Over the past several years, the political and social landscape involving domestic violence allegations has changed dramatically.  Law enforcement officers and prosecutors in Florida (as in other states) take these allegations very seriously.  The police aggressively investigate these types of allegations while prosecutors feel political pressure to obtain convictions in cases involving claims of family or household violence.  While a person accused by a spouse of domestic violence might not worry about unfounded allegations, the severe consequences of a conviction make such claims too serious to ignore.  Domestic Violence Battery in Florida carries far harsher penalties than a conventional battery against a person who is neither a member of your family or household.

If you become the target of domestic violence allegations, you need immediate legal advice from a knowledgeable and experienced Florida domestic violence attorney.  Florida law defines domestic violence battery as a first-degree misdemeanor that carries penalties of up to a year in jail (or 12 months of probation) and a maximum fine up to $1,000.  A criminal defense attorney understands the pressure that can lead law enforcement and prosecutors to engage in a rush to judgment.  Even if you know you have not committed battery against a member of your household or family, you should seek legal advice and representation as early in the process as possible.  Your defense attorney can explore the credibility of the complaining witness (the alleged victim), explore weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, and determine the best defense strategies to protect you from the draconian penalties associated with a domestic violence offense.

Florida law defines domestic violence battery as an intentional and actual touching (or striking) of another individual sans consent or intentionally inflicting bodily harm on a current or former member of your household or family.  Florida Statutes, Section 741.28 defines the specific relationships covered by this provision.  Potential victims under this statute include:

  • Current or prior spouses
  • Persons related by marriage or blood
  • Parents with a child in common
  • People currently or previously cohabitating as a family

While the threat of jail time and a substantial fine constitute serious penalties, these consequences do not begin to tell the whole story.  Pursuant to Florida Statutes, Chapter 741, the full list of potential penalties imposed on a perpetrator of domestic violence include the following:

  • Mandatory minimum jail term of five days (if the victim suffered bodily injury)
  • Compulsory participation and completion of a 26-week Batterer’s Intervention Program
  • 12-month probation period
  • “No contact” order or injunction
  • Community service hours
  • Forfeiture of certain rights that include concealed carry rights

As if these penalties do not constitute severe enough consequences, a person convicted of domestic violence allegations also can experience other informal consequences, such as:

  • Loss of family relationships
  • Impaired ability to get a security clearance
  • Negative impact on potential child custody claim
  • Possible ineligibility for educational loans
  • Limitations on rental housing options

In short, a conviction of domestic violence battery in Florida can have a devastating impact on your life.  

While both the formal penalties and informal consequences of a domestic violence conviction can be devastating, an experienced Florida domestic violence defense attorney can analyze the facts and evidence surrounding domestic violence charges.  Attorneys who focus their practice on criminal defense recognize that people make false claims of abuse for many reasons, such as to gain an advantage in a divorce or child custody proceeding.  Allegations also can be the result of a misunderstanding or mistake.

Your lawyer will analyze the facts and circumstances of your case and discuss potential defense strategies.  Because Florida law affords individuals accused of domestic violence with a wealth of defense strategies, a person should never plead guilty to a domestic violence offense without obtaining legal advice from a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer.  While a defense strategy must be carefully crafted to fit the facts, some defenses that might be available as a complete or partial defense include:

  • Insufficient evidence to prove all the elements of the offense
  • Lack of injuries
  • Ulterior motives of the complaining witness (alleged victim)
  • Stand Your Ground
  • Mutual aggressors or consensual exchange
  • Self-defense/Defense of property/Defense of others
  • Suppression of illegally obtained evidence or statements

These are only a few of the defenses that might be used to get the charges dismissed or to reduce the severity of the charges or sentence.

We often hear questions about the value of obtaining a private attorney to defend against charges of domestic violence in Florida.  A person such charges could proceed with a public defender if he or she meets the low-income requirements.  However, hiring a private attorney signals the prosecutor that an accused has the commitment and tenacity to contest the charges rather than simply accepting a boilerplate settlement offer routinely presented to a court appointed defense attorney or the public defender. 

Some of the specific advantages that retaining a Florida Domestic Violence Defense Attorney include:

  • Motion Prior to Trial: An experienced criminal defense lawyer can file motions that may get evidence excluded or charges dropped/reduced.  Examples of pretrial motions that might be appropriate include Motion for a Court Ruling, Stand Your Ground Motion, or a Motion in Limine.  Whether a successful motion leads to a dismissal of the charges or a decision not to file, this strategy can enlighten the prosecutor regarding the weakness of the prosecutor’s case.  
  • Early Intervention: If you retain a private attorney early in the process before criminal charges have been filed, effective advocacy might even prevent the filing of formal charges.  Whether your attorney asserts a legal defense, a factual defense, or mitigating circumstances, early intervention might prevent formal charges or lead to a more positive disposition of the case because the range of settlement offers will be determined by the charges filed.  Fewer or less serious charges tend to result in offers more favorable to the accused.
  • Coordinating with the Victim: The “no contact” order prevents communication between a person accused of domestic violence and the victim, the accused’s attorney can coordinate with the complaining witness (e.g., alleged victim).  This allows the attorney to seek a modification of the no contact order.  If the purported victim does not wish to move forward, the accused’s lawyer also can provide information on what needs to be done to pursue a dismissal of the charges.  While the State Attorney’s Office can proceed even if the alleged victim does not wish to move forward, the victim’s input carries a fair amount of weight.

There are many other ways that a private criminal defense attorney can help if you are facing allegations of domestic violence.  If you or someone close to you has been accused of domestic violence battery in Florida, the decision to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as early as possible can make all the difference.