HOW IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DEFINED IN FLORIDA?

Pursuant to the Florida Statutes for 2016, domestic violence is defined as follows:

741.28 Domestic violence; definitions.—As used in ss. 741.28741.31:

(1) “Department” means the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

(2) “Domestic violence” means any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.

(3) “Family or household member” means spouses, former spouses, persons related by blood or marriage, persons who are presently residing together as if a family or who have resided together in the past as if a family, and persons who are parents of a child in common regardless of whether they have been married. With the exception of persons who have a child in common, the family or household members must be currently residing or have in the past resided together in the same single dwelling unit.

(4) “Law enforcement officer” means any person who is elected, appointed, or employed by any municipality or the state or any political subdivision thereof who meets the minimum qualifications established in s. 943.13 and is certified as a law enforcement officer under s. 943.1395.

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ARREST AND CONVICTION? 

There are legal consequences and there are consequences that affect the personal, professional, and financial aspects of someone’s present circumstances and future. Such consequences include those named above, and the following (although not limited to either list):

  • jail
  • prison
  • mandatory counseling
  • heavy monetary fines and fees
  • mandatory periods of probation and constant monitoring for a certain amount of time
  • a conviction record
  • immigration consequences (risk of deportation/removal from the United States)
  • gun ownership/possession privileges revoked
  • family relationships negatively impacted
  • romantic relationships negatively impacted
  • losing custody of children or court ordered supervised visitation

SHOULD I BE AFRAID I’M GOING TO LOSE EVERYTHING?

Domestic violence charges negatively impact your reputation more than some charges, regardless if charged as a misdemeanor or felony.  A domestic violence conviction can ruin your hopes and dreams.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Some employers, especially public or state employers, can terminate you or reject your application 
  • professional licenses may no longer be available to you
  • child custody (keeping, losing, or fighting for)
  • renting or leasing 
  • finding employment
  • reduction in earning potential

WHAT DEFENSES ARE AVAILABLE TO ME TO FIGHT THE CHARGES?

While it depends on the circumstances and every case has different facts, here are some examples of defenses:

  • accidental injuries: no harm was ever intended
  • self-defense: you were not the one to initiate or instigate a physical confrontation and you were attacked or threatened first
  • self-inflicted injuries: the alleged victim harmed himself/herself and is falsely blaming you
  • allegations are falsely made: motivations to lie include but are not limited to family court matters, child custody battles, money dispute, revenge or anger, pending divorce, threats to abandon the relationship, claims of infidelity

WHAT EVIDENCE CAN BE USED TO PROVE A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CRIME?

It depends on the charge and what the State of Florida has to prove according to the jury instructions, but generally, some types of evidence that may be used are:

  • 911 audio recording
  • police testimony based on their recollection from their reports
  • body camera footage
  • eyewitness testimony
  • alleged victim testimony
  • photographs
  • medical reports about injuries
  • statements made by the accused

WHAT IS A WAIVER OF PROSECUTION AND HOW MUCH WEIGHT DOES IT HAVE?

An alleged victim who has expressed a desire not to go forward as a witness in the case can sign a waiver of prosecution.  A waiver of prosecution doesn’t guarantee the case against you will be dropped, but it demonstrates to the State Attorney’s Office that they may have a witness problem if the case proceeds to trial.  It becomes a weakness in their case. However, depending on what is written in the waiver, this can help or hurt you.  Sometimes alleged victims think they are helping you out by saying something like, “It only happened once, everything is fine now.  I don’t want her to go to jail.”  This is not helpful because it doesn’t say the incident didn’t happen.  In fact, it kinda says the opposite.  And it’s not saying the person accused didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just saying the alleged victim doesn’t want to see that person go to jail.

WHAT WILL POLICE DO ONCE DISPATCHED BY 911?

The policies of law enforcement agencies differ, but generally, police are trained to take domestic violence calls seriously and with precaution so officers may arrive to the location of an incident with heightened suspicions and concerns for the safety of themselves and those involved on scene. They will usually separate the parties, ask who was involved, and confirm who called 911.  Thereafter, they will try to do a preliminary investigation to determine whether there is probable cause to arrest someone.  They can make this determination by gathering statements from witnesses and the alleged victim.  Depending on the agency, some officers make it clear that someone is going to jail, even if the alleged victim says he or she does not want to press charges or that everything is fine.  If there are injuries alleged, they may take photographs, have the person with injuries evaluated by EMS, or transport such person to the hospital.