Domestic Violence Lawyers in Naples, Florida
Florida Domestic Violence Laws, Penalties, & Legal Defenses
Florida law defines “domestic violence” broadly to include numerous crimes that are considered violent in nature. Under Florida Statute § 741.28(2), domestic violence is defined as “any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.”
Whether a victim is considered a “family or household member” is crucial when determining if someone will be charged with a crime of domestic violence. Florida Statute § 741.28(3) defines a family or household member as the following:
- Former spouse;
- Persons related by blood or marriage;
- Persons who presently reside together as a family or persons who have previously resided together as a family (i.e., no relationship by blood or marriage is required); and
- Persons who are parents of a child in common regardless of whether the parents have been married.
To meet the definition of victim under Florida’s domestic violence statute, the family or household member must reside (either presently or in the past) with the alleged perpetrator. However, if the alleged perpetrator and the victim have a child in common, there is no requirement that the two individuals reside together.
Domestic Violence Crimes Under Florida Law
Various “violent” crimes are encompassed within Florida’s domestic violence statute. Having a good understanding of what types of crimes fall under the umbrella of domestic violence is crucial when preparing a defense to a charge of domestic violence. Domestic violence crimes include, but may not be limited to, the following:
- Assault – Under Florida Statute § 784.011(1), assault is defined as “an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.”
- Aggravated Assault – Under Florida Statute § 784.021(1), aggravated assault is defined as (1) an assault with the use of a deadly weapon but without intent to kill, or (2) an assault with an intent to commit a felony.
- Battery – Under Florida Statute § 784.03(1)(a), battery is defined as an “actual and intentional touch or strike to another person” against that person’s will. Battery is also defined as intentionally causing bodily harm to another person.
- Aggravated Battery – Under Florida Statute § 784.045(1), aggravated battery is defined as intentionally or knowingly causing great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement, or the commission of a battery with the use of a deadly weapon. A battery can also be an aggravated battery “if the person who was the victim of the battery was pregnant at the time of the offense and the offender knew or should have known that the victim was pregnant.”
- Sexual Assault/Battery – In Florida, sexual assault falls under the sexual battery statute. A sexual assault can be any unwanted touch of a sexual nature, but sexual battery is defined under Florida Statute § 794.011(1)(h) as “oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by, or union with, the sexual organ of another or the anal or vaginal penetration of another by any other object.”
- Stalking – Under Florida Statute § 784.048, stalking is comprised of certain behaviors that are repetitive and harassing. According to the statute, a person who “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person” may face a stalking charge. The multiple behaviors that form the crime of stalking include the following:
- Harassment – This includes a course of conduct “directed at a specific person which causes substantial emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose.”
- Course of Conduct – This includes a pattern of conduct consisting of a “series of acts over a period of time, however short, which evidences a continuity of purpose.”
- Credible Threat – This includes verbal and nonverbal “threats delivered by electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm.” An actual threat is not required to meet the statutory definition of stalking under Florida law. Harassment alone over a period of time may be enough to warrant a stalking charge.
- Cyberstalking – This includes stalking committed in an electronic format and is defined under Florida law as a “course of conduct to communicate, or to cause to be communicated, words, images, or language by or through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at a specific person,” or to “access, or attempt to access, the online accounts or internet-connected home electronic systems of another person without that person’s permission.”
- Kidnapping – Under Florida Statute § 787.01(1)(a), kidnapping is defined as “forcibly, secretly, or by threat confining, abducting, or imprisoning another person against her or his will and without lawful authority.” Additionally, the alleged perpetrator must have the intent to do one or more of the following:
- Hold the person for ransom or as a shield or hostage;
- Commit or facilitate the commission of a felony;
- Inflict bodily harm or terrorize another person; or
- Interfere with the performance of any governmental or political function.
- False Imprisonment – Florida Statute § 787.02(1)(a) defines false imprisonment as “forcibly, by threat, or secretly confining, abducting, imprisoning, or restraining another person without lawful authority and against his or her will.” Section 787.02(1)(a) also states that “confinement of a child under the age of 13 is against her or his will within the meaning of this section if confinement is without the consent of her or his parent or legal guardian.”
