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Domestic Violence

Domestic violence charges can be very complex and sensitive in nature. A person could be charged with a domestic violence offense after a misunderstanding or a simple mistake. However, law enforcement agencies and the courts take these accusations very seriously. Pinellas County and other counties in the Tampa Bay area have a special division in their judicial systems for these cases.

Because there is such a stringent policy against those accused of domestic violence, there is great pressure on police and prosecutors to get results. This could mean harsh penalties, such as jail time, expensive fines and other court-issued punishments. With such a specialized form of prosecution coming at those accused of domestic violence, you should hire an experienced legal defense team.

St. Petersburg Domestic Violence Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a domestic violence offense, act now to find out how to best protect your rights and clear your name. Contact an experienced St. Petersburg domestic violence defense lawyer at Morris Law Firm, P.A.. Morris Law Firm, P.A. has years of experience in domestic violence cases, also known as family violence.

Managing partner Melinda Morris is a former prosecutor who served in the Domestic Violence Division as a State Assistant Attorney in Pinellas County. There she was responsible for prosecuting a range of very serious domestic violence offenses from investigation through trial. This inside knowledge can be critical and can benefit the defense of your case.

Whether you are facing charges in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Pinellas Park, Dunedin or nearby areas, Melinda Morris can help. She is skilled in representing clients in domestic violence cases, including women facing domestic violence charges. Call (727) 388-4736 to schedule a free initial consultation and discuss your best options for a strong defense.


Information About Domestic Violence Charges


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What are Domestic Violence Offenses?

Domestic violence is one of the most commonly charged offenses throughout the St. Petersburg and Clearwater communities. These arrests are so prevalent that the Pinellas County State Attorney's Office has created a special division of prosecutors to handle these cases exclusively. These offenses could be either misdemeanor charges or felony charges.

Most individuals equate domestic violence as a fight between a husband and wife. However, the Florida statutes set forth a very wide range of criminal offenses committed by one family or household member against another family or household member. In these cases, according to Florida Statute §741.28, a family or household member could mean:

  • Spouses
  • Former spouses
  • People related by blood or marriage
  • People who are presently residing together as if a family
  • People who have resided together in the past as if a family
  • People who are parents of a child in common regardless of whether they have been married

There is no doubt that these charges jeopardize your future liberty, reputation and your relationship with the other party. Some of the implications of a conviction include losing your parental rights, losing contact with your family and possibly jail or prison time.

These cases can have many facets. A person may be falsely accused by his or her partner of battery or a restraining order may have been temporarily ordered against someone on the basis of false accusations. Other times it could be child abuse or child neglect.

The law in Florida establishes that a domestic violence offense occurs when one family or household member commits any of the offenses listed below against another family or household member:

  • Assault or aggravated assault
  • Battery or aggravated battery
  • Stalking or aggravated stalking
  • Kidnapping
  • False imprisonment
  • Cyberstalking
  • Sexual assault or sexual battery
  • Any offense that results in physical injury or death to a family or household member

Due to the intimate or passionate nature of domestic violence cases, in some cases the alleged victims and the accused will reconcile. However, an accuser cannot have the charges dropped merely because he or she refuses to cooperate with the prosecution.

A “no contact” provision often is used in Florida cases of domestic violence. This provision means that the accused can have no contact with the accuser. This can be complicated if the alleged victim decides to start contacting the accuser on their own volition. If this does occur, legal representation can step in to seek to get the “no contact” provision amended.


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Domestic Violence Injunctions

Domestic violence cases often are closely tied with restraining orders and protective hearing cases. If a family member is a victim of family violence, stalking or harassment, he or she may file a petition for an injunction for protection against domestic violence. In most cases, the victim files this document in family court.

If the facts warrant, a judge will issue a temporary injunction which will place restrictions on the person accused of domestic violence. The accused does not have an opportunity to be represented in this proceeding, and the order often is valid for up to 15 days. The judge also will set a hearing in the future to determine whether the injunction will remain in place, be made permanent or be dismissed.

Some of the most common injunctions made in protective orders include:

  • Prohibiting the accused from communicating with the victim
  • Prohibiting the accused from being near the victim's home, work or school
  • Ordering the accused to pay for housing for the victim
  • Prohibiting the accused from consuming alcohol
  • Prohibiting the accused from possessing a firearm

Morris Law Firm, P.A. defends clients at permanent injunction hearings. It is important to hire an attorney with experience in these situations because a permanent injunction on your record could mean additional indirect consequences. You will be closely examined upon entering or leaving the country, and you could be required to take 26 weeks of batterers' intervention classes. Additionally, if a person violates the injunction, he or she could face criminal penalties.


