If you’re facing domestic violence charges, you may be asking yourself, “Is domestic violence a felony in Florida?” The short answer is that there are times when domestic violence is a felony in Florida and other times when it is not. Before taking a deep dive into Florida felony domestic violence charges, it’s important to understand the bigger picture of domestic violence law in the Sunshine State.
Who is Subject to Domestic Violence Laws in Florida?
Domestic violence is outlined in Florida Statutes Sections 741.28 through 741.4651, and it is broadly defined. While many people assume that domestic violence charges arise only from friction between two married partners, that is just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, Florida domestic violence applies to situations between any two people who are considered to be family or household members. This includes:
Spouses and former spouses: If Suzanne and Jason are married or divorced, either can be charged with domestic violence.
Couples who live together or who have previously lived together: If Suzanne and Jason cohabitated – either currently or in the past – then they are subject to Florida domestic violence laws.
Parents of a child: Even if Suzanne and Jason have never lived together, they can be charged under domestic violence laws if they have had a child together.
Family members: If they’re related to one another by blood and living under the same roof – or have lived together as part of a family unit in the past – Suzanne or Jason can be charged with domestic violence. The blood relationship can be that of siblings, parent and child, or grandparent and grandchild.
In-laws and step relatives: Florida domestic violence law also applies to those who are related by marriage, providing they currently or at one time lived under the same roof. For example, Suzanne or Jason are subject to domestic violence arrest if a conflict arises and they are stepsiblings or stepparent and stepchild.
If you’ve been charged with domestic violence, your first call should be to an experienced Florida domestic violence defense attorney. Having a seasoned lawyer by your side can mean the difference between living your life on your terms and being behind bars. It can mean the difference between getting to see your children grow up and having them taken from you. The right Florida domestic violence defense lawyer can help ensure that you retain your home, your job, and your freedom.
Actions Deemed to Be Domestic Violence Under Florida Law
Florida law enumerates ten crimes and includes one catchall category under the umbrella of domestic violence. It’s important to keep in mind that the differentiating factor between regular charges and domestic violence charges is that the alleged victim is a family or household member. In other words, the crimes are the same, but the relationship between the two people involved in the altercation is what defines the crimes as domestic violence. The domestic violence crimes outlined in Florida law are:
Assault: In a nutshell, assault is intentionally threatening someone with violence when you have the ability to carry out the threat and the other person is reasonably afraid that you’ll follow through. If Jason threatens to punch Suzanne in the face, then makes a fist and pulls back his elbow, Suzanne has reason to believe that Jason will punch her. Even if Jason doesn’t follow through and Suzanne walks away unscathed, Jason can still be charged with assault. If he’s convicted of this second-degree misdemeanor, Jason can face a maximum sentence of 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
Aggravated assault: Aggravated assault is an assault that incorporates the use of a deadly weapon and the intent to commit a felony – but without intending to kill the other person. If Suzanne has a baseball bat in her hand and purposely threatens to hit Jason over the head with it, she can be charged with aggravated assault. Again, she doesn’t have to actually take a swing at Jason in order to be charged. Assault is considered a third-degree felony, and carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Battery: Although the term “assault and battery” is often used, battery is a different crime than assault. Battery involves actually touching or causing bodily harm to the other person. If Jason does punch Suzanne, that can be charged as battery. If Suzanne shoves Jason, but doesn’t actually injure him, she can still be charged with battery. The simple act of touching someone against their will can lead to battery charges. If it’s her first offense, Suzanne will likely be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. A conviction can carry a maximum jail sentence of one year and a maximum fine of $1,000. However, if she has a prior conviction for battery, she will be charged with a third-degree felony, a conviction for which carries a maximum five-year prison term and a maximum fine of $5,000.
Domestic battery by strangulation: While felony battery is typically charged when one person touches another and causes great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement, Florida law carves out an exception for “domestic battery by strangulation.” If Jason restricts Suzanne’s breathing by putting pressure on her neck or blocking her nose or mouth, he can be charged with a third-degree felony. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
Aggravated battery: If Suzanne uses the baseball bat to hit Jason on the head and injures him, she will be charged with aggravated battery. Aggravated battery is also charged if Suzanne uses any deadly weapon, when she causes great bodily harm to Jason, or when her actions lead to permanent disability or disfigurement. If Jason shoves Suzanne knowing that Suzanne is pregnant, Jason’s simple battery charges become aggravated battery charges. Aggravated battery is a second-degree felony, and a conviction can result in a prison term of up to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
Sexual battery: Under Florida law, sexual battery is, essentially, sexual penetration without consent. If Jason forces Suzanne to have penetrative sex – involving his genitals or an object – then he can be charged with sexual battery, which is a first-degree felony. If convicted, he can spend 30 years in prison and be fined up to $10,000. If he uses or threatens to use a weapon, or uses physical force that results in a serious injury to Suzanne, then he can be charged with a life felony. If convicted, Jason faces imprisonment for life and a maximum fine of $15,000.
