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Domestic Violence Crimes in Virginia

by J.D. Garrett on November 10, 2013

Third offense assault and battery against a family member is a felony

On October 23, 2013, a jury found Virginia Beach resident Andrew VanVleet guilty for domestically assaulting his then-girlfriend. This was his third offense and the jury recommended a 15-year prison sentence. Sadly, domestic abuse – known as family abuse in the Commonwealth – is just as prevalent in Virginia as it is in the rest of the nation. According to the Virginia Attorney General’s 2012 Annual Report on Domestic and Sexual Violence in Virginia, there were 22,557 arrests for assault and battery against a family or household member and more than 64,000 calls to domestic and sexual violence hotlines across the state. VanVleet’s recent case is a tragic example of one type of family abuse that occurs in Virginia.

A Case of Domestic Abuse

According to the City of Virginia Beach, VanVleet and his girlfriend lived in a Virginia Beach home where the couple rented two rooms. Between March 24th and 26th, VanVleet physically assaulted his girlfriend, punching her in the face, shaking her, and choking her. VanVleet’s girlfriend was ultimately hospitalized for her injuries, at which point the police began an investigation.

The police charged – and a jury ultimately convicted – Andrew VanVleet with the crime. This was VanVleet’s third conviction for assault and battery of a family member. He was also previously convicted of receiving stolen property, grand larceny, credit card fraud, credit card forgery, conspiracy, and petit larceny. While many people think of domestic abuse as only occurring between couples, this type of crime can take many forms.

What is Domestic and Family Abuse?

Under Virginia law, domestic abuse falls within the broader crime of assault and battery against a family or household member. As we recently discussed, assault and battery is defined as an intentional harmful or offensive contact with another. Even if one does not actually touch the victim, the apprehension of harmful or offensive contact can amount to an assault charge.

The term “family or household member” is broadly defined. A family or household member includes:

  • spouses, whether or not he or she resides in the same home with the person;

  • former spouses;

  • parents, stepparents, children, stepchildren, brothers, sisters, half-brothers, half-sisters, grandparents and grandchildren;

  • a mother-in-law, father-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law who reside in the same home with the person;

  • an individual who has a child in common with the person; or,

  • an individual who cohabits or who, within the previous 12 months, cohabited with the person, and any children of either of them then residing in the same home with the person.

Thus, the broad scope of assault and battery against a family or household member can apply in a variety of contexts.

The punishments for this type of crime vary depending on the circumstances. Courts have a variety of options when dealing with first-time offenders. A court can defer the proceedings against the defendant – without a finding of guilt – and place him or her on probation, and it can also order educational and treatment programs. As evidenced by VanVleet’s recommended sentence of 15 years, Virginia treats multiple offenses much more seriously.

A conviction for assault and battery against a family or household member can bring a wide range of punishments. If you have been charged with a crime related to domestic or family abuse, it is imperative that you contact a criminal defense attorney. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys will work hard to craft your strongest defense.

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