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How Serious Are the Penalties for Florida Domestic Violence Convictions?

When our criminal defense team at The Ansara Law Firm is explaining to prospective clients the severity of penalties for Florida domestic violence convictions, we must begrudgingly begin with one of the most common (and admittedly frustrating) of all lawyerly phrases:

It depends.

We fully understand the desire for concrete answers, and we shoot as straight as possible on the scope of consequences you’re facing and the merits of various defense strategies as they might apply to your case. With background details, our South Florida criminal defense attorneys can break down your most likely penalties with reasonable accuracy. Still, it’s important to understand that outcomes ultimately depend on a broad range of factors that vary from case-to-case.

Before delving into all that, one important note: The State of Florida approaches domestic violence cases a bit differently than they do others.This is partly because by definition, they involve people in close (or once close) relationships. This can present some unique challenges, particularly with regard to victim cooperation and witness testimony. Further, it’s because domestic violence defendants tend to have higher-than-average rates of recidivism - often with escalating levels of violence. Prosecutors and judges typically aren’t inclined to cut most defendants a break - even with a first offense.

There is also usually more at stake than just your freedom - even if it’s “only” a misdemeanor. Additional ramifications can include:

  • No contact orders that may force you to move out of your home.
  • Automatic no bond until first appearance.
  • Revocation of firearm rights.
  • Adverse impact on child custody and parenting time.
  • Mandatory minimum jail/prison sentences.
  • Strict probation requirements, which often include completion of a lengthy batterer’s intervention program.
  • Damage to your reputation, as well as other close relationships.
  • Possible job loss (or loss of future opportunities), particularly if the work is public, high-profile, or involves authority, caregiving, or direct involvement with potentially vulnerable individuals.
  • Suspension of driver’s license.
  • Possible revocation of student financial aid, grants, and scholarships.
  • Permanent record of a violent crime (even if you aren’t convicted) that can never be sealed or expunged.
  • Immigration consequences - including possible deportation.

Hiring an experienced defense attorney with a proven track record of success in domestic violence cases is your best chance for avoiding - or at least minimizing - these consequences, in addition to any jail time or fines that are ordered.

Statutory Guidelines for Domestic Violence Penalties

The possibility of jail and/or prison is often a top concern for those facing domestic violence charges. Florida statutes provide the outline for each codified offense.

Domestic violence is defined in F.S. 741.28 as any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense that results in the physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member. Family or household members are those who live together - or previously lived together - as a family (married or not) and/or who share a child in common, regardless of whether they ever shared a residence.

If you’re convicted of domestic violence in Florida, there is a mandatory minimum jail sentence. How long that is will depend on the severity of the crime. As outlined in F.S. 741.283, the minimum terms of imprisonment for domestic violence are:

  • 10 days for 1st offense.
  • 20 days for 2nd offense.
  • As posted in statute for 3rd+ offenses.
  • 15 days for a 1st offense that took place in front of a minor under age 16 who is also a family/household member.
  • 20 days for a 2nd offense that took place in front of a minor under age 16 who is also a family/household member.
  • 30 days for a 3rd offense that took place in front of a minor under age 16 who is also a family or household member.

This statute doesn’t preclude the court from imposing more jail time than that - a lot more, in fact. These are merely the minimum you’re facing.

The penalty range will depend on the exact charge. The most common among those are:

Domestic Violence Assault

A 1st time offense is a second-degree misdemeanor, meaning it’s punishable by a maximum of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. It can be enhanced if there are aggravating factors (see next section for examples) or prior convictions. If charged as a first-degree misdemeanor, it carries a maximum penalty for one year in jail, 1 year of probation, and a $1,000 fine. If charged as a third-degree felony, it carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Domestic Violence Aggravated Assault

A 1st time offense is a third-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. It can be enhanced to a second-degree felony for additional aggravating circumstances or prior convictions, which would mean a maximum 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Domestic Violence Battery

A 1st-time offense is a first-degree misdemeanor, meaning it carries a maximum penalty of 1 year in jail, 1 year of probation, and a $1,000 fine. Can be enhanced to felony battery, pursuant to F.S. 784.03, if there are prior convictions for battery. That means the charge is bumped to either a third-degree felony (5 years in prison, $5,000 fine) or a second-degree felony (15 years in prison, $10,000 fine). Aggravating circumstances will also factor in charge enhancement.

Domestic Violence Aggravated Battery

A 1st-time offense is a second-degree felony in Florida, carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, 15 years on probation, and up to $10,000 in fines. Use of a gun will trigger application of Florida’s 10-20-Life Law, which will bump the charge up to a first degree misdemeanor, which carries a maximum 30 years in prison with a minimum mandatory 10 years in prison (15 years if was a semiautomatic or machine gun and 20 years if you actually fired the gun during the incident).

