domestic violence

What Makes Violence “Domestic”?

Imagine two men arguing over a parking dispute. One claims that the other pulled into their spot, while the other believes the spot was meant for them. The argument heats up, and one of them throws a punch. This is illegal, violent behavior, but it would not be classified as “domestic violence.”

So, what, exactly, is the difference? When does violence go from “standard” to “domestic”? Domestic violence is defined by who, exactly, the violence is directed toward. In Virginia, domestic violence charges are heard in the juvenile and domestic relations court in the county where the offense happened as opposed to in the general district court.

“Standard” Violence Charges

Legally, there is a distinction between “assault” and “battery,” even though both are technically forms of violence.

Assault is violence that is not directly physical. It can include raising a fist as a threat, brandishing a weapon, yelling in someone’s face, or even spitting on someone. Battery involves direct physical contact. Punching, kicking, pulling hair, beating someone with an object, etc. are all forms of battery. It is the contact that makes it a battery. Both assault and battery are Class 1 misdemeanors. This is the highest level of misdemeanor in the state. Convictions can result in up to 12 months in jail with fines as high as $2,500.

There are added penalties if either is considered a “hate crime.” If either assault or battery happened because of someone’s race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender presentation, etc., a conviction leads to an automatic six months of incarceration.

Domestic Violence Charges

For a violence charge to be considered domestic, it must happen between family or household members or those with children in common, or those couples who live together and are in an intimate relationship. “Family members” includes a wide variety of people. Of course, we can assume spouses, parents, children, and siblings are included. However, it can also include unmarried romantic partners. It may even involve people who are no longer connected. Domestic violence can take place between ex-boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses, etc. Under this classification, it is not necessary for these people to currently be living together; they just must have cohabitated within the past 12 months. Someone could be guilty of domestic violence if they drive to another location to commit the act.

Like assault and battery, there is a legal difference between domestic abuse and domestic violence. Abuse is more abstract. It involves things like stalking, cutting off someone’s communication with others, imprisoning someone in their home, etc. These actions are usually handled with specific laws against them, meaning that there are stalking laws, abduction laws, and so forth.

Domestic violence, specifically, involves assault or battery against family or household members. It is a Class 1 felony, punishable by up to one year in jail and fines of up to $2,500. There are also added penalties to a domestic violence charge.

Penalties Unique to a Domestic Violence Accusation

Crime Classification and Penalties

Domestic violence cases do not allow for expungement if you are convicted, or if you do the deferred finding with the dismissal that the statute allows for in Virginia. If you have had three or more domestic violence charges in a 10 year period, the crime is no longer a misdemeanor. Three or more offenses become a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. This is different from non-domestic assaults or charges involving violence that can be expunged due to accord and satisfaction, or the deferred finding statute that allows for expungements.

Fight Your Charges in Court

Domestic violence accusations come with another added penalty: social impact. When someone checks your record, they can see “domestic violence” and immediately make assumptions about you. Your record will lack the context of the charge, and it won’t tell your side of the story.

Always remember that you are innocent until proven innocent. It is up to prosecutors to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you are guilty of these crimes. With a skilled lawyer, you may be able to show inconsistencies in these accusations, or you have a self-defense claim, or be able to show that the allegations are false. Fighting your case is the best way to preserve your freedom and reputation

If you have been accused of domestic violence, reach out to our office today. We will evaluate your case and make a plan to defend you to try to keep you from facing criminal convictions or penalties. You can schedule a free consultation by filling out an online form or calling (703) 940-0001.