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Criminal And Civil Consequences Of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is a criminal offense in Florida, carrying a sentence of varying severity depending on the underlying crime. However, what many people who are criminally charged with domestic violence are not aware of until too late is that they may also be civilly sued over the same incident. While civil suits cannot put a person in prison, they can cost a lot of time and money, and your liability in a civil suit is not related to your possible guilt in a criminal trial.
Domestic violence is defined in a fairly broad way in Florida. Instead of being confined to assault and battery against a spouse, a person can be charged if they commit “any criminal offense that results in physical injury or death” – including a few which are specifically enumerated, such as assault, battery, sexual assault, kidnapping, and stalking – against any “family or household member.” A family or household member is a spouse or child, but also former spouses, any other family related by blood or marriage, people who are or have been residing together as a family, and co-parents (regardless of their being married or not).
If you are charged with domestic violence in Florida under this expansive definition, you should be aware that domestic violence carries a sentence of mere days in prison, which may seem outlandish – but this is because the bulk of the sentence, if someone is convicted, will come from the underlying crime. For example, a person may be found guilty of domestic violence after committing battery (also called “domestic battery”), which is a first-degree misdemeanor carrying up to 1 year in jail, plus a $1,000 fine. Because the crime is a domestic violence offense, the sentence may be enhanced by that factor, adding more time and potential costs.
In addition to facing criminal charges for your actions, Florida law allows your alleged victim to file suit against you for monetary damages if they decide to do so. A person may file a civil suit against someone else over what is called an intentional tort – basically, the civil equivalent of a crime – and seek damages for things like medical bills, any lost wages, and pain and suffering or mental anguish. They can file this suit at any time (though it may wind up postponed until the conclusion of your criminal proceedings), and because one is civil and one is criminal, the Fifth Amendment prohibition against double jeopardy does not apply.
Keep in mind that the burden of proof in a civil case is lower than in a criminal trial – the latter requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, while a civil case only requires a “preponderance of the evidence” to be in one party’s favor. This means that if your alleged victim can make a reasonable showing as to your liability, you may wind up on the proverbial hook even if their case is not iron-clad. It can be very difficult to ensure that your rights are protected, especially if you try to navigate the legal process alone.
Call A West Palm Beach Domestic Violence Attorney
If you have committed an act of domestic violence, it is crucial that you be aware that both your finances and your freedom may be at stake, depending on the specifics of your situation. Having an experienced West Palm Beach criminal attorney on your side to help you through the process can make all the difference. The firm of Perlet, Shiner, Melchiorre & Walsh, P.A. can ensure you are given your day in court. Contact our offices today to speak to an attorney.