Ordinary crimes and domestic crimes are distinguishable in criminal court. A crime that occurs between strangers will be treated differently than a crime that occurs between people in a domestic relationship. That domestic relationship is the cornerstone of what constitutes “domestic violence” in Florida.
Florida law states that a domestic relationship exists between spouses, former spouses, people who are related by blood or marriage, people who live together as a family, people who have lived together in the past as a family, and people who have a child or children in common.
This definition encompasses both current and former spouses and significant others.
The violence component would be any assault, battery, sexual assault, stalking, aggravated stalking, or other criminal offense occurring between those in a statutorily-defined domestic relationship.
Domestic violence is a sensitive area of criminal law because the legislature has adopted a policy that no domestic violence case should be dropped simply because an alleged victim does not want to proceed.
That is because we have seen numerous instances, glorified in the media, of domestic relationships gone wrong. It seems like every night in Miami-Dade County or Broward you are seeing something on the news about some incident of horrific family violence, be it a stabbing, shooting, or murder-suicide.
Because of the closeness of victim and offender, Florida courts and prosecutors treat DV cases differently. In both Miami-Dade and Broward, misdemeanor domestic violence cases have their own separate trial divisions with different penalties for crimes. In Broward, even the felony domestic crimes have their own designated division.
Florida law even prescribes different sentences for DV cases. The legislature mandates probation and anger management for misdemeanor DV cases. Even bonds in DV cases are different. You cannot post a bond immediately after getting arrested for a DV charge. You must first go before the bond judge. This is to allow time to “cool off” to mitigate the risk of the offender bonding out and returning to the home to commit further violence.
If you are arrested for a domestic violence charge in Miami-Dade or Broward and require the services of a domestic violence lawyer, remember that every DV charge - misdemeanor or felony - is a big deal. And no, it does not matter if the victim is not on board with the prosecution. The laws are written to allow the state to proceed in many cases without a testifying victim.
Eric Matheny is a Miami domestic violence lawyer and Broward domestic violence lawyer representing clients in both counties for misdemeanor and felony domestic violence charges.