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Tennessee Domestic Violence Laws - What You Need to Know

There are some crimes that you could be charged with that you never imagined you would ever face. No one plans to get a DUI after leaving a friend’s wedding reception, for instance. Suddenly, you’ve forgotten about all of those toasts to the happy couple that added up to put you over the limit.

Domestic violence usually follows a similar pattern. You never intended to be in this situation, but over time and with the right stresses and circumstances, you may now find yourself in a bad situation and need some help to get on your feet, stay out of jail, and make your life better from here on out.

The first step is to make sure your charges are valid and in accordance with Tennessee domestic violence laws. Because these charges can often have serious consequences, we want to have a complete view of the possibilities and the appropriate defense that should be involved.

What Defines Domestic Assault?

You might wonder what the Tennessee domestic violence laws outline to differentiate domestic assault from the crime of assault. Basically, domestic assault is a sub-category of the spectrum of assault charges you could face in Tennessee. To be charged with domestic assault, your alleged victim must be one of the following:

· Your spouse or an ex-spouse

· A co-habitating partner

· Someone with whom you have a dating or have been involved in a sexual relationship with

· A relative (either by blood, adoption or marriage)

· Any former in-laws

· A child (minor or adult) of any of the above individuals

Many people are under the mistaken impression that the alleged victim must be a romantic partner for them to face domestic assault charges, but that is not the case. The category of domestic assault victims is broad and includes almost anyone with whom you have or had a familial tie or other relationship link.

But My Alleged Victim Doesn’t Want to Press Charges

In this case, Tennessee domestic violence laws state that it might not matter if the alleged victim wants to press charges or not. Your alleged victim might not even have been the one who summoned the police in the first place. Let’s suppose that you and your wife or girlfriend spent the day boating on the Cumberland River. You were both drinking beer and diving off the back of the boat to cool off with a swim. Both of you overindulged a bit and wound up getting into an argument once you got home.

Because the two of you were intoxicated, instead of resolving the conflict amicably, the argument escalated, loud enough for the neighbors to call the police. Then, as you were trying to rush past her to get some fresh air, she stumbled and fell.

The police arrive and pound on the door. Your spouse now has a knot on her head and is still steaming mad at you. The cops separate the two of you and notice the bruises on her legs that she got climbing back aboard the boat this afternoon. When they ask if you caused her bruises and head injury, she nods tearfully even though she knows it’s untrue. She’s angry, intoxicated and doesn’t realize the ramifications of that fateful nod.

Police Can Arrest Alleged Perpetrators Without Victims’ Consent

Law enforcement officers can, and often do, arrest people on domestic assault charges without the alleged victims signing the charges. In some instances, that can be a very good thing, as some abusers can so intimidating to their victims that they will never utter a negative word against them to law enforcement out of fear of retribution. But in many other cases, the circumstances surrounding the visible injuries may be muddled or have nothing to do with the current argument. In still others, e.g., during divorce and custody cases, the alleged victims may actually be manipulating the situations to gain the upper hand in their courtroom battles.

You Don’t Even Have to Touch Someone to Be Charged

Under thedomestic assault statutes of the state of Tennessee, it’s not even necessary for you to make physical contact with your alleged victim to be arrested for domestic assault. If the court finds that you placed “an adult or minor in fear of physical harm, physical restraint, or malicious damage to the personal property of the abused party,” you could be convicted of domestic assault.

That means that an alleged victim could testify that no, you never physically harmed them at all but they were afraid that you might. To prevail the state must show that you took some action while placing the alleged victim in fear. It’s easy to see how someone could manipulate the criminal justice system to their own advantage and have someone falsely arrested if they chose to do so.

But It’s Still Only a Misdemeanor, Right?

That’s true in most cases where defendants face domestic assault charges. However, it’s possible to face felony charges in some instances if a weapon was used or the victim was seriously injured. That being said, it’s never prudent to think of a domestic assault conviction as “only a misdemeanor.” There are very serious implications that could result from a conviction on this charge.

Do you like to hunt, maybe do a little target shooting? If you get convicted of domestic assault here in Tennessee, you lose your Second Amendment right to own firearms. Those with domestic assault convictions who get caught by the police with a gun in their possession can face another misdemeanor charge.

There are other ramifications of domestic assault convictions. Those in the middle of divorces and/or contested custody battles could discover that their misdemeanor convictions for domestic assault adversely affect their right to unfettered access to their children. Soon-to-be ex-spouses might petition the courts for sole custody of the children or even ask that the other parent’s visitation be supervised due to the parent’s alleged inability to control their temper. In some instances, a domestic assault conviction can result in being terminated from your job or losing your housing.

You Can Be Served with a Protective Order

The terms of a protective order can vary, but you might have to vacate the home you share with your accuser. You could be at least temporarily barred from having contact with your own children. The order will mandate how far away you must physically remain from your accuser. You could be barred from attending any future family gatherings when your accuser is there. Protective orders can last for as long as a year but may be renewed for longer by the alleged victim. Your protective order could also stipulate that you must begin paying child and/or spousal support to your alleged victim during the pendency of the proceedings if the order is issued as part of a divorce action.

Take the Fight to the Courtroom

If you are accused of domestic assault, whether you actually did what you’re accused of or not, you must take swift action and mount a stalwart defense to the charges. You and your Tennessee criminal defense attorney can develop a strategy that can lead to an acquittal or dismissal of the charges against you. It might be necessary to get witnesses to testify to the true version of events that contradict your accuser’s testimony. In the earlier example of the intoxicated couple, that might involve having people who were with you on the boat testify that your spouse’s bruises occurred when she climbed back aboard the boat and had nothing to do with your actions later.

If this is your first arrest for domestic assault, it might be possible to avoid a conviction that can dog you for years to come. In some limited circumstances such as cases where the alleged victim does not comply with the prosecution’s efforts to convict you, it might be possible to voluntarily attend anger management classes and undergo a domestic assault assessment. If you comply with all terms set forth by the court, you could have the offense stricken from your criminal record.

However, it should never be assumed that prosecutors will agree to “play ball” with defendants on domestic assault cases. No prosecutor ever wants to be accused of being soft on crime when the charge involves violence toward spouses, children or family members. Even in weak cases with little evidence, prosecutors still may proceed even if they think that they might lose because it appears as though they are committed to protecting victims from abuse.

What’s the First Thing to Do After a Domestic Assault Arrest?

As soon as you know or suspect that you will be arrested for domestic assault, contact your criminal defense attorney. If you get arrested without warning, tell the arresting officer that you want to speak to a defense attorney before you answer any questions from the police. Don’t resist arrest or be rude or disrespectful to the arresting and booking officers. Remain calm and invoke your Miranda rights to remain silent and have your attorney present for questioning.

When you are in the police interview room or placed in a cell with other prisoners, do not make any comments or offhand remarks about your charges or the circumstances of your case. You likely are being recorded, and jails are full of snitches trying to parlay information about other inmates for reduced charges or favorable conditions while they remain in police detention. Once you have been processed through booking, you should have an opportunity to use the phone tocontact a Franklin criminal defense attorney.