Where domestic violence charges could previously be – and often were – prosecuted as fairly minor incidences, societal spotlighting on domestic assault and sweeping criminal justice reforms across the nation have changed the way these crimes are approached.
In our state, for instance, repeat assault offenders now face enhanced penalties depending on their previous crimes. This makes it more important than ever to fight back.
If you or someone you care about is facing domestic violence charges, and needs help navigating a history of assault behind them, an experienced Minnesota family violence attorney can review the case and offer sound advice regarding defense strategy development and best course of action.
In the meantime, it’s important to understand how domestic assault charges may be paired with assault charges, and the possible enhancements one may face in turn.
Minnesota’s Laws on Assault vs. Domestic Assault
Any act done with the intent to cause fear in another of immediate bodily harm or death or with the intentional infliction of or attempted infliction of bodily harm upon another person is considered an assault.
Assault charges may be classified as cases of domestic assault when any above-described act is inflicted or attempted to be inflicted upon family members or others living with the offended, and may be prosecuted under domestic abuse or violence laws.
Qualified Domestic Violence-Related Offenses
A “qualified domestic violence-related offense” is a violation, or attempted violation, of a number of offenses – including assault of varying degrees. Which is where we get to the five degrees mentioned in the title. Technically, they are not technically tied to domestic violence crimes specifically, but rather assault generally. Here’s how they break down:
- First-degree assault occurs when someone has inflicted great bodily harm.
- Using a dangerous weapon during an assault is classified as assault in the second degree.
- Charges of third-degree assault are brought against those who commit substantial bodily harm and several other child abuse-related crimes.
- When a victim is of a certain profession – police officers, fire fighters, and school officials for instance – fourth-degree assault charges may be applied.
- Finally, anyone who inflicts or attempts to inflict bodily harm not considered substantial or great may be charged with assault in the fifth degree.
For domestic assault, you will likely face one of the assault charges listed above as well as “enhancements” related to domestic violence. Moreover, if you or someone you know has previously been convicted of crimes related to the above described and later faces domestic violence, then that criminal history is paired with the current charges during considerations at the sentencing phase.
Here’s how those penalty enhancements can work.
Enhanced Penalties for Assaults That Involve Domestic Violence
Generally, a first-time domestic violence offense is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. However, a person with any previous assault convictions who commits a domestic assault will, in simplest terms, typically face enhancements to include longer jail sentences or extended probation periods.
- Misdemeanor Enhancement. A misdemeanor may be enhanced to a gross misdemeanor when the domestic violence offense occurs within 10 years of a previous domestic violence-related assault against the same person or within three against a someone who is not considered a family or household member. A gross misdemeanor can carry up to one year of imprisonment and a fine of $3,000.
- Domestic Assault Involving a Firearm. Misdemeanor charges may also be enhanced to a gross misdemeanor if the court determines that the defendant owns or possesses a firearm and used or threatened to use it in any way during the commission of the act. If an affirmative is reached, in addition to the 12-month, $3,000 fine sentence, the court will most likely order the defendant to turn over the firearm as well. The judge also has the authority to order the prohibition of future possession for the firearm up to the remainder of the person’s life if he or she so chooses.
- Gross Misdemeanor Gross misdemeanor charges can further be enhanced to a felony when the current domestic violence-related assault is the third or higher incident and occurs against the same victim within 10 years or within three of someone different.
After the first two convictions, everyone thereafter is subject to a maximum sentence of five years and $10,000 in fines.
The Minnesota Domestic Violence Act also outlines that upon a domestic violence felony conviction, the court will impose at least a 30-day incarceration period as one probationary condition. The offender will also be ordered to participate in some form of counseling or other appropriate rehabilitation program selected by the judge. Again, these are separate from the penalties associated with assault.
Bottom line? A domestic assault charge is serious. Really serious. To give yourself the best chance at avoiding years of imprisonment and other severe penalties, you need to fight back.
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).