Domestic Violence Stalking

A 1st time offense for domestic violence stalking (including cyberstalking) is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail, 1 year of probation, and a $1,000 fine. If the offense involves a credible threat, persistent stalking despite an injunction, a perpetrator with a prior conviction for stalking or a sex crime, or a child victim under 16, the charge is upgraded to aggravated stalking, which is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison, 5 years probation, and a $5,000 fine.

False Imprisonment

False imprisonment is similar to kidnapping - which can also include non-consensual confinement of another - but without the added element of intention to inflict bodily harm or terrorize. Per F.S. 787.20, false imprisonment is restraining another person against their will while lacking the authority to do so. It doesn’t necessarily include physical force or contact. It could be as simple as throwing someone’s keys out the door so they won’t be able to leave when they want to. When the alleged victim is over the age of 13, false imprisonment is a third-degree felony, punishable by a maximum 5 years in prison, 5 years probation, and a $5,000 fine. If the alleged victim is under 13 AND the defendant’s intent was to commit another serious felony (child abuse, sexual assault, etc.), it’s a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Important to point out: Courts have the discretion to “stack” multiple misdemeanors, meaning they can impose consecutive sentences. This was affirmed in the 1996 Florida Supreme Court decision in State v. Troutman. In other words, if you’re convicted of domestic violence battery, stalking, trespassing after a warning, and violation of an injunction - individually, those are all misdemeanors, punishable by up to 1 year in jail. But if you’re convicted of all at the same time, you’re facing 4 years in county jail.

Also, courts cannot give jail credit for house arrest. So if there’s a minimum mandatory jail sentence by statute, that is served in jail - not at home.

With felony domestic violence convictions, note that F.S. 921.0024 assigns all felonies a 1-10 level-based point system. Level 1 felony offenses have a 4-point value. Level 10 felony offenses have a 116-point value. Felony point scores less than 22 are typically third-degree felonies (the lowest), and the imposition of prison time only if the judge determines you’re a danger to the community (which includes the victim). If you have more than 22 points but less than 44, you might get jail time (instead of prison) or house arrest and probation. If your crimes add up to 45 points or more, you’re likely going to prison. Penalty Severity Factors in Florida Domestic Violence Convictions

Statutory penalties should be viewed as a general outline, a guide used by prosecutors and judges to set the basic parameters. But the ranges stated within those statutes can be very broad, and both the prosecutors and judges have a fair amount of discretion in deciding what to charge and what the sentence should be. In rare instances, a judge may issue a sentence that is actually above or below the sentencing guidelines, based on their interpretation of the facts.

Some factors that can influence whether a person receives a harsher or lighter penalty include:

  • Exact charges filed. There’s more than one domestic violence crime. Some are felonies, some are misdemeanors, and each with their own penalties, which can include mandatory minimums, as well as different maximums and fines.
  • Severity of the victim’s injuries. This often factors into which charges were filed.
  • Prior convictions. Courts weighing sentencing will consider past convictions for both domestic violence and other charges - particularly other violent offenses that have occurred within the last decade. Habitual felony offenders in Florida face especially harsh penalties.
  • Aggravating factors. Also referred to as “multipliers,” these are factors that can enhance or increase your sentence. Examples of aggravating factors for Florida domestic violence include things like the use of a firearm, the presence of a child, the vulnerability of the victim, the pregnancy of the victim, the heinousness/cruelty of the crime, whether it involved violation of an injunction, etc.
  • Mitigating factors. As outlined in F.S. 921.0026, mitigating circumstances include things like mental health issues, expression of genuine remorse, character witnesses, shared culpability of the victim, prior abuse perpetrated on the defendant, circumstances such as provocation, stress, or emotional issues that don’t excuse the crime but provide a better explanation for one’s actions. In rare instances, these may justify a judge’s downward departure from typical statutory penalty ranges.

This is why hiring a Broward criminal defense lawyer with extensive experience in successful representation of clients charged with domestic violence is so important - the earlier the better. Private defense attorneys tend to focus on fewer practice areas, which means they’re more closely familiar with the nuances and practical applications of laws pertaining to your case. They can also take time to carefully review all the facts, approach the state attorney’s office before charges are filed to point out weaknesses (with the goal of convincing them to drop or reduce charges). We can also file motions early on to suppress certain evidence and/or have the charges dropped. If the case is inevitably going to press on, we can initiate negotiations for advantageous plea deals for lesser charges. If you’re facing a likely conviction, we can persuasively advocate for minimum penalties like less jail time, lower fines, fewer restrictions on movement/contact/etc.

If you are accused of domestic violence in Broward, Palm Beach, or Miami-Dade Counties, contact The Ansara Law Firm today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011.

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