It is completely normal for you to have disputes with your spouse, children or other members of your family or household. If you are like many, you might resolve these disputes through arguments or by giving each other space. Unfortunately, some disputes get so heated that threats of violence are made or a physical altercation ensues. If you are ever in that situation in Florida, you could face serious consequences including jail time. So, what is and what isn’t domestic violence? The West Palm Beach domestic violence lawyers at Law Offices of Greg Rosenfeld break it all down for you in this overview of domestic violence in Florida.
Domestic Violence Is Against The Law In Florida
In Florida, domestic violence is where you commit a criminal offense that results in the physical injury or death of one of your family or household members. This includes:
- Assault: intentionally and unlawfully threatening violence
- Battery: intentionally causing bodily harm or touching someone against their will
- Sexual battery: penetrating someone’s sexual organ without their consent
- Stalking: following or harassing someone
- Kidnapping: abducting or confining a child
- False imprisonment: preventing someone from leaving
The first major thing to keep in mind is that domestic violence only applies if you commit a criminal offense. This means that there are many things that you could do that you might one day regret, such as getting into a shouting match with your significant other, but where this does not amount to a criminal offense in the slightest.
For example, it is not against the law to scold your children or your significant other for doing something wrong – even if you have arguably overacted or misjudged the situation. It is not against the law for you to get in the face of your spouse and threaten to divorce them. However, if instead of threatening the relationship, you threaten your spouse’s life, then you might have committed domestic violence since assault is a crime.
Also, keep in mind that battery – which is a common criminal offense in domestic violence cases – does not just consist of situations where you physically hurt the other person. It could include situations where you are merely touching someone without their consent such as slightly pushing or shoving them.
Domestic Violence Only Involves Family And Household Members
The second major thing to keep in mind is that for a criminal offense to constitute domestic violence, you have to commit the act against a family or household member. So, what does this mean? In Florida, family or household members include:
- your spouse
- your ex-spouse
- people who are related to you by blood or marriage
- people who you reside with as if they are your family
- the mother or father of your baby
In Florida, if any of those people reside with you or used to reside with you, then they fall under the category of family or household members. The only exception to this is the mother or father of your baby, who would be considered a family member regardless of whether they ever lived with you.
For example, suppose that you get into a verbal altercation with your spouse where you both hail insults at each other. Your spouse thinks that you are cheating and starts making loud and abusive comments towards you. If you respond by hitting your spouse, then you have likely committed domestic violence.
Suppose instead that your new girlfriend stops by your apartment only to discover that your old girlfriend is back in the picture. If your new girlfriend berates you in front of your old girlfriend, and you lose your temper and hit your new girlfriend, then you might not have committed domestic violence under Florida law unless your new girlfriend was a family or household member at the time. However, you could still be arrested and charged with battery.
Punishment For Domestic Violence
The crime of domestic violence battery is a first degree misdemeanor which carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail (or probation) and a $1,000 fine. In addition, you might be ordered by a court to: avoid contact with the other person (e.g. a restraining order); undertake anger management classes, psychological or substance abuse evaluations and treatments; perform community service; pay restitution to the victim; lose your right to own a firearm; and complete a Batterers’ Intervention Program. Depending on the nature of the domestic violence offense, you could also be looking at a felony that carries more significant consequences such as a stiffer prison sentence and a fine.
Batterers’ Intervention Program
Normally, if you are found guilty or plead no contest to domestic violence, then the court requires that you be placed on probation for at least one year. Not only that, but the court could require that you pay for and complete a Batterer’s Intervention Program – a 29-week program mainly designed for victim safety and to hold you accountable for your actions. The program covers tactics of power and control by one person over another. However, the court is only supposed to refer you to a program that addresses the type of violence involved in your altercation, if any.
Minimum Jail Time A Real Possibility With Domestic Violence
If you are found guilty of domestic violence, and you intentionally cause harm to your family or household member resulting in an injury, then you could face at least five days in county jail. Notably, this is just the minimum imprisonment term. The court could possibly sentence you to probation, community control and additional jail time depending on the circumstances.
My Family Member Called The Cops On Me. Now What?
If the responding law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that you have engaged in domestic violence, then the officer could arrest you and charge you with the crime. It does not matter if your family member agrees to this arrest or not. In fact, the police don’t even have to consider the relationship between you and your family member when deciding whether to arrest you.
Defending Against Domestic Violence
Since Florida considers domestic violence as a criminal act instead of just a private matter, be prepared to face criminal charges that, if not defended against, could result in your conviction. Fortunately, in our criminal justice system, you are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a judge or jury. There are a number of defenses which could get you off the hook for a domestic violence offense. Here are some common defenses.
You Are Acting In Self-Defense
One of the most common reasons why you might not get charged or convicted of domestic violence is that you are just defending yourself. If you (or someone who you are responsible for protecting such as your child) are in imminent fear of serious harm or even death, then you have the right to defend against the family or household member’s attack.
For example, if your spouse attempts to slap you in the face out of nowhere, and you swat her hand away to avoid being slapped, then you have not committed domestic violence. However, if your spouse attempts to slap you, and you are in imminent fear of the sting associated with being slapped, then you are not entitled to react with greater force such as stabbing your spouse. Remember that your force in defending yourself has to be on par with the force that the other person attempts to use. This defense might not be available to you if you are the primary aggressor.
You Aren’t The Primary Aggressor
It is possible that your family or household member suggests to the police that you initiated the altercation or violent acts. If you and the other person both complain to law enforcement about each other, the officer is supposed to determine who started it (the primary aggressor). If the officer determines that the other person is the primary aggressor, it is possible that you won’t be arrested and charged with anything.
You Are Defending Your Property
Another reason that you should not be found guilty of domestic violence is that you are just defending your property. Perhaps your spouse is attempting to make off with a shoebox full of your cash and everything in your vault. If you forcefully grab your property out of your spouse’s hands to protect against this happening, and this results in an injury to your spouse, then you have not committed domestic violence.
Notably, Florida is a stand-your-ground state. This means that you are able to use deadly force when you reasonably believe that using force (or threatening to use force) is necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm or to prevent the commission of certain felonies such as robbery.
You Are Falsely Accused Or You Make A Mistake
You might be falsely accused of domestic violence. For example, if you slam your bathroom door in the middle of a verbal fight with your spouse, and they put their arm in the doorway to try to prevent you from shutting the door, then it is possible that you will injure your spouse’s arm in the process. However, if you don’t know that your spouse’s arm is in the doorway, then you can’t have committed battery. Put another way, if you unintentionally act in a way which results in harm to your family or household member, then you have arguably made a mistake and you should not be found guilty for a criminal offense in which the law specifically requires you to have acted with purpose.
Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys
Seemingly minor details can separate a misdemeanor domestic violence offense from a felony domestic violence offense. Considering the far-reaching implications that a domestic violence conviction might have on your life, it is recommended for you to discuss your situation with a criminal defense attorney. Law Offices of Greg Rosenfeld, P.A. is dedicated to fighting for people’s rights. Our attorneys have extensive experience protecting the rights of Florida clients who are accused of criminal offenses such as domestic violence. We are here for you. Call (561) 902-1122 or contact us online for a free consultation regarding your case today.