When You Are Facing Criminal Charges

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Domestic Violence Attorney in Houston, Texas

Woman Crouched and protecting her headMany people don’t realize that calling the police in the heat of a domestic dispute will probably result in someone being arrested for the offense of Assault Family Violence, even when the alleged victim pleads for the person not to be arrested.

Responding officers frequently conduct sloppy investigations, jump to conclusions, and arrest innocent people for Domestic Violence. In some cases, police even arrest the person who called them. Many times, the departmental policy requires officers dispatched to a domestic disturbance to arrest someone, rather than attempting to mediate the dispute. The police department and the District Attorney’s office had specialized division to prosecute these cases. If you are accused of domestic violence in Houston, Texas, you need an experienced domestic violence attorney who knows how to defend you.

Falsely Accused of Assault?

It can and does happen. Domestic Violence cases are more prone to false accusations than any other area of the law. Many times, a spouse will make a false family violence accusation to gain an advantage during a child custody case. Ms. Walker aggressively defends people who have been falsely accused and are facing assault charges. When an officer is called to the scene of a domestic disturbance, they are prepared to make an arrest and rarely investigate the case fully or properly to determine who the actual aggressor was. This leads to law enforcement making mistakes. Ms. Walker helps people fight these allegations in court and restore their reputation. Ms. Walker has helped countless Texans in Houston, Harris County, Galveston, and Friendswood accused of Domestic Violence. She has the experience, expertise, and passion to fight for you.

Ms. Walker defends people accused of both misdemeanor and felony domestic assault in Houston and surrounding areas. Ms. Walker has a proven history of success. If you are charged with assault, it’s critical to have an experienced criminal defense attorney working to protect your rights and tell your side of the story. The sooner Ms. Walker is brought into a case, the more opportunities there are likely to have to gather evidence and other important information about the case, investigate witness claims, and get the case dismissed, thereby avoiding a tremendous amount of stress and embarrassment without sacrificing your criminal history. In addition to actual family members, Texas assault laws define family violence to include people in a current or former dating relationship, members of the same household, in-laws, ex-spouses, foster families, and parents of the same child.

A conviction for Domestic Violence can impact every facet of your life, including employment opportunities, professional licensing, and access to your children. In addition to the criminal penalties, the stigma of being accused or convicted of domestic violence can follow you for the rest of your life.

If you have been charged with family violence assault, contact Ms. Walker immediately by phone or walkerlawhouston@gmail.com to discuss your case. Don’t take a chance with your future and have an assault or domestic violence conviction on your record by hiring unqualified or incompetent counsel.

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Frequently Asked Questions – Assault / Family Violence

This page contains general answers to the most common questions about how family violence assault cases.

If Someone I Love Was Arrested for Domestic Assault, Should I Hire a Lawyer Immediately?

Perhaps. If the person was recently arrested then an attorney can often help get them released on personal bond. But if the person has already been released, you should beware of attorneys that employ high-pressure sales and scare tactics.

It is definitely more convenient and provides peace of mind to have a lawyer before your first scheduled court appearance, but asking a judge for additional time to hire the right attorney for your case is more likely to produce success in the long run than making a hasty decision to hire an attorney that may not get the best results.

We are often contacted by people that hired the first available jail release attorney and now want to retain us to take over the defense of their family violence case. We sometimes agree to take these cases, but only if we believe that there is enough time remaining to fully investigate the facts and prepare a proper defense strategy that is up to the high standards that we insist on for all of our clients.

What if The Alleged Victim Wasn’t Injured?

The law does not require the alleged victim to sustain an actual injury in an assault case.

But you should think twice about accepting any level of family violence conviction or plea bargain agreement without a fight because it can result in collateral consequences that are severely disproportionate to the severity of the offense.

It is also important to understand that physical contact that merely causes pain and doesn’t leave a mark qualifies as “bodily injury” under Texas law. Assault with bodily injury is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in the county jail and/or a fine of up to $4,000 (note that a jail sentence may also be probated, depending on various factors, in which case a defendant might not actually spend any time in jail).

What Are “Conditions of Bond” in Family Violence Assault Cases?

Conditions of bond are things that a person must agree to do (or not do) to be released from custody and/or remain out of jail while the person’s case is pending. For example, an agreement to appear in court is a condition of almost every bond. A bond condition in some family violence cases requires the defendant to stay away from the home and workplace of the alleged victim.

Examples of bond conditions include supervision by a Harris County Pretrial Services officer, wearing an electronic monitoring device, observing an evening curfew, no contact with the complainant, exclusion from a specific address, and a requirement of no drugs or alcohol. Required conditions are either suggested to the Judge by the prosecutor or decided by the Judge based on the allegations.

