Domestic disputes are among most difficult to deal with. Emotions run high, and people can do and say things they later regret. Often times they occur against the backdrop of greater relationship issues, such as a divorce or separation, child custody battle, or financial struggles. It is not uncommon for a party to a domestic dispute to embellish or fabricate an allegation of violence to leverage their position or exact revenge. Charges can be brought with little to no evidence other than one person’s statement.
The impact of a domestic violence incident is far reaching, and extends beyond the courtroom. Not only does one have to deal with defending themselves against criminal charges, but there can be collateral consequences involving family relationships, employment, and loss of certain civil rights.
Penalties and Consequences for Domestic Violence
Chapter 2919.25 of the Ohio Revised Code covers domestic violence, and creates three ways that someone may be charged with the offense:
- Knowingly causing or attempting to cause physical harm to a family or household member;
- Recklessly causing serious physical harm to a family or household member; or
- By threat of force, causing a family or household member to believe that the offender will cause imminent physical harm to them
The Ohio Revised Code definition of a “family or household member” is very broad, encompassing not only family and persons currently residing in the residence, but also former spouses and domestic partners that once resided with the accused.
The classification and penalties for committing these acts are far ranging, and can vary depending upon the circumstances of the incident and the accused’s prior history. For misdemeanor acts of domestic violence:
- Misdemeanor of the 1st Degree – up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000.00 fine
- Misdemeanor of the 2nd degree – up to 90 days in jail and a $750.00 fine
- Misdemeanor of the 3rd degree – up to 60 days in jail and a $500.00 fine
- Misdemeanor of the 4th degree – up to 30 days in jail and a $250.00 fine
For felony acts of domestic violence:
- Felony of the 3rd degree – up to 36 months in prison and a $10,000.00 fine
- Felony of the 4th degree – up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000.00 fine
- Felony of the 5th degree – up to 12 months in prison and a $2,500.00 fine
Making matters worse, a conviction for domestic violence is prohibited from expungement or sealing under Ohio laws, and can be used to enhance the penalties for future offenses. Federal laws also prohibit those with convictions for domestic violence from owning or possessing firearms.
While an accused person is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, Ohio laws permit courts to grant protection orders during the pendency of a criminal proceeding involving domestic violence. These protection orders can prohibit an accused person from returning to their home, seeing their children, or making contact of any kind with someone named as a victim. Violation of a protection order can form the basis for separate criminal charges even when the person has not yet been found guilty of domestic violence (R.C. 2919.27).
In 2017, Ohio voters passed the Marsy’s Law Crime Victim Rights Initiative, granting constitutional rights to victims of crimes such as domestic violence. Examples of those rights include:
- The right to be notified of, and be present, at all court proceedings;
- The right to be informed of the services available to crime victims;
- The right to be heard at plea and sentencing hearings;
- The right to speak with a prosecutor;
- The right to privacy;
- The right to refuse certain discovery requests made by the accused person;
- The right to make certain objections; and
- The right to restitution
While a court can provide a crime victim with a representative called a “victim’s advocate,” that representative is not of the victim’s choosing and may not be able to explain and guide them through the legal process. For that reason, a crime victim may wish to obtain an attorney of their own choosing to ensure that their constitutional rights are being protected.
No one wants to be labeled a domestic abuser, nor be a victim of an act of domestic violence. The impact and consequences last well beyond the incident itself. The attorney’s at Dworken & Bernstein are zealous advocates for their clients, whether they be the accused or the victimized