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Possible Penalties for Domestic Violence Offenses

Domestic violence is a specialized form of assault or battery, and may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Some offenses have specific charges, such as domestic battery by strangulation or domestic battery on a pregnant female. The penalties for domestic violence crimes are enhanced, and the consequences are far more serious. Incarceration may be for up to one year in a misdemeanor case, and up to life in a felony case.

If you are charged and convicted of felony domestic violence, you will receive a strike on your criminal record under Florida’s three strikes law. A second felony conviction sentence could then be doubled, and a third conviction may result in a life sentence. You also may receive other enhanced penalties, which could include steeper fines.

Additional penalties could include:

  • Jail or prison time
  • Probation
  • Expensive fines
  • Attendance at a batterers' intervention program
  • Attendance at a substance-abuse treatment
  • Losing your right to carry a firearm
  • Paying restitution
  • Having a permanent criminal record

Like any violent crime, domestic violence can carry a hefty cost in legal and social terms. However, the greatest impact is at a personal level. These charges can potentially be used as “ammunition” in divorce and child custody hearings. A plea of “guilty” or “no contest” can be just as devastating to a permanent record as a full-blown conviction.

Consequences for these offenses can be far reaching. It may negatively affecting your employment, military or academic status, prohibit you from attending your child’s school or recreational activities, prevent a criminal record from being sealed and impede your right to own a firearm.


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Dangers of Plea Bargains

Even if a person takes a plea bargain to a lesser sentence for a domestic violence offense, he or she still can face life-altering punishments, including:

  • Extensive hours of community service
  • Court-mandated Batterers’ Intervention Program, which can total 29 weeks
  • Prison sentence or an extended probation.
  • A “no contact” ruling that qualifies as a probation violation if the rule is broken.

Under Florida Statute, §741.281 the court may order batterers' intervention program attendance. If a person is found guilty, has had adjudication withheld on or has pled nolo contendere to a crime of domestic violence, that person shall be ordered by the court to a minimum term of one year probation. The court also shall order the defendant to attend a batterers' intervention program as a condition of probation.

According to state law, the court must impose the condition of the batterers' intervention program for a defendant under this section. However, the court, in its discretion, may determine not to impose the condition if it states on the record why a batterers' intervention program might be inappropriate. The court must impose the condition of the batterers' intervention program for a defendant placed on probation unless the court determines that the person does not qualify for the batterers' intervention program pursuant to §741.325.

If a person is adjudicated guilty of a crime of domestic violence and he or she has intentionally caused bodily harm to another person, the court shall order the person to serve a minimum of five days in the county jail as part of the sentence imposed, unless the court sentences the person to a non-suspended period of incarceration in a state correctional facility. This section does not preclude the court from sentencing the person to probation, community control or an additional period of incarceration.


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Potential Defenses to Family Violence Charges

Just because a person is arrested for domestic violence by the police, does not necessarily mean he or she will be convicted or even charged with a crime by the prosecutor. Morris Law Firm, P.A. defends these cases on a regular basis. We have an excellent reputation for obtaining outstanding results for our clients. Once we begin to defend or represent a client, it is not uncommon for the charges alleged by the police to be reduced by the prosecutor or even dropped.

Over the years, we have discovered that many clients are falsely accused by their spouses or family members. There are many reasons false reports are made in domestic cases. Insecurity, infidelity, financial distress, stress at work and issues relating to children often can form the basis for a false or exaggerated accusation.

The legal team at Morris Law Firm, P.A. will carefully review the facts and circumstances of each case and personally investigate the evidence the prosecution has obtained for their case. With our representation, the client can rest assured that we will actively pursue all evidence and witnesses that will assist in obtaining a favorable outcome.

Potential defenses include:

  • Victim recantation
  • Failure to read Miranda Warnings
  • Lack of intent
  • Alibi
  • Mistaken identity
  • Self defense
  • Defense of others
  • Defense of property

Domestic violence cases are subjective throughout the country. If you are the victim of false or exaggerated accusations, a lawyer can help you combat them. We can guide you on how to proceed and how to protect yourself. In cases that can lack hard evidence, any shred of doubt is enough to protect you from lies.

Our attorney will not only look into the actual alleged event, but also will examine the arrest for any rights violations. If your Miranda Rights have been violated or there has been any other prosecutorial malfeasance, that could be grounds for dismissal. Attorney Melinda Morris can provide both a cool head and strong legal advice.


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Domestic Violence FAQ

FAQ
Q

What is Domestic Violence?

Q

What should I do if I am placed under arrest for domestic violence?

Q

The person who accused me of domestic violence has decided not to press charges. Can I still be charged?

Q

If I am convicted of domestic violence will I have to attend special classes?

Q

Can I avoid a jail sentence for a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction?

Q

Does domestic violence count as a strike on my record?

Q

What is a Domestic Violence Injunction?

Q

If there is a restraining order issued against me, can I still call the person accusing me of abusing them?