What is the Batterer Intervention and Prevention Program?

The Batterer Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) is an education and rehabilitation program for domestic violence offenders. These group sessions are conducted at local social service organizations. The program starts with the premise that the defendant is an “offender.” Participants must admit that they are batterers and accept responsibility for allegations of cruelty, abuse, or violence.

In many cases, the defendant must attend 18, 24, or 36 weekly sessions of BIPP. Participants typically pay an initial fee for intake and initiation and then a per-session fee for each week of the program that they attend. The BIPP is obviously not appropriate for some people. When the BIPP is not the best approach for a client, I can sometimes persuade the prosecution to allow private counseling or online classes instead. This type of substitution allows the client to seek services from the provider of his or her choice.

What Are the Collateral Consequences of A Family Violence Conviction?

The collateral consequences of a domestic violence charge are extensive. In almost all cases, judges issue a Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection (MOEPs), which forbids defendants from returning to their homes and sometimes even prevents them from seeing their children. If children were present at the time of the incident, Texas CPS (Child Protective Services) may also investigate and take separate action in addition to what happens in the criminal case.

A family violence conviction can be used to deny child custody, limited visitation rights, and eliminate the minimum marriage term required to qualify for spousal support. A family violence conviction can also cause you to permanently lose the right to possess a firearm for any reason. If you are in the military, you may be discharged; if you work in law enforcement, you may be reassigned or fired. See US Code Title 18 Section 922(g).

If you hold any professional license or, a family violence conviction can cause you to lose or not be allowed to renew that license. Further, it will appear in your criminal record and will show up in pre-employment and pre-leasing background checks. A family violence conviction can never be removed from your background. Even if you successfully complete a deferred adjudication, you cannot get your record sealed.

Non-citizens convicted of family violence may be denied a green card or deported and denied re-entry.

If you are convicted of even the lowest level of family violence assault, any future allegation of family violence, misdemeanor or felony, can be prosecuted and punished as a 3rd-degree felony.

Can I Drop the Charges?

In Texas, the complainant or alleged victim of a criminal offense does not have the right to drop the charges. Only the prosecutor has that power.

When alleged victims of family violence seek to drop charges in Harris County, the case is removed from the regular court prosecutors and sent to a specialized division called the Family Criminal Law Division (FCLD). This division specializes in prosecuting cases where the alleged victim minimizes or does not want to proceed with charges. FCLD is staffed with prosecutors, investigators, social workers, case workers and administrative staff, all with the sole mission of proving the case without the cooperation of the alleged victim.

Many people mistakenly believe that if an alleged victim files an “Affidavit of Non-Prosecution” this will cause the case to be dismissed. An affidavit of non-prosecution has no legal effect. It only informs the prosecutor that they need to send the case to FCLD to determine how they can prove the case without the alleged victim's cooperation. That being said, when properly handled, an affidavit can be a very powerful tool to help me to get a case dismissed.

If you are the alleged victim, you should be aware that a criminal defense attorney who is representing the defendant cannot legally represent your interests (even if you were the one who actually hired him or her). His or her duty is to represent the defendant’s interests, which very well may conflict with yours. An ethical defense attorney will warn you if he or she determines that such a conflict exists but cannot give you legal advice. This is especially important to understand if you want to contradict a previous statement, which might result in criminal liability for perjury or filing a false report.

As a result, it is my practice to utilize an investigator to communicate directly with the alleged victim so there can be no later allegation of witness tampering. An investigator can also prepare a case-specific affidavit of non-prosecution, which can be very helpful in case defense.

What Is the Role of Victim Services Counselors?

Victim services counselors are a special type of social worker. Their purpose is to help crime victims recover and protect their rights. They offer many different types of assistance, such as helping an alleged victim apply for compensation from the Crime Victim’s Compensation Program, helping an alleged victim get over a fear of testifying, and assisting with travel arrangements when the alleged victim must appear in court.

Unfortunately, alleged victims frequently report that they are treated badly when they seeking a dismissal or reduction of charges rather than a conviction. Such behavior toward a victim has been described as manipulative, threatening, and even dishonest. I have found this to be especially likely to occur when the alleged victim disputes the version of events reported by the police. Alleged victims have no legal obligation to cooperate with or even talk to a victim services counselor. If you do talk to them, keep in mind that they are supposed to be helping you. Tell them if you want a particular outcome and cut them off if they are unhelpful or rude.

When a victim-witness coordinator, prosecutor, policeman, detective, or any agent of the State advises the alleged victim to not speak with the defense attorney, that is sometimes known as a Gregory violation. If this happens to you, notify the defense attorney about what was said, when, and by whom. See also: United States v. Skilling, 554 F.3d 529, 567 (5th Cir. 2009)

Do I Have to Testify at Trial?

