner,” as defined by Section 25.07.

About two months after the order was issued, the wife called 911 after her neighbor informed her that the defendant was standing outside of her apartment building. The wife later testified she personally observed the defendant at her building a few minutes later. She said he left without saying anything directly to her, but she nevertheless said just seeing him made her “alarmed.”

A few minutes later a Pasadena police officer arrived at the scene. The wife gave the officer a description of the defendant. The officer said he then realized he saw the defendant walking away from the building as he was pulling in, and this was a distance less than 200 feet from the building.

The defendant was arrested and charged with violating the protective order. At trial, he denied he was present at the building on the day in question. But he acknowledged that if he were there in violation of the agreed protective order, it would “be sending a message that’s pretty threatening.” The jury found the defendant guilty and the judge sentenced him to the maximum sentence of one year in jail.

In affirming the conviction and sentence, the First District cited the defendant’s admission and the wife’s testimony that she was “alarmed” as sufficient evidence of the defendant’s intent to “communicate” a threatening message in violation of the protective order. The fact the parties never exchanged any words was irrelevant. A “reasonable jury could have found beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant was, in effect, using his presence to make a threat.

Contact a Galveston County Domestic Violence Lawyer Today

Galveston-area courts take domestic violence protective orders quite seriously, as the outcome of the above case illustrates. If you are under any kind of order you must obey its terms without question. And if you are accused of a violation, do not admit anything to the police. Instead, contact an experienced Galveston domestic violence defense attorney who can advise you on the appropriate steps to take next. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 843-9776 to speak with a member of our team today.

What Is Considered “Harassment” in Violation of a Galveston Domestic Abuse Protection Order?

By | Domestic Violence

Domestic abuse allegations frequently arise during contested divorce cases in Galveston County. A judge may issue a protective order in favor of one spouse. Such an order can restrict the alleged abuser in a number of ways, such as how and when they may contact the complaining spouse.

Violating a domestic abuse protection order is a serious offense. Galveston prosecutors can–and will–charge the alleged abuser with a Class A misdemeanor. This is punishable by up to a year in jail, although in many cases a court may agree to sentence the defendant to a term of probation instead.

Court Rejects Appeal of Criminal Conviction for Violating Protective Order

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently addressed a constitutional challenge to part of the Texas Penal Code which authorizes jail time for violating domestic abuse protection orders. The defendant in this case argued the original order unfairly restricted his “free speech” rights and was too vague to allow him to understand what conduct was prohibited. The Court rejected both arguments.

This case began about six years ago. The defendant was then charged with domestic abuse in connection with an assault against his then-wife. At that time, the wife indicated she wanted a divorce, and the couple separated.

A few weeks later a judge issued a domestic abuse protection order against the defendant. Among other terms, the judge prohibited the defendant from “communicating directly” with his estranged spouse “in a threatening or harassing manner.” This matches the language used in Section 25.07 of the Texas Penal Code, which defines the criminal offense of violating a protection order.

Note that the order did not prohibit all communication between the spouses, just that where the defendant acts in a threatening or harassing manner. Initially, the spouses continued to speak on household and childcare matters via text message. But the wife then demanded the defendant stop texting her and communicate only by email. The defendant ignored this request on several occasions and continued to send text messages and make phone calls.

Many of the defendant’s communications were designed to pressure his wife into reconciling. In one email he “claimed he was having an anxiety attack” because she left him. The defendant even asked members of his church to send his wife a message to “urge” her not to go through with the divorce.

Following the church email, the wife went to the police, who arrested the defendant for violating the protection order. A jury ultimately convicted the defendant of violation Section 25.07. The judge sentenced the defendant to two years probation in lieu of a one-year jail sentence.

As the Court of Criminal Appeals explained, there was nothing unconstitutional or vague about Section 25.07 as applied to the defendant’s case. The law “does not implicate any constitutionally protected speech,” since it is narrowly tailored to focus on specific individuals and conduct, i.e. individuals under a domestic abuse protective order due to prior acts or threats of violence. Nor is the order vague, as it only applied to communications made in a “harassing manner,” which the Court defined as mode or method of communication that would “persistently disturb, bother continually, or pester another person.”

