A conviction for Family Violence Battery in Georgia can have consequences that go far beyond a conviction for other misdemeanors. The State of Georgia, as a whole, has taken a stand against domestic violence. There are domestic violence task forces across the State, and specialized prosecuting units. Every day we see the impact that family violence arrests have on Georgia’s criminal justice system. Police are told across the State to make arrests for Family Violence Battery if there is any evidence it occurred. Evidence, unfortunately, can be one-sided and be the result of a false allegation.
For those who have been arrested for family violence, there may be feelings of anxiety and stress as it relates to the potential impact the case will have. Jail time, a criminal history, and forfeiture of firearms for life are all very real concerns when facing Family Violence Battery charges in Georgia. An arrest is not a conviction, and there are options in the criminal process for your Family Violence case.
In order to be prosecuted for Family Violence Battery, the State must prove that the alleged victim falls within the statutory definition for “Household Members or Family.”
Under O.C.G.A. § 16-5-23.1, this includes past or present spouses, persons who are parents of the same child, parents and children, stepparents and stepchildren, foster parents and foster children, or other persons living or formerly living in the same household.
The State must also prove that there was either “substantial physical harm” OR “visible bodily harm” in a Family Violence Battery case in order to get convicted of the crime.
What happens after a Family Violence Arrest in Forsyth County?
First, the person arrested for Family Violence Battery will have their booking photo and finger prints taken and then will be ordered into the Forsyth County Detention Center. The booking process, through fingerprints, creates the official criminal history that is then made public. After the booking process, the person arrested for Family Violence will see a Judge in their First Appearance hearing. This is where Bond will be addressed.
In order to get out on bond in a Family Violence case, the Judge must find several factors to be true. The Judge must find that the person accused of Family Violence Battery:
(1) Poses no significant risk of fleeing from the jurisdiction of the court or failing to appear in court when required;
(2) Poses no significant threat or danger to any person, to the community, or to any property in the community;
(3) Poses no significant risk of committing any felony pending trial; and
(4) Poses no significant risk of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the administration of justice.
These are referred to in Georgia as the ‘Ayala Factors’ based on the criminal case that first laid out what must be proven in order to get out on bond in a criminal case. Ayala v. State, 62 Ga. 704 (1993). Retaining an attorney immediately at arrest means having representation at what many people view as the most important step: getting out of jail as soon as possible. A skilled attorney will do an investigation into the case and allegations and put forth the best possible argument to have their client released on pretrial bond in their Family Violence case.
In a Family Violence case, the Judge may order certain requirements in order to be allowed out on bond. For example, the Judge can order domestic violence classes, or for the accused to not have any weapons while out on bond. We see in most domestic violence cases, if the person is not represented at First Appearance, that the Judge will issue a No Contact provision and Stay Away Order. This means that once the person is released, they are not allowed in many cases return to their home, or speak to the parent of their child or their husband or wife. This is something that in most cases can be avoided through proper investigation and preparation for a bond hearing.
What is the potential punishment for Family Violence Case in Forsyth County?
The punishment for a family violence case is codified at O.C.G.A. § 16-5-23.1 and the maximum penalty is the same across the State of Georgia. On a first conviction for Family Violence Battery, there is a maximum penalty of 12 months in custody and a $1,000 fine. Keep in mind, that the maximum penalty can be greatly increased based on what the State charges via the Accusation. For example, if there is one count of Family Violence Battery, one count of Simple Assault, and one count of Disorderly Conduct, and the charges all based on different conduct, the maximum penalty in that case would be three years to serve. A second or subsequent conviction with the same family member (as classified above) or another family member results in a felony conviction with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
While a first lifetime conviction of Family Violence Battery appears to be just a misdemeanor, there are several collateral consequences that do always appear at first glance. For instance, under Federal law, any person convicted of a crime of domestic violence can no longer lawfully possess a firearm. Georgia’s classification of Family Violence Battery falls within the Federal definition of “domestic violence.” Thus, a Georgia citizen who has a conviction of Family Violence Battery can no longer possess a firearm without the possibility of facing criminal charges in Federal court. This is a permanent forfeiture of your ability to carry a weapon.
In addition, while the maximum includes 12 months in custody and a $1,000 fine, many Judges throughout the State will require individuals convicted of Family Violence Battery to serve time on probation in lieu of jail time, with the conditions of completing a domestic violence program. These programs go by several different names, but they generally include 24 weeks of classes, counseling, and program fees that are no included in the fine levied by the Judge. In addition, Judges can add community service, counseling requirements, fines, and alcohol and drug evaluations. It is important to know that all of these things can be negotiated by your attorney.
Keep in mind: an arrest is NOT a conviction. Just because you have been arrested for Family Violence in Gwinnett County or any county in the State, does NOT mean you will be ultimately convicted, and have to face the criminal history implications and criminal punishment. As in all criminal cases, there are numerous defenses and options to resolve cases short of a guilty plea!
Being charged with Family Violence Battery can be a stressful event in anyone’s life. At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, our lawyers are trained to explore the legal issues with every Family Violence Battery case. We are aware of all the possible options available to avoid jail time and to protect your criminal history and ultimately your privacy. If you or a loved one has been charged with Family Violence Battery, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.