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What Are the Ramifications of a Domestic Violence Charge?

All criminal accusations are serious. Even charges that have light penalties can stay on your record, making life harder. Domestic violence charges carry an even greater stigma. Regardless of the circumstances or veracity of the accusation, it can stain someone for life. In this article, we will discuss domestic violence from a legal perspective, and we will study the impact domestic violence charges have on the accused.

What, Exactly, Is a Domestic Violence Charge?

Imagine two men in a bar fight for which they are arrested. The charges of battery or assault will be serious, but they will not be classified as “domestic.” What, legally, causes a violence accusation to become “domestic?”

Domestic violence specifically involves family or household members. Violence against family members can take place away from your residence. For example, a son drives to his father’s house and starts a fight. Family members can include siblings, in-laws, children, parents, spouses, and so forth. Domestic violence can also extend to romantic partners, even when they are unmarried. These romantic partners do not even need to be together. Ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-spouses, ex-partners, etc. can be guilty of domestic violence.

Violence against household members, on the other hand, does not necessarily include family members. Domestic violence could happen between roommates, for example. This is one of the many reasons a domestic charge can be so damaging to someone’s life. If two roommates are in a brawl, the police could charge the fight as a domestic violence crime. This can leave a stain on your record. Anyone who does a background check will see a domestic violence accusation, and, without context, could assume you had beaten your spouse or lover.

Violence vs. Abuse

In legal terms, there is often a distinction between violence and abuse. Violence involves a direct physical confrontation. It includes beating someone with fists, feet, or objects. All forms of violence – by this definition – are illegal.

Abuse is a bit more nebulous. Abuse includes yelling, threatening, forcing someone to stay indoors, cutting off someone’s contact with friends and family, etc. Criminal charges associated with abuse are often different from violence charges. Abuse charges are more indirect, as there are few laws against “abuse.” For example, abusive behavior can be handled with stalking laws. In a romantic relationship, abuse is often controlled with civil suits, divorce court, protective orders, etc.

Warrantless Arrest

Virginia is one of many states that allows a warrantless arrest for domestic violence. This means that if the police suspect you of the crime, they can arrest you. They do not need solid, direct evidence. Even if the alleged victim swears that you did not harm them, police can arrest you on suspicion alone.

The philosophy behind this law is well-intentioned. If a spouse is being abused, they might lie to authorities, fearing further retribution. Unfortunately, this can also result in false arrests. Your spouse could have bruises from a completely unrelated accident, and the police could arrest and charge you with domestic violence.

Impact of an Accusation

Criminal Penalties

In Virginia, domestic violence is a Class 1 misdemeanor. This is the highest of the misdemeanor classes. It is punishable by up to 1 year in jail and fines of up to $2,500. A third offense within a 20-year period is a Class 6 felony, the lowest of the felony classes in the state. The accused could serve up to 5 years in prison.

Loss of Second Amendment Rights

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor crime involving domestic violence, you will lose your right under federal law to purchase, possess, or otherwise carry a firearm. There is currently no mechanism for restoring this right, so as it stands you will never be legally able to carry a firearm again if convicted.

Protective Orders

Commonly known as restraining orders, protective orders demand that one person stay away from another. If you are accused of domestic violence, your accuser can easily file a protective order against you. Violation of a protective order is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail and fines of up to $2,500. A second offense results in a mandatory 60 days of incarceration. A third (or more) offense is a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison with fines of up to $2,500.

There are three kinds of protective orders in Virginia.

Emergency Protective Orders

These are filed when a person believes they are in imminent danger. Often called “ex parte” protective orders, they can be fast tracked through the system. Law enforcement can request orders directly, and they can be granted when courtrooms are closed and during weekends. They provide 3 days of protection against the assumed victim. This gives the accuser time to prepare a more advanced protective order.

If you have an emergency protective order filed against you:

  • You must stay away from the accuser and, if you have children together, the family.
  • The accuser may stay in the home, and you cannot approach the home.
  • The accuser may keep the family pet.
  • Your gun rights are restricted.

Preliminary Protective Orders

A preliminary protective order is designed to keep the victim safe while they prepare for a permanent order. It lasts for 15 days, and it carries a greater set of restrictions against the accused. To obtain this order, your accuser must simply appear in court and convince a judge that you are a threat. You cannot defend yourself against this accusation. If the judge believes your accuser, you can have this order placed against you.

If you have a preliminary protective order filed against you:

  • All of the emergency protective order restrictions apply.
  • You must provide adequate housing to the victim if they are your spouse, live-in partner, etc.
  • You cannot shut off their utilities or their cellphone.
  • Your accuser may have exclusive use of the family vehicle.
  • You cannot track your accuser electronically.

Permanent Protective Orders

After the 15 days of the preliminary order have passed, you may face a permanent protective order. This is when you can finally defend yourself. Permanent protective orders require a court hearing with the accuser and the accused. You may have legal representation. Evidence can be presented, and witnesses can be called. It is highly recommended that you seek legal counsel if you are facing a permanent protective order. These orders have even more restrictions than the previous two.

If you have a permanent protective order filed against you:

  • All of the restrictions of both emergency and preliminary protection orders apply.
  • You may face child custody issues, including limitations on your visitation rights.

Social Impact

A domestic violence charge creates ramifications beyond the criminal. There is a huge social stigma around these charges. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your accusation, people see or hear “domestic violence” and make a lot of assumptions. All nuance is lost, and you could be judged for the rest of your life.

Of course, this charge can seriously affect your employment as well. You could have a difficult time finding work, being dubbed an abuser. Possibly, you could even lose your current job, as the company wants to distance itself from you.

If you’ve been accused of domestic violence, seek legal counsel right away. With a proper defense, you could be exonerated, leaving your freedom and reputation intact.

If you are facing domestic violence charges, I am here to listen. I may be able to develop a defense for you. Call me today at (540) 386-0204 for a free consultation, or fill out an online contact form here.