Speak With a Galveston Domestic Abuse Attorney Today

If you are the subject of a domestic abuse protection order, you need to be extremely careful when contacting the person who made the complaint, even if you are still legally married to that person. Attempts to reconcile, even if you think they are innocent and made in good faith, may be perceived by the other person–and ultimately a jury–as harassment. And the last thing you want to end up with is a criminal record because you did not fully understand the law in this area.

In fact, if your spouse or partner is seeking a protection order against you, it is imperative you speak with a qualified Galveston domestic abuse attorney right away. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 843-9776 today if you need assistance.

What Happens If You Violate Your Parole Following a Domestic Violence Conviction?

By | Domestic Violence

Judges in the Galveston area will not accept any excuses when it comes to domestic violence charges. Keep in mind that under Texas law, the normal criminal penalties for assault are enhanced if the accuser is a family member or someone you were in a prior relationship with. And if you are offered community supervision–probation–following conviction for a domestic violence offense, you must follow the court’s release conditions to the letter. Otherwise, you may be facing several years in state prison.

Defendant Receives 10-Year Sentence After Sending Threatening Messages

Consider this recent Texas domestic violence case. The defendant previously received deferred adjudication on the charge of felony assault of a family member, specifically the mother of one of the defendant’s children. In a deferred adjudication, the court will dismiss the original charge if the defendant completes his term of probation without incident. But any violation of the probation terms is grounds for immediately revoking community supervision, adjudicating the defendant’s guilt, and sentencing him accordingly.

Unfortunately for the defendant in this particular case, about a year into his probation the prosecution moved to revoke probation for three alleged violations. One thing to note: When moving to revoke probation, the district attorney need only prove its case by a preponderance of the evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the normal standard for criminal conviction.

Here, the judge found the prosecution proved its case for revoking supervision on two of the three alleged violations. The defendant appealed, but the appellate court said the trial court acted within its discretion. The Court of Appeals focused on one particular allegation–namely, that the defendant sent a series of messages threatening his original victim. As the appellate court noted, “[t]hese messages leave little doubt that [the defendant] was threatening [the victim] with bodily injury.” Indeed, the defendant admitted at trial that he meant to place the victim “ in fear that she would get hurt.” This is sufficient to prove assault under the Texas Penal Code, even if the defendant never acted on his threats.

Call a Galveston Domestic Violence Attorney Today

Having your probation revoked after you have been convicted of a domestic violence charge is no small matter. While assault is normally treated as a Class A misdemeanor–and thus carries a penalty of no more than one year in jail–if the crime involves a family member or dating partner, the charge is automatically bumped up to a third-degree felony. This multiplies the potential prison term from one year to 10 years. And 10 years is exactly what the trial court gave the defendant in the case above.

Given the serious, life-altering consequences of a domestic violence conviction, you need to take any accusation seriously, even if you know it is false. Domestic violence charges never go away on their own. You need to work with an experienced Galveston domestic violence defense attorney who understands how to deal with these kinds of cases and will effectively represent your interests in court. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 843-9776 today if you are facing domestic violence accusations and require immediate assistance.


Domestic Abuse Can Turn Your Misdemeanor Assault Charge Into a Felony

By | Domestic Violence

Crimes involving domestic abuse in the Galveston area often carry significantly higher penalties than similar offenses against other persons. A common example of this is assault. Normally, assault is prosecuted in Texas as a Class A misdemeanor. This means that at worst, a defendant faces a year in jail if convicted. But when assault involves domestic abuse, the same violent act may be charged as a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

Using Evidence of Prior Bad Acts to Convict a Domestic Abuse Defendant

For example, Section 22.01 of the Texas Penal Code states assault is a felony when two conditions are met:

  1. The defendant and the victim were family, in a dating relationship, or members of the same household; and
  2. The defendant has been convicted at least once before of an offense involving domestic abuse.

