Five Keys to Defending Assault/ Family Violence Cases

May 1, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

Police and prosecutors have built a machine to combat domestic violence.  Their intentions are noble yet often misguided and built on false assumptions and one-size fits all narratives.

Family assault cases are one of the most common cases our office handles.  Every one of them is unique but the more and more we focus on them, the better able we are to know the focal points needed for success.

  1.  “No Compromise” attitude.

The fact is in domestic violence cases, the harder you work and the less willing you are to compromise — the luckier you’ll be.  In family assault cases the prosecution’s case tends to deteriorate when pressed.  This doesn’t mean I have to be a jerk to the prosecution — in fact, quite the opposite.  I want to be able to offer them a way out – but on my terms.  If they don’t want out, then we have to be ready to hammer them at trial.  A lawyer’s attitude in these cases is the single most important key to defending these cases.

2.  Legal (And not Emotional) Analysis of the State’s Case.

The law surrounding domestic violence and assault cases is complex and intricate.  There are enough cases analyzing the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution’s confrontation clause to fill an entire law school course.  There are also multiple defenses to assault which might often apply in any given fact scenario – and your lawyer must also understand in what circumstances the Judge would legally be required to instruct a jury as to those defenses.

Legal analysis is critical because often we know well before the case goes to court the prosecution can’t or is unlikely to win.  This gives us the power and leverage to dictate our terms to the State.

One of the main reasons our system provides for lawyers is so we can effectively divorce our legal problems from our emotional ones.  By that, I mean these cases require a cold-dispassionate analysis.  Just because you might “feel” like you should be at fault doesn’t mean the law says this.

3.  Aggressive Factual Investigation

In spousal abuse allegations your lawyer can’t be afraid of the facts.  As discussed above, the harder we work, typically the luckier we get.  One distinct advantage a criminal defense lawyer has over the prosecution in the vast majority of cases is we typically have a better road map.  We know their side of the story in the police report and they either don’t have our side of the story (because of the 5th Amendment right to remain silent) or they know our story but tune it out because they never think they’re wrong.  In any event, I feel like we always have a more “powerful flashlight” to find the aspects of the case we know will help us win.

Also, it is key to be aggressive particularly from the outset of the case.  Perspectives and accounts tend to change in these cases.  By capturing witness’ recollections early, a lawyer can capitalize on changing stories instead of being victimized by them.

4.  Knowing the Collateral Consequences of a Domestic Violence Charge

One of the reasons I think it is important to have an attitude of “no compromise” is because family assault cases can be so damaging in ways which aren’t obvious.  We call these “collateral consequences.”  Direct consequences would be things such as possible jail sentences (up to a year in Class A Misdemeanor assault cases or up to 10 years prison for cases where impeding breath is alleged), fines, and court costs.  Collateral consequences are issues such as loss of 2nd Amendment rights to possess firearms, your ability to adopt a child in the future, inability to hide your criminal record from the public and on and on.  In truth, even misdemeanor family violence charges can act like “mini-felonies” and there are abundant tripwires.

5.  Persistence

Many of my client’s want me to waive a magic wand and have the problem go away with the snap of my fingers.  It might work like that from time to time but usually not.  One of the keys to a good outcome in a domestic violence charge is knowing we have to be prepared for a “marathon” as compared to a “sprint.”  If we get lucky sooner — so much the better.  But we have to understand the “luck” is normally a function of hard work.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is recognized as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters for 2019.

 

 


Assault by “Impeding the Normal Breathing or Circulation”

January 29, 2011

By Dallas and Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 562-7549

www.thecollincountylawyer.com

In 2008, the Texas Legislature amended the assault statute to add section 22.01(b)(2)(B) which makes it a 3rd degree felony when, “the offense is committed by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of the person by applying pressure to the person’s throat or neck or by blocking the person’s nose or mouth.”  It essentially makes an assault where there is choking a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

A 3rd degree felony is punishable between 2 and 10 years in prison and/or a fine not to exceed $10,000.  Not to be over-looked are family violence allegations which can be every-bit as serious as felonies in their own way.

Thought the statute may seem clear cut, there are all sorts of legal issues with these types of prosecutions.  Keep in mind that newer statutes are the ones that tend to have unintended consequences or unforeseen loopholes.

The primary questions are whether defenses such as self-defense or consent apply to this type of an assault.  Section 22.06 of the Penal Code allows for consent as a defense to assaultive conduct (in relevant part), where “the conduct did not threaten or inflict serious bodily injury…” or was a known risk of the victim’s occupation.  So while a person cannot legally consent to an assault where they suffered serious bodily injury, it seems as though they may legally consent to an assault where there is a choking under 22.01(b)(2)(B).  Self-defense under Texas Penal Code 9.31 is broader, but it’s application to the assault by choking is also unclear.  Self-defense is justified, “…when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect the actor against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force.”  Though every court may treat this differently, and eventually the appellate courts may tell us how they think this law should work — it looks like it is an issue a jury would likely have to consider.  Did the alleged victim put themselves in a situation where they consented to being choked?  Was the accused justified in defending themselves by choking the alleged victim?  I’m sure there are countless scenarios where these could apply.

Other legal issues include whether the State can allege lesser-included offenses of misdemeanor assault in conjunction with the “choking” allegations.  District Courts which handle felony’s don’t have jurisdiction to hear misdemeanor cases.  This too is a question which may be subject of an appeal.

Finally there are the normal host of legal issues which surround an assault prosecution.  Those include possible hearsay statements, the defendant’s right to face his accuser in court, and the alleged victim’s right to counsel in the event they could be liable for inconsistent statements under “false report to a police officer.”

These prosecutions and situations are extremely complex.  An accused person should absolutely have an experienced lawyer that understands these intricacies of these newer types of prosecutions.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about any specific legal question you should directly consult an attorney.