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Assault on a family member (also known as “domestic assault”) refers to violent acts committed against live-in family members, children, a spouse or any kind of romantic partner. Depending on the US state, “domestic assaults” include any type of violence that takes place in a domestic setting:
Some states qualify threats as assaults, too, even if no bodily harm occurs and no visible bodily injuries are present. Since the term “injury” consists of actions that induce fear, mental anguish or anxiety, the victim just needs to prove the wrongdoing caused personal harm in some manner.
The victim of a domestic assault could be anyone related by marriage, blood or in an intimate or romantic relationship with the accused, as well as former spouses, people who have a child together, foster parents and foster children.
The penalties for family violence depend on the state law, the circumstances of each case and the abuser’s prior convictions and parole history. For misdemeanors, the penalties vary from probation, fines, treatment programs, up to one year in jail and restitution payments to the victim. The abuser could also lose the right to possess a weapon for a certain amount of time determined by the law.
If assault charges are usually classified as Class C Misdemeanors, when they’recommitted against a family member, they’re upgraded to Class A, punishable with up to 1 year behind bars and a fine of up to $4,000. This is the case of first-time offenders who will also have a protective order called a Magistrates Order for Emergency Protection (MOEP) issued against them. A judge could decide to place a restraining order against the perpetrator, even without the consent of the victim. A second charge is automatically qualified as a third-degree felony.
If the crime is more serious than minor bodily injury or physical threats or if the abuser is a repeat offender, the crime is deemed a felony which faces proportionally harsher penalties, depending on how brutal the circumstances of the crime. For instance, if it involves suffocation or choking, it’s a second-degree felony that sends the abuser to prison for up to 20 years. For third-degree felonies, the punishment is from 2 to 10 years of imprisonment and a $10,000 fine, as well as further payments to the victim.
A domestic assault misdemeanor is “upgraded” to a first or second-degree felony when the following aggravating factors contributed:
If both of the above apply (serious injuries AND a deadly weapon), the abuser is charged with a first-degree felony, which is the second most severe felony conviction after a capital felony. The punishment is a substantial $10,000 fine plus 5 to 99 years or life in prison.
Although as a rule, any charge of domestic violence tarnishes one’s criminal record for life, some states offer “a way out.” The incident can be removed by a court of law through a procedure called “expungement.” Expungement eligibility depends on the convict’s criminal record and the severity of the crime. The greater the level of violence and the number of past convictions, the less likely to have the domestic assault record expunged.
States vary in their domestic violence provisions. Approximately 38 states define and penalize domestic violence and abuse within their criminal code. The violent actions included vary from one state to another and feature harassment, stalking, intimidation and emotional abuse. 23 states also address the matter of children witnessing acts of domestic violence in their statute, with all 50 states and the District of Columbia taking into account “the presence of domestic violence”when dealing with custody and visitation rights.