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Is It “Domestic Violence” If I Attack My Roommate?

Evidence of domestic violence is often used to enhance a criminal case against a defendant in Texas. For example, Section 22.02 of the Penal Code normally treats the offense of “aggravated assault” as a second-degree felony. But in domestic violence cases, that offense can be bumped to a first-degree felony.

To be more precise, aggravated assault is a first-degree felony when the prosecution can prove two things: (1) the defendant used a “deadly weapon” in committing the assault and (2) causes serious injury to a member of the defendant’s “household.”

Defendant Receives 20-Year Sentence After Striking Housemate with Hammer

It should be noted that members of the same “household” do not necessarily mean people who are related or involved in a dating relationship. A family violence charge can also apply to unrelated roommates who simply share the same residence. A recent Texas appeals court decision, Sefiane v. State, offers an example of just such a case.

At trial, the jury heard evidence from a witness who said he was “staying at the dwelling” where the defendant was living with the accuser. The witness said he saw the defendant and the accuser “arguing.” At one point, the witness said the defendant struck the accuser in the head with a hammer. The witness said he took the hammer from the defendant and called the police.

The accuser also testified. He said he “lived together with other individuals for 3 to 5 months in a home owned by their landlord.” That is to say, the accuser testified he was the defendant’s housemate.

For his part, the defendant admitted to striking the accuser with a hammer, but said he acted out of self-defense. The defendant maintained the accuser “had previously threatened him with physical harm.” Indeed, the defendant said on the evening in question, the accuser “struck” the defendant’s face, prompting the defendant to grab “the first object he could reach” to defend himself, i.e., the hammer.

The jury apparently did not believe the defendant’s account and convicted him of aggravated assault involving family violence. The jury also imposed a 20-year prison sentence. On appeal, the defendant raised multiple arguments, all of which the appeals court rejected.

Of note, the defendant argued the prosecution failed to prove he and the accuser were members of the same “household,” a necessary element of the domestic violence enhancement for aggravated assault. The term “household” is defined in the Texas Family Code as “a unit composed of persons living together in the same dwelling, without regard to whether they are related to each other.” The defendant argued the court should apply a different definition of household used in the Texas Property Code, but as the appeals court noted, the aggravated assault statute expressly relies on the Family Code’s definition. And the testimony in this case established the accuser and the defendant “were living in the same household as tenants.”

Speak with a Galveston and League City Domestic Violence Attorney Today

It is not uncommon for roommates to have disagreements. But when such disagreements turn physical, one participant may find themselves charged with domestic violence. If you are in such a situation, you need to contact an experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need immediate advice or assistance. Call (281) 280-0100 .