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Is an 8-Year Sentence for Domestic Violence Unconstitutional?

It should come as no surprise that Texas law is not sympathetic towards defendants convicted of domestic violence. In many cases, a defendant faces enhanced penalties not only for a current act of domestic violence (or family violence, as it’s known in the Texas Penal Code), but also for having a past record of such violence. This means that a family violence conviction can lead to some serious prison time.

Appeals Court Rejects Claim Defendant Received “Disproportionate” Sentence

For example, a Texas appeals court recently rejected a defendant’s post-conviction argument that his sentence was “grossly disproportionate to the offense.” The case, Nash v. State, involved a defendant who pleaded guilty to a charge of assaulting his girlfriend. According to the victim’s testimony at the defendant’s sentencing hearing, she had been dating the defendant for about five months, during which time he was “jealous and manipulative.”

Eventually, the victim said the defendant turned to “physically abusing her.” The police arrested the defendant after the defendant sexually assaulted the defendant at her home. The victim also obtained a protective order against the defendant, which he ignored by making dozens of phone calls to her while in jail.

Before the sentencing judge, the defendant admitted he had a record of prior domestic violence, specifically assaulting two previous girlfriends. He maintained his abusive behavior was the product of “cocaine addiction and alcohol abuse.” The defendant asked the judge for probation.

The judge, however, was not in such a forgiving mood. The court sentenced the defendant to 8 years in jail for the assault on the victim, and an additional 365 days confinement for violating the protective order. On appeal, the defendant argued this sentence amounted to an unconstitutional act of “cruel and unusual” punishment.

The Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed the sentence. As the appeals court explained, the defendant was convicted of third-degree felony family violence. The statutory sentencing range for this type of crime is between 2 and 10 years in prison. Similarly, violating the protective order is a Class A misdemeanor, which provides for a jail term of up to 1 year. In other words, the trial judge’s sentences were well within what the law permitted.

That said, even a sentence within the statutory range must still be “graduated and proportioned to the offense.” This “does not require strict proportionality,” the Fifth District observed. Rather, it means a trial judge cannot impose a “grossly disproportionate” sentence.

In this case, the appeals court said there was nothing disproportionate about the 8-year sentence. The defendant “pleaded guilty to intentional, knowingly, and recklessly causing bodily injury to” his girlfriend. And he “continuously violated the two-year protective order obtained” by the victim afterwards. Given these facts and his prior record, the appeals court said this was not a “rare” case of a trial court disproportionately sentencing a defendant.

Speak with a Houston Domestic Violence Defense Attorney Today

Many people charged with domestic violence think it is easier to just enter a guilty plea in the hopes the judge will show them leniency at sentencing. Cases like the one discussed above illustrate how that is often a mistake. Before you make a decision that can dramatically alter your future, it is imperative you first consult with an experienced Galveston domestic violence defense lawyer. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you need help today. Call (281) 280-0100 .