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How is Domestic Violence Defined in Florida Law?

Domestic violence, sometimes referred to as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, or intimate partner violence, essentially refers to a pattern of violence and/or threats between people in a current or past intimate or familial relationship.

Although acts of aggression may vary in frequency or severity, domestic abuse is understood to include physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, emotional abuse, and financial abuse. Any of these can be considered characteristics of a toxic relationship, not every form of domestic abuse is a crime.

Further, not all acts of violence involving people in relationships fall under the “domestic violence” umbrella. For example, if you’re dating but not living together and don’t share a child, any acts of violence between you would be criminal, but not classified as “domestic violence” under Florida law. (However, someone in that situation would be able to request a dating violence injunction, pursuant to F.S. 784.046.)

Why does the distinction matter?

As our Fort Lauderdale domestic violence defense lawyers can explain, when certain acts are categorized as domestic violence, there will be unique measures taken to protect the victim and most likely higher penalties for those convicted.

For example, if you’re charged with battery pursuant to F.S. 784.03, you’ll face a maximum penalty of one year in jail (assuming it’s your first offense and the victim wasn’t seriously hurt). But when the crime of battery is classified as an act of domestic violence per F.S. 741.28, the penalties go beyond a year in jail and a fine. Additional consequences include:

  • Mandatory completion of a 26-week batterer’s intervention program.
  • 12 months of probation.
  • Minimum of 5 days in jail.
  • More community service hours.
  • Loss of important civil liberties, such as the right to possess a firearm.
  • Being subject to a restraining order or no contact order.

Crimes of domestic violence in Florida can never be sealed or expunged. The stain of a domestic violence conviction on your permanent record can prevent you from being hired for certain jobs or promoted to certain positions. It’s also likely to come up in any future divorce or child custody cases - particularly if it involves the same people.

Florida courts take these cases seriously. Even a misdemeanor (lower level) domestic violence conviction can have a number of significant, lasting consequences. Hiring a Broward criminal defense lawyer with extensive experience specifically handling domestic violence cases is important if you want the best chance at protecting your rights, freedom, reputation, and future.

Florida Domestic Violence Laws

Several Florida statutes define domestic violence and outline the penalties for such offenses.

As outlined in F.S. 741.28(2), the legal definition of domestic violence in Florida is any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any other criminal offense that results in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another.

Notice that while the term “domestic abuse” may encompass emotional abuse, psychological abuse, and financial abuse, those acts don’t necessarily rise to the level of a crime.

Further, a crime is only classified as one of domestic violence when it involves individuals who have a specific relationship to each other - as family or household members. To be a “family or household member” to someone else is to be one of the following:

  • Wives and husbands.
  • Ex-wives and ex-husbands.
  • People related by blood or marriage.
  • People who live together as a family. (Not simply roommates.)
  • People who used to live together as a family.
  • People who share a child in common - regardless of whether they were ever married or lived together.

With the exception of co-parents, to be considered a “family or household member,” the individuals must live together or previously lived together.

People who are dating but not living together aren’t included. For instance, if a boyfriend strikes his girlfriend but they aren’t living together, prosecutors would pursue it as a regular battery, as opposed to domestic violence battery. That said, the girlfriend in that scenario could pursue a dating violence injunction. Per F.S. 784.046, dating violence injunctions are available when the parties involved are dating or used to date sometime in the last 6 months. To be considered “dating,” the relationship would be characterized by expectations of affection, sexual involvement, and/or continuous, frequent interactions.

Florida domestic violence charges can be either misdemeanor or felony level. Misdemeanors are typically first time offenses and/or incidents that did not result in strangulation or serious injury to the alleged victim. Felony domestic violence cases are usually filed against repeat offenders, those who inflict serious harm, or those who violate domestic violence injunctions.

Are There Federal Laws That Apply to Florida Domestic Violence Cases?

Most domestic violence charges in Florida will be filed and handled at the state level. However, there are some situations in which acts of Florida domestic violence are prosecuted by federal authorities.

The federal Violence Against Women Act, initially passed in 1994 and reauthorized several times since, provides federal funding to investigate and prosecute acts of domestic violence - against both women and men, despite the name.

18 U.S.C. 2255(7) defines domestic violence as a misdemeanor crime between spouses, former spouses, parent or guardian and child, co-parent, or cohabitant that involves the use or attempted use of physical force or a deadly weapon (or the threat of a deadly weapon). Physical force is understood to be offensive touching in common law, though case law precedent has allowed for indirect force.

Federal law also makes it unlawful to:

  • Cross state, tribal, or international line with the intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate a spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner and as a result of that travel, commit or attempt to commit that crime.
  • Cause a spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner to cross state, tribal, or international lines by force, coercion, duress, or fraud, and in the course or result of doing so, commit or attempt to commit a crime of violence against that person.

Per 18 U.S.C. 2261, if someone commits one of these crimes and the result is death of a victim, the penalty is life in prison. If the result is permanent disfigurement or a life-threatening injury, the penalty is a maximum 20 years in prison. If the result is serious bodily injury OR the offender used a dangerous weapon, the penalty is a maximum 10 years in prison. In cases with less serious impacts, the maximum penalty is 5 years in prison plus fines. If someone stalks a current/former spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner in violation of a restraining order, they’ll serve a minimum one year prison sentence.

If you have been arrested for domestic violence in South Florida - including Broward, Miami, and Palm Beach Counties - call The Ansara Law Firm today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011.

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