Thanks to the stress and isolation of the coronavirus pandemic and related shutdowns, domestic violence prosecutions have spiked over the past year. Florida law utilizes both criminal and civil remedies for domestic violence, but the focus in this article will be the criminal laws surrounding domestic violence in Florida.
The State of Florida define domestic violence as certain types of violent crime perpetrated against a family member. Violence against a blood relation counts as domestic violence as well as violent acts against a spouse, a former spouse, a co-parent, or a relative by blood or marriage of such individuals. In addition a current or former cohabitor against whom a violent act is carried out is also likely to be charged as domestic violence.
The following crimes are considered domestic violence in Florida when committed by a family member:
- aggravated assault,
- aggravated battery,
- sexual assault,
- sexual battery,
- aggravated stalking,
- false imprisonment, or
- any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member.
Florida takes the crime of domestic violence very seriously. As a result, the punishment for a conviction of domestic violence is serious as well.
If a defendant is convicted of domestic violence and is shown to have intentionally cause bodily harm, the sentence is at least 10 days in jail. A second offense requires a stay of 15 days in the county jail, while the third or more conviction of domestic violence is an automatic 20-day jail sentence.
Should it be shown that the act of domestic violence included an intent to cause bodily harm and it was carried out in the presence of a child 16 years old or younger, the jail sentences increase. For the first conviction, a sentence of 15 days or more is mandated, a second offense is a mandatory 20 days or more in jail, and all subsequent offenses require a jail sentence of 25 days or more.
In both instances Florida law allows judges to sidestep the jail requirements if they are sentencing the defendant to a term in state prison on another felony conviction.
Additionally, Florida laws allow for a prosecutor to charge a defendant with other crimes that occur at the same time of the alleged domestic violence incident, and those crimes are often felonies that require a minimum sentence of one year in prison.
Should the victim of domestic violence have a restraining order in force against the defendant, a conviction for violating it is a first degree misdemeanor that carries with it a jail sentence of up to one year.
Batterers Intervention Program
In addition to the above penalties, if a defendant pleads nolo contendere on, is convicted of, or has adjudication withheld on a domestic violence charge, Florida courts are obliged to place that defendant on probation for one year. Such a judgment or pleading also results in a court-ordered batterers’ intervention program that is part of the defendant’s probation.
The order is mandatory unless specific circumstances exist that make the program unnecessary or unwarranted, or if in the court’s discretion a batterers’ intervention program is not appropriate.