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The Importance of “Dating Relationships” in Texas Domestic Violence Cases

Domestic violence in Texas includes not just acts involving family members, but also anyone that is in a “dating relationship” with the defendant. The Texas Family Code defines this as a “continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.” At trial, prosecutors must prove the existence of a dating relationship–beyond a reasonable doubt–which may be accomplished by introducing evidence regarding any of the following:

  • the length of the parties’ relationship;
  • the nature of the relationship; and
  • the frequency and type of interactions between the parties.

Missing Jury Instruction Not Fatal to Domestic Violence Conviction

Trial judges must properly instruct juries on the legal definition of a “dating relationship” and the prosecutor’s burden of proof. However, appellate courts may overlook an erroneous instruction if the evidence presented at trial leaves little doubt that a dating relationship existed between the defendant and the accuser.

For example, a Texas appeals court recently affirmed the conviction of a San Antonio man charged with “continuous family violence.” There were actually two accusers in this case. The first accuser testified at trial that she had been dating the defendant for several years. After drinking one evening in 2016, the couple fought, and the accuser testified the defendant “pushed her.” Approximately two weeks later, the defendant was staying with the second accuser, his ex-wife, when police responded to another report of domestic violence. The second accuser said the defendant became intoxicated and assaulted both her and her daughter.

After the close of evidence, the judge instructed the jury as to the law. Specifically, the judge explained the crime of “continuous violence against the family,” which requires proof the defendant engaged in “two or more” acts that constitute “an assault against another person or persons who is a member of the defendant’s family” over a period of 12 months or less. This instruction neglected to mention or explain the requirement to prove a “dating relationship” existed between the defendant and the first accuser. But a separate paragraph noted the jury needed to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant “did intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause bodily injury to [the first accuser], a person with whom Gilberto Moreno has or had a Dating relationship with…”

Although the prosecution later acknowledged the judge’s instructions were erroneous, it nevertheless maintained on appeal this omission did not “egregiously harm” the defendant’s legal rights. The Court of Appeals agreed. It noted the evidence that the defendant and the first accuser were dating was “undisputed” at trial. Indeed, the accuser testified point-blank she was “assaulted by her boyfriend.” Prosecutors also “emphasized the nature of the relationship” during closing arguments. Given all this, the appeals court said there was no reason to believe “the jury was misled in any way by the omission of the definition of ‘dating relationship’.”

Get Help from a Galveston Domestic Violence Attorney

It is often impossible to correct trial-level mistakes on appeal. This is why you need to engage a skilled Galveston domestic violence lawyer who is experienced in trying these types of cases. If you are accused of assaulting a family member or dating partner, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today or call (281) 280-0100 .