What Rises to the Level of Domestic Violence?

Far too many families in Florida and throughout the country are affected by domestic violence. Recognizing the damage done by these crimes,  the justice system includes a variety of tools to both protect those harmed and punish residents who commit domestic violence. But not all disagreements between family members actually rise to the level of domestic violence as envisioned by the law. It is critical for residents who have questions about this issue to understand the basics of the applicable rules.

Florida Law

The Florida legislature defines “domestic violence” to be “any assault, aggravated assault, battery, 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 family or household member.”  When a Florida resident believes they were a victim of domestic violence, an injunction for protection can be sought. In these cases  a court orders an abuser to stay away from the harmed family member.  Importantly, the victim can be anyone in the household, as the provision is not limited solely to disputes between spouses.

But these protection orders are not automatic. When applying for an injunction, the law requires an individual to give specific information as to when and how the individual previously suffered from domestic violence or why the individual believes they are in imminent danger of becoming a victim.   The family member applying must show there were previous incidences of violence or threats while they were living with the abuser.

Defending Against Charges of Domestic Violence

It is not uncommon for those accused of domestic violence to offer aggressive defenses, rebutting the charges against them. Consider a case that was brought to a Florida appeals court involving an ex-husband who became embroiled in an argument with his ex-wife.  The former wife’s family eventually got involved in the dispute, and the woman’s own father allegedly threatened the ex-husband’s life.  The ex-husband filed a petition for an injunction against the ex-father-in-law because of the threat.  After hearing arguments in the case, the trial court agreed with the ex-husband and granted the requested injunction.

Appeals Court

However, the matter did not end with the trial court, as the father appealed the  judgment.  In reviewing the lower court ruling, the appellate court noted that the ex-father-in-law “neither physically touched [the ex-husband] nor committed any other overt act indicative of an ability to carry out the threat or to justify a reasonable belief that violence was imminent.”  The court also pointed to the testimony of both men that they had a good relationship until the incident in question, meaning that there were no prior threats of violence.

The Court also explained that under Florida law the individual bringing the case must establish that they are the victim of domestic violence or have a reasonable belief they are in imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence.  Looking at the evidence, the appellate court determined that the lower court abused its discretion in granting the injunction.  In other words, the lower court was wrong to grant the order of protection in that specific situation.

This particular case is a reminder of the complexity inherent in many Florida domestic violence matters.  If you are in a situation where you are a victim of domestic violence or are accused of domestic violence it is critical to contact an experienced attorney to assess your situation and protect your rights.

The attorneys at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, PA. will provide a free, no obligation consultation at our South Florida offices located in Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties. If you are unable to travel, we can see you at your home, hospital, or other location which is convenient for you. Call us at (305) 653-5555 or contact us to schedule your free consultation today.