Defendants: No. When you are charged with a criminal offense, you have an absolute right under both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions to choose whether or not to testify.

Alleged Victims: Unlike most other types of criminal cases, when you are the alleged victim in a domestic assault case that the government filed against your husband or wife, spousal immunity or spousal privilege does not apply in criminal cases, which means that the government CAN force you to testify against your spouse at trial.

Sometimes, however, the alleged victim would not be able to testify honestly about all the details surrounding the incident without confessing to criminal behavior of their own. This is actually quite common in cases involving mutual combat. In this situation, the alleged victim could obey the subpoena to appear in court but still refuse to testify about the specific facts of the incident by asserting their right against self-incrimination guaranteed by the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

What if The Alleged Victim Is Not Actually a Family Member?

Texas law allows prosecutors to seek a “family violence” conviction even when the defendant and alleged victim are not what one might ordinarily consider family. In addition to blood relatives, a family violence allegation can be made against a foster child or parent, former spouse, domestic partner, roommate, boyfriend, girlfriend, and even a former boyfriend or girlfriend. Depending on the relationship, the term “dating violence” is sometimes used in place of “family violence.”

What Does “Bodily Injury” Mean in an Assault Case?

Many people understandably assume that the term “bodily injury” requires some sort of visible injury, like a cut, a bruise, or even a red mark. However, "Bodily Injury" is defined by the penal code as pain. As a result, you can be charged with Assault with “Bodily Injury,” a class A misdemeanor (an offense punishable up to 1 year in the county jail), when you are accused of merely slapping someone, pulling hair, or even pushing.

What Is a “Choking Allegation” in A Family Violence Case?

The government treats choking or suffocating a family member as a more serious offense than most other forms of assault that don’t involve a weapon. As a result, an accusation of choking allows the government to charge you with a 3rd-degree felony on the first offense or a 2nd-degree felony if you have any prior convictions for family violence.

The punishment range for a 3rd-degree felony is 2 to 10 years in prison. The punishment range for a 2nd-degree felony is 2 to 20 years. Either one can carry a fine of up to $10,000.

What Is the Penalty Range for Assault with Family Violence?

Depending on your prior criminal history and the specific facts alleged by the police, e.g., bodily injury, choking, deadly weapon, or other aggravating circumstances, an assault or aggravated assault with family violence case can be filed as a Class C misdemeanor or up to a 1st-degree felony.

The range of possible outcomes at the low end of the spectrum includes deferred dispositions and fine-only convictions, the former of which may qualify for expunction. Higher-level misdemeanors that result in convictions may involve probation or even time in the county jail. Depending on the defendant’s criminal history and the severity of the allegations, deferred prosecution is also a possibility and is a very desirable outcome in many cases because it results in a dismissal that is usually eligible for expunction. Felony cases that result in a conviction may involve probation or time in the penitentiary and the most severe felony cases carry a maximum punishment range of life in prison.

What Is Wrong with Deferred Adjudication for Family Violence Cases?

Deferred Adjudication is better than straight probation in most criminal cases because it is not a conviction. Unfortunately, the non-disclosure law specifically excludes anyone ever convicted of or placed on deferred adjudication probation for a case involving family violence. In other words, entering into a plea bargain agreement for deferred adjudication will make you permanently ineligible for non-disclosure in the future, even for unrelated charges.

In addition, deferred adjudication is treated as a conviction for some purposes, such as federal immigration issues, concealed handgun licenses, and enhancement of future family violence charges. Thus, for family violence cases, deferred adjudication probation has many of the same consequences as straight probation.

There are pretrial diversion programs that are sometimes offered in certain cases. Successful completion of pretrial diversion usually results in complete dismissal and makes it possible to obtain an Expunction. Expunction is even better than non-disclosure because it completely removes a case from your criminal history and causes all records of the arrest and prosecution to be deleted and destroyed.

What if The Affirmative Finding of Family Violence Is Waived?

A prosecutor may offer to waive the family violence finding in hopes of making a plea bargain offer seem like a better deal. Don’t fall for it.

Unlike a deadly weapon finding, almost all of the negative family violence consequences apply without regard to an affirmative finding. This is because most of the enhanced consequences are based on the actual relationship between the defendant and the alleged victim, not on the existence of any judicial finding.

Contact Us

This page contains only general information. Every case is different. If you have specific questions about your case, you should consult a criminal defense attorney. For a quote in Houston, Harris County, Galveston, or Friendswood, Texas, call or email at walker@walkerlawhouston@gmail.com. A domestic violence attorney can get you the results you deserve.