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Domestic Assault: Definitions, Degrees, and Defenses

Domestic violence allegations are no joke.  Depending on the level of crime you’re charged with, you could find yourself facing years in prison if found guilty.  That’s why, if you’ve been accused of assaulting a domestic partner, it’s important to get a solid defense attorney on your side. 

A domestic assault conviction can result in a felony record and serious legal penalties.  Many people want to enforce maximum consequences for these crimes because they see the sentencing process as a chance to pass strict moral judgement.  However, all allegations come with nuance others may not take the time to understand.  A defense attorney’s job is to provide context to your case and protect your rights against prosecutorial overreach.  Without someone to make this effort on your behalf, you could end up with a felony record and its associated costs.

When Does a Fight Become Domestic Assault?

Any violence against a “domestic victim,” that is, a member of one’s household or family (including a child) is considered domestic assault.  Why does this matter?  Though slight, there are differences between Missouri’s general assault laws and domestic assault laws.  Therefore, you may find yourself facing stricter penalties for a domestic assault accusation simply because the accuser fits the definition above.

Degrees of Domestic Assault

Fourth-Degree Domestic Assault

Even the least serious accusations of assault, you will be facing Class A misdemeanor charges; if found guilty, you could have to pay up to $2,000 in fines and/or spend up to a year in jail.  Even this “lesser” punishment could seriously disrupt your life.  The state can win a conviction for domestic assault in the fourth degree if they can prove the accused targeted a domestic victim and:

  • tried to injure them;
  • acted recklessly in a way that resulted in injury, pain, or illness for the victim;
  • acted recklessly in a way that put them at risk of injury;
  • put them in harm’s way;
  • made unwanted physical contact, even if the contact was not in itself injurious; or
  • attempted to or succeeded in isolating the victim from in-person or virtual communications or transportation.

Fourth-degree domestic assault is the only type that is considered a misdemeanor and, if the accused has previously committed assault, the charge will be enhanced to a class E felony. 

Third-Degree Domestic Assault

A class E felony, domestic assault in the third degree can come with a prison sentence of up to 4 years.  This is not to mention the fact your record will show you are a violent felon, which could be a barrier to getting a job, renting an apartment, and accessing other essential services.  Domestic assault in the third degree includes:

  • attempts to physically injure a domestic victim
  • knowingly causing a domestic victim pain or illness

Notably, third-degree domestic assault charges usually only apply in situations where the victim was not injured.  Higher charges can be made when a domestic victim suffered due to an attack.

Second-Degree Domestic Assault

In instances where the accused knowingly or recklessly causes injury, they may face a class D felony charge.  There is no “mandatory minimum” of prison time someone must face after being convicted, but you could be sentenced to up to 7 years in state prison.  An important thing to note about domestic assault in the second degree is the statute’s specificity regarding the severity of the situation.  If any injury is recklessly caused, it must be serious; otherwise, the defendant cannot be charged at this level.

First-Degree Domestic Assault

Similar to the above charges, a conviction for domestic assault in the first degree requires the state to prove the defendant:

  • attempted to kill a domestic victim or
  • attempted to cause serious physical injury.

Note the law specifies only that a defendant must attempt a vicious or deadly attack.  This leaves a dangerous gap where a prosecutor may try to argue the injury you threatened may have been a “serious” one to try to win a conviction at the highest level. 

If the victim is uninjured, a guilty party will face class B felony charges; if the attack succeeds, the charge will instead be a class A felony.  Class B felonies are punishable by between 5 and 15 years in prison; class A felonies could result in a life sentence.

Strong Domestic Assault Attorneys on Your Side

If you are facing charges of domestic assault, it’s important to retain a strong defense attorney right away.  The potential penalties are too serious for you to leave your future to chance.   

A good attorney will fight for leniency and protect you against unethical prosecutorial tactics.  Most domestic assault cases are based on word-of-mouth testimony between two parties.  A prosecutor may unfairly attack your character in court or introduce evidence that was gathered illegally.  We will stay vigilant to protect you from such maneuvers that could hurt your case.

Our attorneys are both former prosecutors who have seen the criminal justice system from both sides.  We can put this experience to use on your behalf if you have been charged with domestic assault.

Call us at (314) 334-3807 or contact us at any time for a free consultation with our experienced domestic violence defense team.


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