Domestic violence is no longer just a simple family matter for the state of Minnesota to handle directly. Growing national awareness and a widening definition of what domestic violence means has resulted in courts taking matters of domestic violence more seriously, and handing down more severe sentences.
Although most Minnesota domestic violence cases are still handled inside state courtrooms, there are a number of scenarios in which domestic violence is more likely to become one of federal interest.
To better understand, let’s take a look at how domestic violence laws work in general, and the circumstances that can trigger federal prosecution. Finally, we cover the potential consequences of being prosecuted federally rather than at the state level.
Domestic Violence Defined
Domestic violence consists of violent acts or certain threatening behaviors — for example, stalking — committed against a family member or someone with whom the defendant has or has had an intimate relationship.
In Minnesota, these types of offenses are typically charged and prosecuted at the state level as domestic assault. So when do acts of domestic violence become a federal crime?
What Makes Domestic Violence a Federal Crime?
In 1994, Congress originally enacted the Violence Against Women Act to help the criminal justice system handle complex cases that crossed state lines.
Today, it is considered a federal domestic violence crime to:
Travel Across State Lines to Commit an Act of Domestic Violence
When an offender travels across state lines to injure, harass, or intimidate a victim with whom the defendant has or has had an intimate or family relationship and this travel results in bodily injury to the victim, it becomes a federal offense.
Importantly, this law requires that the defendant intended to commit domestic violence at the time of travel, and that bodily injury actually took place.
Cause a Domestic Violence Victim to Cross State Lines
When an offender causes a victim with whom the defendant has a current or prior intimate or family relationship to cross state lines by coercion, duress, or fraud when the victim incurs an injury during or as a result of this travel, it is also a federal offense.
This scenario does not require a specific intent to cause the victim to travel, but it does require proof that the victim was compelled to travel due to force, duress, coercion or fraud.
Other Scenarios Tied to Federal Domestic Violence
Because a heavy burden of proof exists in cases of domestic violence, federal offenders are sometimes prosecuted under other federal statutes.
Here are two common federal charges often tied to domestic violence:
- Stalking or harassing the victim by computer or mail
- Possessing a gun and/or ammunition if the defendant has been convicted of domestic violence, or has a protective order against them
Why is Federal-Level Prosecution Considered Much Worse?
Federal prosecution is never good news, for these reasons:
- Federal investigations are more in-depth, making the case against you stronger
- Federal inmates are ineligible for parole, meaning that if you’re convicted, you’ll serve the entirety of your sentence behind bars
- Federal prosecutors are likely to seek harsher sentences, and some crimes have mandatory minimum sentencing
Whether at the state or federal level, domestic violence laws are harsh and impose dire consequences, with tremendous criminal and civil sanctions if you are convicted. However, a charge is not a conviction, and you deserve to have your rights protected.
We all make mistakes. Sometimes, a charge may even be due to false allegations. These can and do occur, usually because the alleged victim is seeking some form of legal leverage.
Whatever your situation, if you are facing allegations of federal domestic violents you must act swiftly. Seek an experienced Minnesota domestic violence defense attorney to start building the strongest defense possible as quickly as you can.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).