Any other crime that causes injury or death to a family or household member may be considered a crime of domestic violence.
Penalties for Domestic Violence Crimes Under Florida Law
Crimes that fall within the umbrella of domestic violence have penalties defined under various statutes. However, when a crime meets the definition of domestic violence by involving harm against a family or household member, the penalties may be harsher than they otherwise would be.
- Assault – Florida Statute § 784.011(2) states that a person found guilty of assault faces a second degree misdemeanor and may be sentenced to jail time not to exceed 60 days and imposition of a fine not to exceed $500.
- Aggravated Assault – Florida Statute § 784.021(2) states that a person found guilty of aggravated assault faces a third degree felony and may be sentenced to jail time not to exceed 5 years and imposition of a fine not to exceed $5,000.
- Battery – Florida Statute § 784.03(1)(b) states that a person found guilty of battery faces a first degree misdemeanor and may be sentenced to jail time not to exceed 1 year and imposition of a fine not to exceed $1,000. If the defendant has one prior conviction for battery or has committed felony battery, he/she is guilty of a third degree felony and may be sentenced to jail time not to exceed 5 years and imposition of a fine not to exceed $5,000.
- Aggravated Battery – Florida Statute § 784.045(2) states that a person found guilty of aggravated battery faces a second degree felony and may be sentenced to jail time not to exceed 15 years and imposition of a fine not to exceed $10,000.
- Sexual Assault/Battery – Florida law defines sexual assault and sexual battery in terms of (1) severity, and (2) the age of the victim. Depending on these two factors, the punishment will vary. The more serious the conduct, the harsher the penalties. However, the penalties for any domestic crime relating to sexual assault or battery are severe and include the following:
- Stalking – Florida Statute § 784.048(2) states that a person found guilty of stalking faces a first degree misdemeanor and may be sentenced to jail time not to exceed 1 year and imposition of a fine not to exceed $1,000.
- Kidnapping –Florida Statute § 787.01(2) states that a person found guilty of kidnapping faces a first degree felony and may be sentenced to jail time not to exceed 30 years and imposition of a fine not to exceed $10,000.
- False Imprisonment –Florida Statute § 787.02(2) states that a person found guilty of false imprisonment faces a third degree felony and may be sentenced to jail time not to exceed 5 years and imposition of a fine not to exceed $5,000.
Additional Penalties Associated with Domestic Violence Crimes in Florida
Facing a harsh jail sentence as well as a hefty fine are both debilitating consequences of being convicted of the crimes identified above. However, when each of these crimes involves a household or family member, the consequences are worse. For example, a person convicted of a domestic violence crime may have difficulty keeping or obtaining custody of children, or even simply visiting with his/her children. Protective and restraining orders may also prevent a convicted person from being in close contact with the victim as well as other family members, including children.
In Florida, a person charged with a domestic violence crime has hurdles he/she must face even before the criminal charge proceeds in court. What this means is that an accused offender may be placed in jail for a certain period of time before going to trial. A few of the statutory requirements involved in the prosecution of domestic violence crimes include the following:
- Batterers’ Intervention Program – Florida Statute § 741.281 states that if a person is either found guilty or pleads no contest to a domestic violence crime, he/she “shall be ordered by the court to a minimum term of 1 year’s probation and the court shall order that the defendant attend and complete a batterers’ intervention program as a condition of probation.”
- Minimum Term of Imprisonment – Florida Statute § 741.283 states that if a person is found guilty of a domestic violence crime and has intentionally caused harm to another person, “the court shall order the person to serve a minimum of 10 days in the county jail for a first offense, 15 days for a second offense, and 20 days for a third or subsequent offense as part of the sentence imposed, unless the court sentences the person to a nonsuspended period of incarceration in a state correctional facility.”
- If the crime involves intentional bodily harm that happens in the presence of a child under the age of 16 who is a family or household member of the victim or defendant, “the court shall order the person to serve a minimum of 15 days in the county jail for a first offense, 20 days for a second offense, and 30 days for a third or subsequent offense as part of the sentence imposed, unless the court sentences the person to a nonsuspended period of incarceration in a state correctional facility.”
