GEORGIA FAMILY VIOLENCE ACT
It is not uncommon for someone facing criminal charges in the state of Georgia to also find that they have violated the “Georgia Family Violence Act”. The Georgia Family Violence Act is an additional consideration for a specific category of criminal acts that take place between certain family members and relationships. Violent crimes such as battery and assault (both felony and misdemeanor) are the most obvious ones that may be violations of the Family Violence Act, but non-violent crimes may also fall into this category. Crimes such as criminal damage to property, stalking, and false imprisonment are just a few possible non-violent crimes that can also violate the act. Additionally, any felony that were to take place between a defendant and victim that are determined to have a relationship that is categorized as family violence could violate the act.
But what exactly does a violation of this act mean for you? Typically, the most important and concerning aspect of a violation of the Family Violence Act is simply that the potential penalties for conviction become more severe than a non-family violence offense. It may also mean that certain additional defenses go into effect to better protect the family from the offender, such as protective orders against abusers or stay away conditions which would prevent you from going home while charges are pending. There are many other conditions and stipulations that may come into play on a case by case basis.
FAMILY VIOLENCE ACT: WHAT QUALIFIES?
So how do you know if your charge is going to violate the Family Violence Act? The good news is Georgia’s code defines very specifically what groupings of people would be considered in violation of its Family Violence Act, such as:
- Current or former spouses
- Parents of a mutual child, with or without marriage
- Parents and their children
- Stepparents and their stepchildren
- Foster parents and their foster children
- Persons currently or formerly living in the same household
There’s a good chance that your pending charge will violate this act if you and your victim share one of these relationships. It is worth noting that the Georgia Code for the Family Violence Act expressly excludes “reasonable discipline” of a child by a parent. This exclusion is extended to corporal punishment within reason. The other interesting dynamic that many people fail to realize is that there is no requirement for a literal family relation to violate the act. Roommates, stepparents, and foster homes are frequently caught off guard when their cases are found to have violated the Family Violence Act.
FAMILY VIOLENCE ACT: WHAT’S AT STAKE?
As previously stated, convictions of violations of the Family Violence Act typically elevate the severity of punishment for any given case. A misdemeanor battery or assault case that is non-family violence would carry maximum penalties of 12 months in jail or a $1,000 fine or both. This is true of a first- time family violence offense as well. However, the kicker is that subsequent family violence convictions, even if misdemeanors, carry significantly more serious penalties. A second family violence conviction could carry up to 5 years in prison, even if the original charge is a misdemeanor.
Similarly, simple assault cases against a non-family violence victim would typically be considered your basic misdemeanor. A family violence simple assault is elevated to what is called a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature. The jail time for a high and aggravated misdemeanor remains a maximum of one year, however the fines can be increased under this category to a staggering $5,000.
The third consideration of family violence cases addresses how they may come to be in the first place. It’s important to understand that law enforcement officers have an additional mandatory course of action in the event that they suspect family violence may have occurred. An officer’s decision of whether they arrest and charge someone they suspect of family violence is much less up to reason than a non-family violent charge, meaning that when they have reason to believe a crime of family violence has taken place they must act accordingly by taking the Defendant into custody. No amount of pleading nor reasoning from a victim can alter the arresting officer’s actions once family violence has been confirmed.
FAMILY VIOLENCE: PROTECTIVE ORDERS
Protective orders are commonly an indirect consequence of a violation of the Family Violence Act. Whether it’s for a victim’s own protection or someone else’s (their child, a family member, etc.), protective orders are sought based on family violence. A hearing on the petition must be held within 30 days of the filing of the petition unless the parties agree to hold the hearing later than 30 days from the filing. Whether or not a Defendant chooses to contest or ignore a protection order is determined on a case by case basis. It is typically determined by what the potential outcome of such an order would have on the Defendant of the petition. Typical conditions of allowing the order to go into effect would be restraint from harrassing or interfering with the victim, no contact with the victim or the victim’s family, or temporarily having to vacate a mutual residence.
Protective Orders are particularly critical when children are involved. Protective orders can be made to create or modify child custody and support arraignments. Other common but less considered outcomes of a protective order could be requirements that the respondent complete substance or mental health evaluations. A family violence protective that goes into effect lasts for one year, but can be extended through further petitions to the court or even made permanent in some cases.
Family Violence cases are generally very complicated by nature. The passion that comes from a familial relationship often complicates and deepens the stakes of cases that violate the Family Violence Act. As such, it is critical to understand your position and your rights when facing charges that are accompanied by such a violation. We look forward to coming up with a plan to defend you and your family in these circumstances. Call us today.