Domestic Abuse Can Turn Your Misdemeanor Assault Charge Into a Felony

By January 30, 2018Domestic 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.