- The Protection of Victims of Domestic Violence – Pursuant to Florida Statute § 741.2902, courts manage domestic violence cases differently than other criminal cases, with the overarching goal of protecting victims of alleged abuse in the home. While individuals charged with domestic violence crimes are always presumed innocent until proven guilty, courts always look to protect alleged victims first to ensure their safety while a case against an accused individual is pending.
There are many non-criminal consequences of being convicted of a domestic violence crime, and in some cases, an arrest may be enough to cause harm. Specifically, it may be difficult for a person facing a domestic violence charge or conviction to do the following which often require a background check:
- Obtain or keep employment;
- Attend a college or university; and
- Renting an apartment or house.
Keeping a job, attending school, and finding a place to live are all crucial aspects of a person’s daily life. As such, just one criminal charge or conviction can make a person’s life difficult for many years, if not a lifetime.
Understanding the Legal Defenses Associated with Domestic Violence Crimes in Florida
The protection of victims of domestic violence is, without question, of utmost importance. As such, law enforcement officers will always take seriously any allegation of domestic violence. However, not every allegation of domestic violence is truthful and accurate. Therefore, a person accused of committing a domestic violence crime should be armed with legal defenses when fighting criminal charges in court. While there are numerous legal defenses to accusations of domestic violence crimes, a few common defenses include the following:
- Self-Defense – Committing an act of violence to protect oneself is always a legal defense, and an attorney will work with the accused individual to gather facts and evidence to prove the validity of self-defense. If such evidence exists, there may be grounds to dismiss a domestic violence charge or to acquit an individual at trial.
- Defense of Others – Like self-defense, if a person commits an act of violence to protect the life of another (such as a child), the accused individual may have grounds for dismissal of a domestic violence charge or acquittal at trial.
- False Allegations – Many innocent individuals are accused of domestic violence which unfortunately makes it difficult for true victims to be believed when alleging they have been physically harmed by a family or household member. If a person accused of committing a domestic violence crime has evidence showing the allegations against him/her are false, such evidence will help support a strong defense that the initial claims of domestic violence are false.
- Lack of Physical Injuries – Without proof that a victim has been physically injured, such as bruises, cuts, or broken bones, among others, an accused individual may present such proof as a legal defense to crimes that require physical harm (such as battery). If there is no physical injury, then there is no evidence that a crime of domestic violence happened within the meaning of Florida’s statutes.
- Mutual Fighting – If an accused abuser and alleged victim fight one another and voluntarily cause physical harm to one another, and if there is evidence of a mutual fight, such evidence may be used to prove that there was no victim. Rather, two family or household members harmed one another on equal footing (such as during a fist fight where both parties equally caused physical harm upon one another).
- Victim Was Under the Influence – If the victim was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of an alleged act of domestic violence, the accused individual can present such evidence to demonstrate that an allegation may be false or inaccurate.
One important factor to consider is that legal defenses will be shaped based on an individual’s criminal history. For example, the legal strategies for a first-time domestic violence criminal charge may be different than the legal strategies for an individual with prior criminal convictions, especially violent crimes.
Facing a Naples, Florida Domestic Violence Charge? How Musca Law Can Assist You
At Musca Law, our Naples Domestic Violence Defense Attorneys are standing by 24/7 to help accused individuals when they are facing charges of domestic violence. Every client deserves a strong defense and an honest case evaluation. Regardless of whether you have a prior criminal history or have been charged with a crime for the first time, Musca Law has the experience you need in a qualified criminal defense law firm. The Naples Domestic Violence Defense Attorneys of Musca Law have a favorable reputation with prosecutors, courts, and judges, which significantly helps all parties work together amicably.
Musca Law provides all potential clients with a free case evaluation to determine whether our Naples Domestic Violence Defense Attorneys can move forward with legal representation. Many firms require an up-front consultation fee, but Musca Law believes a free evaluation is an essential first step to understanding the scope of criminal charges and what steps an accused individual must take to move forward.