In one sense, the only difference between domestic violence and other types of violence is the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. Every state has its own laws, and some agencies have different definitions, but generally speaking, domestic violence involves two people who live in the same household or who are current or former romantic partners.
When you look at the issue that way, you might think that the law would treat an act of domestic violence like any other act of violence. For instance, if a person who struck a stranger is charged with assault, then so should a person who struck their spouse.
That’s not exactly how it works under Texas law.
Many researchers have found that domestic violence works in increasingly destructive cycles. What may start with threats can lead to physical violence, and the incidents of physical violence can get more serious over time.
With that in mind, lawmakers and law enforcement agencies have concentrated on breaking up these cycles before they lead to serious injury. Where most of criminal law is oriented around securing justice after a crime has occurred, the law of domestic violence is more proactive.
This proactive approach manifests in many ways, some of which come into conflict with the rights of the accused.
One of the key proactive measures in Texas domestic violence law is the protective order, also known as a restraining order. A person who says they have been the victim of domestic violence or stalking can ask a court for a protective order to keep their abuser away from them.
A protective order instructs the accused abuser that they may not threaten, harass or hurt the person or their children. The accused must stay away from their home, family, workplace or the children’s school. It can also prevent the accused from carrying a gun. In some cases, judges may take other preventative measures.
A person who violates the protective order can face criminal charges.
Those who are subjected to a protective order have the opportunity to contest the order in court, but the order goes into effect before they get a hearing. This fact stands in stark contrast to the way most criminal law works.
There are other ways the law is designed to crack down on people accused of domestic violence.
A person who has been previously convicted of domestic violence charges will face increased penalties if they are convicted of any domestic charges later on, whether it involves the same domestic relationship or a different one.
And, under a new law, the state of Texas will maintain a website registry of people found to have a history of domestic violence. Proponents say this website will give people notice about potentially dangerous individuals.
The right to a defense
It’s a good thing if this proactive approach saves lives, but it shouldn’t have to do so at the cost of violating the rights of the accused. Everyone who is accused of a crime deserves the right to a defense.
The law as it stands now can make that harder for many people accused of domestic violence. That’s why it’s so important for the accused to seek out help from professionals with experience in criminal defense.