Prior convictions can be a sensitive subject. Many defendants are justifiably concerned that if a jury hears testimony regarding a previous act of domestic abuse, even one where the victim is a different person, it will inevitably prejudice the jurors against them. For this reason it may be advisable, depending on the circumstances, to stipulate to a prior conviction in order to keep the jury from hearing testimony regarding any prior bad acts. But this obviously carries its own significant risks.

Consider this recent Texas appeals court decision. The defendant in this case was accused of assaulting his girlfriend. As noted above, you can be charged with felony assault when the victim is someone you are in a “dating relationship” with. Here, the defendant denied he was the attacker. The jury, relying largely on the victim’s own testimony, disbelieved the defendant and found him guilty.

At the beginning of the trial, the defendant signed a stipulation stating he had been “previously, finally, and lawfully convicted one time of an offense relating to an offense against a member of the Defendant’s family or household.” This stipulation was admitted to evidence, but the jury heard no other testimony regarding the specifics of the defendant’s prior conviction. But taking the prior bad act into account, the defendant was sentenced 40 years for felony assault, rather than the maximum of one year he would have faced for a misdemeanor conviction.

The defendant appealed his conviction on numerous grounds. The appeals court rejected all of them and affirmed the conviction and sentence. With respect to the stipulation, the defendant argued it was “too vague.” The appeals court begged to differ. It said the stipulation was sufficient to trigger the elevated felony charge and that the defendant “cannot now complain that the State failed to prove an element to which he confessed.”

Charged With Domestic Abuse? Our Galveston Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help

Every criminal case requires the accused to make difficult choices. These are decisions you need to make with the advice and assistance of an experienced Galveston criminal defense attorney. As the case above illustrates, a domestic violence charge can mean the difference between 1 year in jail and 40 years in prison. This is why if you have been charged with domestic abuse and need immediate help, call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 843-9776 right away.

Understanding How Protective Orders Work in Galveston Domestic Violence Cases

By | Domestic Violence

When a Galveston area resident is a victim of actual or imminent domestic violence, they have the right to seek a protective order against the alleged abuser. Protective orders–also known as restraining orders–may cover a wide range of prohibited activities, including giving the accuser “exclusive” use of a common home, ordering the alleged abuser to refrain from making any contact with the accuser or their children, and directing the payment of child support where applicable. Anyone who violates a protective order can be charged with a criminal offense separate and apart from any other acts of domestic violence, such as aggravated assault against a spouse or family member.

Texas Creates New Grounds for Seeking Indefinite Restraining Orders

Normally, a protective order in Texas cannot last more than two years. This means the judge has the discretion to impose an order for a lesser period of time. But if the judge fails to specify a deadline, then the protective order will automatically expire on the “second anniversary of the date the order was issued,” according to Section 85.025 of the Texas Penal Code.

There are cases, however, where the law permits an extension of a protective order beyond the two-year deadline. If the judge makes specific legal findings that the accused abuser “caused serious bodily injury” to the accuser or a member of their family or household, then the court may issue an indefinite restraining order that may effectively last the lifetime of the parties. Similarly, the court can exceed the two-year limit if the accused was the “subject of two or more previous protective orders” involving the same accuser, and the judge finds the accused has or is likely to commit an act of “family violence.”

And last year, the Texas legislature added a third condition for an extended protective order. Under SB 712, which was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May 2017, a judge may now issue an indefinite protective order if the accused committed a felony involving family violence against the accuser or their family “regardless of whether the person has been charged with or convicted of the offense.”

This is an important change because the burden of proof is much lower in protective order cases than criminal prosecutions. In the latter, a state prosecutor must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed an act that meets all specified elements of the felony offense. Since protective order cases are civil matters, the accuser need only prove the defendant committed family violence by a “preponderance of the evidence,” i.e. it was “more likely than not” the defendant is guilty.

A Galveston Domestic Violence Lawyer Can Help You

Whether you are the accuser or the accused, it is a good idea to work with an experienced Galveston domestic violence and protective orders attorney who can help you understand and work through the process. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 843-9776 to schedule a confidential consultation today.