Q

I was accused of raping my spouse. How is this possible?

Q

Why is it important to hire a domestic violence lawyer?


Q What is Domestic Violence?
A
Under the provisions of Florida Statute §741.28 , domestic violence means any assault, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another who is or was residing in the same single dwelling unit. This can include but is not limited to:
  • Physical Abuse: pushing, slapping, kicking, punching, chocking and beating
  • Emotional/Verbal Abuse: threats, verbal intimidation, following and stalking or acting out in anger
  • Sexual Abuse: any unwanted touching or forcing of someone to engage in a sexual act against his or her will

Q What should I do if I am placed under arrest for domestic violence?
A If you are placed under arrest for a domestic violence offense, you should remain silent until you have an attorney present. Without an attorney present, anything you say or do can and will be used against you in court. Contact the Morris Law Firm if you need legal advice for a domestic violence issue in Florida.

Q The person who accused me of domestic violence has decided not to press charges. Can I still be charged?
A Yes. The State Attorney's Office can press charges even when the victim does not want to. It is in the sole discretion of the State Prosecutor to decide whether to formally charge you with domestic violence, spousal abuse or child abuse.

Q If I am convicted of domestic violence will I have to attend special classes?
A If convicted of domestic violence you may be required to attend anger management classes and possibly alcohol or drug counseling. This is a part of rehabilitation that the court may sentence in order to prevent further criminal offenses.

Q Can I avoid a jail sentence for a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction?
A In some instances a skilled domestic violence attorney can request that you attend counseling and anger management courses instead of being incarcerated for a misdemeanor domestic violence offense, but it will depend upon the specific case.

Q Does domestic violence count as a strike on my record?
A Yes. If you are charged and convicted of felony domestic violence, you may receive a strike on your criminal record under Florida’s three strikes law. A second felony conviction sentence could then be doubled, and a third conviction may result in a life sentence. You may also receive other enhancement penalties which could include steeper fines.

Q What is a Domestic Violence Injunction?
A This is a petitioned order coming from the Court through the Domestic Violence Office that helps a victim (Petitioner) allow the Court jurisdiction over the parties noted and puts provisions in place as to avoidance of any further acts of violence.

Q If there is a restraining order issued against me, can I still call the person accusing me of abusing them?
A No. Simply put, if there has been a restraining order or order of protection issued against you, you are not allowed to contact or attempt to contact the alleged victim in any way. This would include in person, telephone, e-mail and fax or through a third party.

Q I was accused of raping my spouse. How is this possible?
A Anytime a person forces another to have sex against his or her will, this is considered rape. This applies even to spouses or individuals who are in a relationship.

Q Why is it important to hire a domestic violence lawyer?
A A domestic violence accusation is very serious, and without the aid of a qualified criminal defense attorney you may face harsh penalties. The Morris Law Firm provides excellent legal representation to clients in the St. Petersburg, Tampa and surrounding Tampa Bay areas.

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Resources for Domestic Violence Charges

Florida Department of Children & Families — The Florida Abuse Hotline serves as the central reporting center for allegations of abuse, neglect and/or exploitation for all children and vulnerable adults in Florida. Florida Abuse Hotline: 1-800-96-ABUSE (22873).


Florida Department of Children & Families — The Domestic Violence program serves as a clearinghouse on domestic violence information. Florida Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-500-1119.


National Center for Victims of Crime —The National Center for Victims of Crime is an organization nationally committed to providing assistance and rebuilding the lives of victims of crime. It offers valuable resources on dating violence, which is available online.


CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse) — CASA is a domestic violence agency serving the St. Petersburg area. CASA strives to outsource a powerful voice against violence through advocacy, empowerment and social change.

Hotline number: (727)895-4912 x 1
PO Box 414
St Petersburg, FL 33731
Administration: (727) 895-4912 x111
Fax: (727) 821-7101

FCADV (Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence) — FCADV provides various services to victims of domestic violence. Florida has 42 domestic violence centers serving 67 counties.

425 Office Plaza Dr.
Tallahassee, FL 32301
Phone: (850) 425-2749
Fax: (850) 425-3091
Hotline: 1-800-500-1119
TTY Hotline: 1-800-621-4202

The Haven of RCS — This Pinellas County agency provides safe sheltering and counseling services to victims of domestic violence. This is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Hotline number: (727)442-4128
PO Box 10594
Clearwater, FL 33757
Outreach: (727) 441-2029
Administration: (727) 584-3528
Fax: (727) 461-5057

Finding A Pinellas County Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer

You have a very narrow window of time between when you are arrested for a domestic violence offense and when the State Attorney's office makes a decision to file a criminal charge against you. It is important to begin building a strong defense early on. Call Morris Law Firm, P.A. at (727) 388-4736 to schedule a free consultation with an experienced St. Petersburg domestic violence defense attorney.

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