In a state that as recently as 2020 experienced a single day record of 21,321 calls to domestic violence hotlines (nearly 15 calls a minute) having Texas’ domestic violence laws explained can illuminate the state’s light penalties and enforcement which may clarify this crisis. Here’s a list of the Lone Star State’s domestic violence laws as well as some reasons why they, unfortunately, don’t stack up to various other states.
Texas Domestic Violence Laws:
Domestic violence laws in Texas fall under the state’s assault statutes and cover a wide range of assaults committed by those constituting family or household members. Here are the Texas domestic violence laws and penalties explained in depth.
In Texas, domestic violence is interchangeable with family violence which is committed against a member of one’s household or family such as a:
- Past or present romantic partner (whether it be your husband, ex-husband, girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, or parent of the same child).
- Relative by blood, marriage, or adoption.
- Foster parent or child.
Family violence is classified by severity as either domestic assault, aggravated domestic assault, or continuous violence against the family.
Domestic Assault is classified as intentionally, recklessly, or knowingly inflicting bodily injury, threatening bodily injury, or causing physical contact that would reasonably be regarded as provocative or offensive.
Domestic assault is the least severe form of family violence and upon a first time conviction can result in a simple Class A misdemeanor carrying up to one year in county jail and a maximum fine of $4,000. If the assault included strangulation or suffocation, or if the assailant has past domestic assault convictions, charges are likely to be elevated to a third degree felony which carries a prison sentence of up to ten years and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Aggravated domestic assault is classified as the infliction of serious bodily injury or pain or the use of a deadly weapon such as a knife, gun, or bat. Aggravated domestic assault will result in second degree felony charges which carry up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Continued domestic violence against the family is the most severe family violence charge and occurs when a defendant has been charged with two domestic assaults within 12 months. Regardless of whether an assault led to a conviction or was committed against the same person, two charges in a year will result in a third degree felony carrying up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $4,000.
Those looking to have Texas domestic violence laws explained should also have an understanding of protective orders. Victims of domestic violence can apply for a court order of protection. If granted, an order of protection can order an abuser to:
- Refrain from contact, including staying away from a victim, their family, home, workplace, or children’s daycare or school.
- Refrain from hurting, threatening, or harassing a victim or their children directly or through a third party.
- Refrain from carrying a gun regardless of licensing.
Protective orders for family violence usually last two years, with violations constituting a state jail felony carrying 180 days to two years in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Federal and Statewide Comparisons: Texas Domestic Violence Laws Explained:
While Texas has a wide application of who constitutes “family” under family violence charges compared to other states, they have a loose enforcement of several federal and statewide domestic violence statutes. This includes the federal Gun Control Act which dictates that abusers cannot possess firearms. Although domestic abusers are banned from owning guns in Texas, abusers are not required to turn in their firearms to law enforcement and can petition the court to reinstate their gun ownership upon serving their sentence.
Additionally, unlike many states where it is mandatory for an officer to arrest an individual if there is probable cause of domestic violence, in Texas an officer with probable cause has complete discretion to arrest or ignore someone believed guilty of family violence. Considering that evidence shows that officers only make arrests in 20-50 percent of cases with clear evidence of a protective order violation, a discretionary arrest policy can have harrowing consequences.