The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in severe hardships for families through the state of Florida and across the Nation. Families are facing unprecedented stress caused by fear, uncertainty, job loss, and the anxiety of being imprisoned inside their own homes due to city, county, and states stay-at-home orders. The domestic violence hotlines have received a significant uptick in the number of women seeking assistance. For example, the number of domestic violence calls placed in Nassau County, Florida, rose to nearly 40% between February and March.
According to an online news report published on News4Jax.com, the Florida Department of Children and Families reported that more than 34,000 phone calls were placed to their domestic violence hotline in March. This is a 30 percent increase over the previous month, which was approximately 26,000 calls. It is believed the number of phone calls is a result of the higher number of Floridians who are out of work or working from home. Therefore, the is a higher number of arguments that may lead to domestic violence and abuse or false allegations of domestic violence and abuse. Now that families no longer have workplaces and schools open to create more space, the mandatory lockdowns have forced families to stay at home together, which is increasing household stress. The Nassau County Sheriff's Office reported that domestic violence calls to the department rose to approximately 40 percent in one month.
Sheriff Bill Leeper told News4Jax on Friday, "Since the virus began... we've seen an increase in domestic issues that take place in our community." The numbers tell a story. Domestic violence calls in Nassau County, Florida, dropped 1.5 percent from January to February. However, from February to March, domestic violence calls increased by about 37 percent. When compared to this same time period last year, domestic cases have increased by about 12 percent total in 2020.
Some domestic violence shelters in Nassau County, Florida, are reporting sharp increases in phone calls in the first two weeks of April. One local domestic violence shelter reported a rise in phone calls of 25 percent during the first 14 days of April. Some experts are concerned that the number of phone calls will spike as Florida's economy weakens even more as studies have found a link between economic difficulties and domestic violence.
Florida's Domestic Violence Laws Explained
According to Florida Statute §741.28, "domestic violence" is a serious criminal charge that has many severe, life-altering penalties if convicted of the crime. Domestic violence is an act of battery, assault, sexual assault, aggravated battery, aggravated stalking, stalking, kidnapping, sexual battery, false imprisonment, or any other criminal offense causing bodily injury or the death of a family member or a member of one's household. Florida Statute §741.28 also defines the phrase "family or household member" as a spouse, people related by blood or marriage, ex-spouse, people who have children together irrespective of whether they have ever lived together, and people currently or once residing together as a family. These definitions of a family or a household member are important to understand when reading Florida's domestic violence statutes.
The Consequences of a Domestic Abuse Conviction in the State of Florida
The state of Florida has established stiff penalties as punishments for a domestic violence conviction. Under Florida Statute §741.283, an individual may be charged with domestic violence if the accused deliberately causes physical injury to an ex-spouse, spouse, person related by blood or marriage, people who have children together irrespective of whether they have ever lived together, and people currently or once residing together as a family. For the conviction of a first offense, a judge will punish the defendant with at least ten (10) days in jail. The judge hearing the criminal case has the ultimate discretion to sentence the defendant to state prison or imprisonment for a more extended jail sentence depending on the circumstances of the case. For example, if a weapon was used in the crime. If the violent act occurred while a juvenile under the age of sixteen (16) was present, a judge could sentence the defendant to up to fifteen (15) days in jail. The judge has the option to impose community control, probation, or lengthy prison sentences.
Florida's Mandatory Participation at a Certified Batterer's Intervention
If the defendant is convicted of committing domestic violence or abuse, the defendant will likely be ordered to attend a certified batterer's intervention program. At a minimum, a judge could alternatively sentence the defendant to probation with an order for the defendant to complete a certified batterer's intervention program, according to Florida Statute §741.281. The judge may waive the mandatory completion of a certified batterer's intervention program if the judge determines that the program is inappropriate for the defendant or the defendant does not qualify as outlined in Florida Statute §741.325.
Defending Against a Domestic Violence Charge in Florida
An experienced Florida criminal defense attorney will review the accused's case to determine the best strategy to defend against domestic violence charges. A defense strategy often depends on the facts of the case and the types of allegations brought by the state. The two most common defenses used in a domestic violence criminal case are the "self-defense" defense and the "defense of another" defense. These types of domestic violence defenses are called affirmative defenses because the defendant concedes that an assault happened but states his or her innocence by claiming that the attack was warranted. In many domestic violence criminal trials, a defense attorney may choose to use the defense of reasonable doubt. The "defense of reasonable doubt" can be effective if the defense attorney is successful in demonstrating, through cross-examination of the accuser, that the accuser is exaggerating what actually happened. Therefore, the accuser may be lying to cover up that the attack never occurred in the first place.