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What Are the Criminal Penalties for Domestic Violence in Texas?

Domestic violence–or what is called “family violence” in the Texas Penal Code–refers to “an act by a member of a family or household that is intended to result in physical harm.” Family violence does not just extend to blood relatives or people living with you; it also applies to partners in a “dating relationship.”

How Do Courts Define “Serious” Injury in Family Violence Cases?

When someone is accused of family violence, the details matter. For example, Texas defines “aggravated family violence” as a first-degree felony punishable by up to 99 years in prison. What makes family violence “aggravated”? By law there are two elements a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant used a “deadly weapon during the commission of the assault”; and
  • The defendant’s actions “caused serious bodily injury” to a family member or a partner in a dating relationship.

The second element then begs the question, what constitutes a “serious” injury? A recent Texas appeals court decision offers a useful illustration. In this case, the defendant was in a dating relationship with a woman who was also pregnant with his child. The two had separated and the woman was living with her sister.

On the evening in question, the defendant went to the sister’s house, and got into an argument with the victim. During the fight, the defendant “brandished a handgun” and threatened to shoot the victim’s dog. At some point the gun discharged, and the bullet struck the victim in the face. She subsequently required medical attention for facial wounds but was discharged about a day later.

Based on these facts, prosecutors charged the defendant with aggravated family violence. The jury found the defendant guilty on this and two lesser charges. The court sentenced the defendant to 20 years in prison on the aggravated family violence conviction.

On appeal, the defendant argued that prosecutors failed to prove he caused “serious” bodily injury to the victim. Texas law defines “serious” to include not only injuries that carry a substantial risk of death–which was not the case here–but also result in “permanent disfigurement” of the victim.

The defendant maintained the victim had no disfigurement beyond some facial scarring. The appeals court said that was enough to constitute a “serious” injury. The court explained there is no fixed definition of what is or is not a serious injury under Texas law: it has to be decided on a case-by-case basis. Here, the court noted the victim has “two scars of significant size that are prominently visible on her face.” The location was important, the court said. Had it been on her leg or torso, it might not have been “disfiguring” enough to justify the defendant’s conviction.

A Galveston Domestic Violence Defense Attorney Can Help

Texas courts take family violence very seriously. That is why if you are accused of assaulting a partner or family member, you need to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who knows how to handle such cases. Contact the Law Office of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need immediate legal assistance.