Home > Blog

What Are the Legal Consequences of Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse, a pervasive yet often concealed problem, affects millions globally and significantly in the United States. The US legal system categorizes domestic abuse as a crime with potentially severe repercussions. However, it's important to understand domestic abuse is not just an act of physical violence. 

It extends to include emotional, financial, and psychological abuse, all considered equally harmful. This article delves into the multifaceted legal consequences of domestic abuse, both in criminal and civil aspects. 

Criminal Penalties for Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse encompasses a broad spectrum of offenses, each bearing distinct legal penalties contingent on the severity. The least severe forms of domestic abuse, such as isolated incidents of physical assault or verbal threats, typically result in misdemeanor charges. Convictions of such offenses may lead to penalties including, but not limited to, probation, fines, or jail time not exceeding one year. 

Middle-tier acts of domestic abuse may fall into the category of low-class felonies. This category includes offenses like repeated physical assault or persistent emotional abuse, and potential penalties can escalate to prison terms exceeding one year and higher fines. 

At the apex of the spectrum, the most egregious domestic abuse cases, like extreme physical violence leading to severe injuries or death of victims or long-term, systematic abuse, may be classified as high-class felonies. These significant offenses could result in life imprisonment and, in extreme circumstances, even a capital sentence. 

Civil Consequences of Domestic Abuse

Victims of domestic violence can sue for damages in a civil case. If you are found liable for domestic abuse in a civil court, a civil court may award the victim compensation for harm suffered. 

In civil cases, a standard of "preponderance of the evidence" - a lower threshold than beyond the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard of criminal cases - is applied, meaning that a plaintiff deserves compensation if more than 50% of the evidence favors their claim. 

The O.J. Simpson trial serves as a notable case of this dichotomy. While acquitted criminally, Simpson was held liable in a civil court for damages. So, even if you do not get a criminal conviction, a civil court could still hold you accountable for your actions.

Lifelong Impact of Domestic Abuse Convictions

“A domestic abuse conviction has lasting implications beyond the sentence. Even after release, a criminal record significantly affects various aspects of life,” says Attorney Mark Sherman of Connecticut Domestic Violence Information Center

One impact is limited job opportunities, as employers are hesitant to hire those with a violent criminal past. Housing options may also be restricted, as rental applications often require disclosing criminal history.

A history of domestic abuse can significantly impact the court's decision when awarding child custody during a divorce. The court's priority is the child's well-being. Unfortunately, a record of domestic abuse may raise concerns about your suitability as a parent.

Also, a domestic abuse conviction could potentially lead to the loss of certain constitutional rights, including the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Domestic Violence Case?

Regardless of your belief in your innocence, it's crucial to have legal representation. Unfortunately, some domestic abuse allegations are baseless and fabricated out of malice or manipulation. In such cases, a defense attorney can uncover the truth and expose the inaccuracies in the claims against you. 

Even when charges are legitimate, an attorney's guidance can still be valuable in mitigating the severity of your sentence. They can explore options like plea bargaining to reduce charges and associated penalties. They may also suggest alternative justice routes to avoid a criminal record in cases where such options are applicable.

More to Read: