Domestic Violence: Felony or Misdemeanor?

Data from the National Institute of Health shows that domestic violence affects approximately 10 million people in the US every year. Women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than their male counterparts, with one in every four women becoming a victim. 

If you are facing a domestic violence charge, you may wonder whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor. It can be either, depending on the prevailing circumstances, the severity of the violence resulting, the victim’s age, and previous convictions. 

What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is any form of physical or sexual violence perpetrated by a close relation such as a parent, spouse, roommate, ex-partner, family friend, or any person living in the same household as the victim. 

An act can only be considered domestic violence if it involves acts of violence, such as shoving, punching, slapping, throwing objects, and sexual assault. 

Difference between a Felony and a Misdemeanor

Felonies and misdemeanors are classifications of criminal offenses, with the class of the offense determining the potential punishment upon conviction. 

Typically misdemeanors carry penalties of less than one year in jail, fines, probation, and other alternative forms of criminal justice penalties. 

While you may also get fines and probation for a felony conviction, the fines will be much costlier, and probation terms more stringent. Also, prison sentences for a felony conviction can range from over one year to life and, in some cases, death. 

Factors Influencing the Charges

Whether a case of domestic violence results in a felony or misdemeanor depends on several factors, such as the severity of the physical injuries sustained by the victim, the use of dangerous weapons, prior convictions, violation of restraining orders, and other aggravating factors.

If the victim of domestic violence has visible severe injury marks, chances are that the defendant will face felony charges. The defendant will most likely face misdemeanor charges where only minor injuries are visible, or there are none.

The involvement of a deadly weapon in committing an offense almost always elevates the offense to a felony. A deadly weapon can be any object used to inflict harm on the victim, such as a firearm, a pocket knife, a baseball bat, etc. 

The court is more likely to look favorably at a case where the offender has no history of domestic violence. So as long as aggravating factors such as severe injuries and weapon use do not exist, a first-time offender is more likely to face a misdemeanor charge. In contrast, a repeat offender is likely to face a felony charge. 

Other aggravating factors in a domestic violence case include acts committed against children,  sexual crimes,  violence directed at the elderly,  acts committed in the presence of children, and acts committed alongside other crimes.

False Allegations

“All jurisdictions take domestic violence very seriously. In most cases, law enforcement officers will arrest on answering a domestic violence call, regardless of whether there are apparent indications of the commission of the offense,” says Attorney Mark Sherman of Connecticut Domestic Violence Information Center

Cases of false domestic violence allegations are rare, but they do occur, especially when a couple is going through a rough patch in their relationship – separation or divorce, for example. 

Sadly, it is possible to get a conviction based on false allegations, especially if you do not have a solid defense strategy. Therefore it is important to ensure you work with a domestic violence lawyer even when you are sure you are innocent of the challenges you face.