During the course of my regular family law practice, many clients will come asking advice about what they can do to protect themselves from domestic violence. Unfortunately, domestic violence in Florida is a serious problem in our community and if you are a victim, then it’s important to understand how you can protect yourself under Florida law.
In meeting with these clients, I will generally start by explaining how domestic violence is defined in Florida and the legal remedies one has if they are a victim of domestic violence. Florida Statute 741.28(2) defines domestic violence as, “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.”
Reach out to Law Enforcement If You Are a Victim of Domestic Violence in Florida
If you are a victim of domestic violence, then the first people to reach out to should be law enforcement. It is important to understand, however, that once you contact and get law enforcement involved, it is likely that someone will be going to jail, particularly if there are visible injuries to the victim or if there are obvious signs of a domestic struggle, such as overturned furniture or broken property.
An Arrest Often Leads to Jail Time
Once a person has been arrested for domestic violence they will be taken to jail, where they will be held on a no-bond status until their first appearance in front of the judge, which will occur within 24-hours of their arrest. At this initiation appearance, the person will be given a bond so that they can bond out of jail, but there will be several conditions placed upon their release, including a no-contact order with the victim, no-return to the scene of the offense, and sometimes even a GPS monitoring device so that their movements can be monitored to ensure there is no contact with the victim.
If the State Attorney’s Office determines to file a formal charge of domestic violence, then it’s likely the abuser can be sentenced to additional jail time or probation and will be required to take a Batterer’s Intervention Program, a 6-month long course that will teach the abuser about proper ways for dealing with their anger and impulses.
Many times, when dealing with spouses or family members, victims can be hesitant of calling law enforcement for several reasons, including not wanting to send their spouse or family member to jail or fear of possible retribution. While these are valid and legitimate concerns that many victims will have, the only way to truly break the cycle of violence that occurs in abusive relationships is to ask for help, and that is what contacting law enforcement will do.
Law enforcement can temporarily defuse the situation and allow the criminal justice system to run its course, which, in some cases, while it can lead to additional incarceration for an abuser, it can also result in the abuser getting professional help to determine the root causes of the violence in an effort to correct that behavior.
In addition to contacting law enforcement, it is also generally advisable to also file a Petition for Protection Against Domestic Violence with the circuit court in your county of residence asking the Court to prevent the abuser from personally contacting you and forbidding them from coming within 500 feet of your home, business, child’s school or any other place that you may frequently visit.
When completing and filing a domestic violence injunction petition, it is imperative that a victim specifically list and detail all instances of domestic violence throughout the relationship and clearly articulate why they feel the protective injunction in necessary, including feelings as to the probability that they will become a victim of domestic violence again in the future should an protection order not be granted.
The next Steps after Filing a Petition for Domestic Injunction
Once the petition for a domestic injunction has been filed, it will reviewed by a judge within 24 hours. Once reviewed for legal sufficiency, the judge will do one of three things:
(1) Temporarily grant the motion and set an evidentiary hearing within ten to 14 days for the court to hear testimony and receive evidence as to the allegations of domestic violence to determine if a permanent injunction is warranted.
(2) Deny the motion and set the evidentiary hearing to have an opportunity to hear more evidence before deciding whether to grant the injunction either temporarily or permanently
(3) Simply deny the injunction outright without setting a hearing due to the allegations contained within the petition being legally insufficient. If the court does grant the injunction, then the court will have wide discretion in determining how long an injunction may remain in place for, which will be based on the specific facts and circumstances of your particular case.
If you have questions about domestic violence in Florida or the injunction process, it will become important to speak with an experienced family law attorney in order to ensure you have the necessary tools to fight back against domestic violence.