COVID-19 has most of us on house arrest. We know physical distancing measures, staying home, and living in isolation is the best thing to do to save as many people as possible. Adhering to the COVID-19 lockdown and isolation measures is easy in theory, but it is extremely hard in practice.
Living with another person can be stressful at times, even for a couple who are well-balanced and treat each other well. Stress can add fuel to a simmering fire, however. Many of us now have to work from home, home school our children, and are potentially faced with a furlough or a layoff caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Not having the chance to get away from a domestic partner for eight to ten hours a day as one might during an average workweek create tremendous tension on the strongest relationships, especially if money is getting tight or someone in the family falls ill. The toll COVID-19 stress can have on a fragile relationship could be even more disastrous.
Domestic violence arrests in South Florida have risen sharply over the last few weeks. Some people are simply acting out because stress has reached a boiling point. For others, domestic violence advocates quickly point out, COVID-19 lockdown is a chance to physically, emotionally, and mentally torture a domestic partner. According to the Miami New Times, the restriction of movement, reduced work hours, fewer entertainment alternatives, and a sense of being trapped increases anxiety in some people to their breaking point, and the only outlet they have for their anxiety and stress is to abuse a domestic partner physically.
Domestic Violence Defined
Under Florida Statutes §741.28, “domestic violence” is any number of crimes of violence such as assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual battery, sexual assault, aggravated stalking, stalking, false imprisonment, kidnapping, or any other criminal offense causing physical harm or killing a family member or a member of one’s household. The statute defines the phrase “family or household member” as well. A family or household member is known as a spouse, ex-spouse, people related by blood or marriage, people currently or once residing together as a family, and people who have children together irrespective of whether they have ever lived together. The definitions of domestic violence and family or a household member are critical to understanding Florida’s domestic violence statutes.
Consequences of a Conviction for a Crime Alleging Domestic Abuse in Florida
The potential penalties for domestic violence in Florida are harsh. Under Florida Statutes §741.283, a person convicted of a crime constituting domestic violence and the accused deliberately caused bodily injury to the victim. Then the judge must send the person to jail for at least ten (10) days for a first offense. The judge has the ultimate discretion to sentence the person to jail or state prison for a longer sentence is the punishment for the underlying offense allows. The minimum period of incarceration increases to fifteen (15) days if the violent act happened when a person under sixteen (16) was present. The judge has the discretion to impose probation, community control, or longer prison terms.
Florida’s punishment for domestic violence includes mandatory attendance at a certified batterer’s intervention program. The judge must place the person on probation at a minimum and order the person to complete the batterer’s program, pursuant to Florida Statutes §741.281. The judge has the discretion to waive this condition provided that the judge finds that the program is inappropriate for the accused or the person does not otherwise qualify as defined by §741.325.
Domestic Violence Defenses
The defenses will depend on the case and the factual allegations brought by the state. Self-defense and defense of another are often viable defenses to domestic violence charges. Self-defense and defense of another are called affirmative defenses because the defendant acknowledges that an assault occurred but maintains innocence by arguing that the assault was justified.
The defense of reasonable doubt is often a good strategy. Through effective cross-examination and presentation of evidence, the defense can show the victim exaggerates what happened or that the incident never happened at all.