Texas Appeals Courts Tackle Excessive Domestic Violence Sentences

August 22nd, 2018 by Tad Nelson in Domestic Violence

In the zeal to prosecute individuals accused of domestic violence in the Galveston area, prosecutors and judges often run roughshod over the constitutional rights of defendants. Everyone agrees that domestic violence is a serious offense and should be punished. But any such punishment must be in accordance with the law.

Double Jeopardy

Here are two recent Texas domestic violence cases where state appellate courts identified key errors in the defendants’ respective sentencing. In the first case, Isreal v. State, the trial court violated the defendant’s constitutional protection against “double jeopardy.” More precisely, the judge allowed the jury to find the defendant guilty of three separate offenses arising from the same alleged act of domestic violence, something the Court of Appeals found unacceptable.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with attacking his on-again, off-again girlfriend following an argument. The defendant essentially confessed his guilt to the police during interrogation. At trial, the judge instructed the jury as to the following three categories of domestic violence punishable under Section 22.02 of the Texas Penal Code:

  1. aggravated family violence assault causing serious bodily injury with a deadly weapon;
  2. aggravated family violence assault with a deadly weapon; and
  3. aggravated family violence assault causing serious bodily injury.

The jury found the defendant guilty on all three counts. The Court of Appeals ruled this was a mistake, however, since the second and third charges were “lesser-included offenses” of the first charge. In other words, the defendant did not commit three separate acts of domestic violence–he committed one act against one person. It was possible for the jury to find the defendant not guilty of the first charge but guilty of the second or third counts, but not all three simultaneously.

Felony vs. Misdemeanor

The second domestic violence case, Holoman v. State, involves a slightly different situation. Here, the state accused the defendant of choking “a member of his household.” Normally, a person commits a Class A misdemeanor when they “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause[] bodily injury to another.” But the offense is elevated to a Class C felony if the victim is a member of the defendant’s household and the offense involves choking or the defendant has a prior domestic violence conviction.

In this case, the jury acquitted the defendant of the felony charge and convicted him on the lesser-included misdemeanor. The trial judge, however, decided to sentence him for the felony charge. This makes a big difference: a misdemeanor only carries a maximum sentence of 1 year in jail, but the judge ordered the defendant imprisoned for 25 years.

The Court of Appeals said this was improper. The jury clearly acquitted the defendant with respect to the allegation he choked his accuser. And there was no evidence introduced at trial regarding any prior domestic violence conviction. Therefore, there was no grounds to sentence the defendant for the felony.

Have You Been Charged with Domestic Violence?

As you can see, trial courts often make critical errors when handling domestic violence cases. This is why it is important to work with a qualified Galveston domestic violence and assault attorney whenever you are facing criminal charges. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today at (281) 280-0100 if you need legal advice or assistance.

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