Stalking: In Florida, stalking can be done online or in real life. For example, if Suzanne and Jason break up, and Jason follows her to work, shows up when she’s out to dinner with friends, or calls her to the point of harassment, he can be arrested for stalking. Similarly, if he constantly emails her, texts her, or posts or tags her in social media posts, he can be charged with stalking. Stalking is a first-degree misdemeanor, and if Jason is convicted, he can face up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Aggravated stalking: Charges of aggravated stalking can be brought against someone accused of making a credible threat while stalking or who continues to stalk someone in violation of a restraining order. If Jason has a restraining order against Suzanne, for example, and she continues to harass him online, she can be charged with aggravated stalking. The same holds true if Jason follows Suzanne into work and threatens to kill her if she dates another man. Aggravated stalking is considered a third-degree felony, and carries a maximum prison term of five years and a maximum fine of $5,000.
False imprisonment: In the context of domestic violence, false imprisonment charges are most often brought when a person is held against their will. If Jason locks Suzanne in the bedroom to prevent her from leaving the house or calling her mother or sister, he can be charged with false imprisonment. If convicted of this third-degree felony, he faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Kidnapping: While kidnapping brings up images of snatching people for ransom, kidnapping can also be charged in conjunction with domestic violence. Kidnapping is domestic violence when a person is held against their will by another who has the intent to commit a felony, to inflict bodily harm against them, or to terrorize them. If Jason locks Suzanne in the basement and continually threatens her, he can be charged with kidnapping. If convicted of this first-degree felony, he faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Other criminal offenses: Florida law so broadly defines domestic violence that it includes any crime committed by any family or household member that results in physical injury to or death of another family or household member.
In addition to the sentences and fines outlined above, Florida domestic violence law mandates that anyone found guilty of a domestic violence crime must complete a batterer’s intervention program. Furthermore, if the other person suffered bodily harm, the person convicted must serve a minimum of ten days in jail. If the person is convicted for a second time, the minimum jail sentence increases to 15 days. For a third offense, the mandatory minimum is 20 days in jail. Those minimums increase to 15, 20, and 30 days respectively if a child under 16 years old was present during the incident.
There is an answer to the question, “Is domestic violence a felony in Florida?” Certain types of domestic violence crimes are charged as felonies. They are aggravated assault, domestic battery by strangulation, sexual battery, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, and false imprisonment. In addition, a prior conviction of battery can result in felony charges for subsequent violations.
How a Florida Domestic Violence Defense Attorney Can Help
If you are convicted of a Florida domestic violence charge, you have everything to lose. A conviction can result in a jail or prison sentence and a hefty fine, and can forever change your future. A conviction can impact your ability to obtain or keep a professional license, can prevent you from getting or keeping a job, can prevent you from owning a gun, and even shows up on your credit report. In addition, your reputation will be ruined, and you’ll always have a cloud of suspicion hanging over your head.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the help of an experienced Florida domestic violence defense attorney, you may be able to avoid a conviction altogether or achieve a conviction for a lesser crime – one that doesn’t have equally serious consequences. Your Florida domestic violence lawyer can use a number of strategies to have the charges dropped or reduced, to prevail at trial, or to reduce the sentence upon conviction.
For example, your attorney can talk to the alleged victim and determine whether or not they’d like to drop the charges. If so, then they can request that the State Attorney drop the charges. Your attorney can request that they write a statement explaining the reasons behind their request, which your attorney can then use to convince the prosecutor to drop the charges.
Your Florida domestic violence defense attorney will mount a rigorous defense tailored to the specific circumstances of your case. To defend against battery charges, for example, your attorney may dispute the underlying facts, point to an absence of injuries, or outline why your accuser falsely accused you. They could argue that you were acting in self-defense, that your accuser was acting out of jealousy or spite, or that there were no witnesses to the incident.
Your lawyer understands the nuances of the law and the broader backdrop of the Florida criminal justice system. They know that the State Attorney’s office doesn’t have the resources to prosecute every case, and so has a keen incentive to negotiate a favorable plea agreement. A plea agreement can include agreeing to a lesser charge and to a less severe sentence, such as probation in lieu of jail or prison time.
When you’ve been accused of domestic violence, you don’t have a minute to waste. The sooner you call a Florida domestic violence defense attorney, the better the outcome of your case. Meltzer & Bell has a proven track record of winning domestic violence cases just like yours. Call today for a free, no-obligation consultation.