What Is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and Felony Domestic Violence Charge? | Domestic Violence Attorney, Wichita
One of the most common questions individuals have when charged with domestic violence is whether their alleged offense will be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. The answer to this question depends on the specific actions committed by the defendant, with crimes classified based on seriousness and state-specific decisions made by legislators. Because this classification can impact your punishment and impose different collateral consequences, it is crucial to understand the differences between the two charges. At the McConnell Law Firm, our domestic violence attorneys in Wichita, Kansas, have detailed the differences between misdemeanor and felony domestic violence charges and have outlined the potential collateral consequences associated with each charge. Learn more about the key differences below.
Classifying the Criminal Offense
In the United States, the classification of a crime as a felony or as a misdemeanor is ordinarily determined by the penalties attached to the offense, with misdemeanors remaining less serious than felony charges and carrying much lighter penalties. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence is an offense that has the use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon; and was committed by a current or former spouse, parent, guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.
“The only distinction between a misdemeanor and a felony in the state of Kansas is one of two things,” said Jonathan W. McConnell, founder and domestic violence attorney at the McConnell Law Firm. “For the offense to be charged as a felony, the defendant either must have prior convictions for domestic violence, making this their third domestic violence conviction, or there must be proof of injury to the alleged victim, such as aggravated battery.”
Misdemeanor Domestic Violence
Misdemeanor domestic violence charges are less serious than felony charges, resulting in a lesser punishment. If an incident and the respective damage are considered negligible, a charge may be considered a misdemeanor, with examples of misdemeanor charges including verbal abuse, violation of a restraining order, or a simple assault in which the victim suffers no damage. While misdemeanors are punishable by fines or short terms of imprisonment in local jails, they will stay on your permanent record and may carry some of the same collateral consequences as a felony domestic violence charge. Some unrealized collateral consequences associated with a domestic violence tag include:
Loss of Employment—While a defendant may be charged with a domestic violence misdemeanor, they will likely experience difficulty gaining or maintaining employment. Many people, including employers, perceive domestic violence offenses to be worse than basic battery charges due to the implication of violence toward a woman. This long-term consequence of a domestic violence charge, even if between two roommates or family members, oftentimes makes it difficult to find employment.
Inability To Own a Firearm—Even after a defendant serves their required jail time and pays their determined fines, they still face the inability to own or possess a firearm. In the state of Kansas, a misdemeanor domestic violence charge will result in the inability to possess a firearm for five years following the conviction and the inability to purchase a firearm until the conviction is expunged. The laws regarding possession and ownership of firearms following a domestic violence charge vary by state, so it is beneficial to contact an experienced domestic violence attorney to discuss the potential options in your state.
“With a misdemeanor domestic violence charge, you are looking at jail time, the potential for probation, and incurring the domestic violence tag associated with the charge,” said McConnell. “It’s not necessarily the sentence itself, but the tag associated with the sentence that can carry detrimental collateral consequences, such as the inability to own firearms for a specific period of time, the inability to secure employment, and various other consequences.”
Felony Domestic Violence
Depending on the circumstances, more serious domestic violence incidents can result in felony charges for an accused. The prior criminal history of the accused, the alleged victim’s level of injuries, and any criminal weapons used all factor into the classification of the charge and will help determine if it is classified as a felony. If a weapon such as a vehicle or a firearm is involved in the encounter, there may also be the potential for the accused to register as a violent offender, which will lead to additional long-term consequences. Typically, these felonies are punishable by a term of imprisonment for one year or more, result in heavy fines, and carry many of the same collateral consequences as a misdemeanor domestic violence tag, including the inability to gain employment, the inability to own a firearm, possible deportation, and possible disenfranchisement. Oftentimes, felony domestic violence charges become rather complicated in terms of long-term consequences as the convicted party must abide by both state and federal regulations regarding ownership of firearms, etc., which often differ.
“A misdemeanor can be converted into a felony charge if prior domestic violence charges are discovered, or if the physical injury is to such an extent that it should be elevated to a felony,” said McConnell. “Perhaps a good example of this would be seen in a physical argument that takes place between two individuals, and it is found out later that the injured party requires surgery due to injuries sustained from the encounter. The court may feel the need to elevate the misdemeanor to a felony due to the severity of the injuries sustained and the surgeries required.”
Navigating Court Proceedings
Many times, when trying a domestic violence misdemeanor in a municipal court, it is simpler to have the case dropped if the alleged victim does not show up to testify. While there is no guarantee that the case will be dismissed, it remains much simpler in a municipal court than in a district court to have a case dismissed. Felonies are tried in a district court due to a municipal court’s lack of jurisdiction in Kansas to try felony cases. When dealing with the seriousness of these charges, the judge is much more apt to try to motivate the alleged victim to testify by asking the court to issue a material witness warrant if the alleged victim does not appear in court. This warrant allows the alleged victim to be arrested and detained until they testify. While this is not always the case, the court will be much more aggressive in pursuing felony cases due to the severity of the consequences.
Have You Been Accused?
If a false domestic violence accusation has been made against you, we encourage you to contact the McConnell Law Firm as soon as possible. While every case is different, and no conclusions should be drawn without first consulting a domestic violence attorney in Wichita about the specifics of your case, it is always in your best interest to have a skilled attorney by your side from the beginning.
Request a Free Consultation
Do you or a loved one need the assistance of an experienced domestic violence attorney in Wichita? We encourage you to contact the McConnell Law Firm at (316) 243-5903 for a free consultation.
Jonathan W. McConnell and his team have become well-known for their expert knowledge and unmatched tenacity. They have been rated highly by the public and their peers on many prestigious legal directories and professional organizations.
McConnell has a Preeminent Attorney and Platinum Client Champion on the online legal directory, Martindale-Hubbell.
McConnell is a Top-Rated Criminal Defense Attorney on the online legal directory, Super Lawyers.
McConnell has a Superb Rating on the online legal directory, Avvo.
McConnell is one of the Top 100 Trial Lawyers as part of The National Trial Lawyers, a professional organization and directory of premier trial lawyers.