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Understanding Domestic Violence Laws in Florida

Domestic violence laws in Florida are broad and complex. These laws are in place to protect those in danger and penalize people who cause harm to others. It is critical to understand the scope of domestic violence, and the statutes in place to protect domestic victims. In this guide to domestic violence laws in Florida, we will discuss the definition of domestic violence, an overview of the relevant laws, the legal procedures involved, and the protections available for victims.

What is Domestic Violence in Florida?

Domestic violence is a series of abusive acts and/or threats committed upon a spouse, intimate partner, or former partner. It is a pattern of violence that may vary in severity or frequency and occurs in various forms, including physical violence, sexual violence, and emotional abuse. The abuser uses these actions to threaten, frighten, intimidate, and control the other person.

Florida’s laws may differ from other states in their scope and application. According to the statutes, not all violent acts and abuse that occur in relationships are considered domestic violence. For example, abuse that is inflicted in a dating relationship where the two individuals reside apart with no children in common, the abuse is still considered criminal, but is not considered “domestic” violence.

The Prevalence and Impact of Domestic Violence in Florida

Florida publishes official statistics of the incidences of domestic violence in the state. According to these statistics, men are more likely than women to commit domestic violence, and women and children are the more likely than men to become victims. According to the latest statistics from the Florida Department of Children and Families, in 2020, 106,515 crimes of domestic violence were reported to Florida law enforcement agencies.

The breakdown of the 2020 statistics by offense includes:

  • 84,547 – Assault
  • 16,894 – Aggravated Assault
  • 1,795 – Forcible Rape
  • 1,642 – Threat/Intimidation

These domestic violence statistics include reports of stalking, manslaughter, and murder. The prevalence of domestic violence negatively impacts our society as we strive to have safe, healthy communities.

First and foremost, it affects the lives of individuals, couples, and their children daily. Living under the threat of violence drastically reduces the quality of life, causing physical, psychological, and emotional harm.

An Overview of Domestic Violence Laws in Florida

Book of domestic violence laws

Florida has a strong legal framework that defines acts of domestic violence and dictates the appropriate punishments. From the community to the courtroom, law enforcement and the judiciary serve essential roles in protecting those in danger of harm and punishing those who commit crimes.

The Legal Framework

The statutes governing domestic violence in Florida include detailed prescriptions of the legal duties of law enforcement and the judiciary.

The role of law enforcement:

  • Investigate allegations of domestic violence;
  • Assist victims in obtaining any necessary medical treatment;
  • Inform victims of any services are available through a domestic violence center;
  • Provide victims with a copy of the Legal Rights and Remedies Notice to Victims.;
  • Complete a written report documenting statements by all parties and any observed injuries; file said report; and provide a copy to the supervisor.

The role of the judiciary:

  • Receive, review, and ultimately rule on the petition for an injunction for protection against domestic violence (Temporary/emergency - fast help);
  • Set a hearing for the petitioner (the person seeking protection) and respondent to determine if a permanent injunction is warranted;
  • Preside over all civil court hearings and make rulings on injunctions;
  • Preside over criminal court hearings in cases of domestic violence and violations of injunctions and decide the respective penalties.

Specific Provisions

Florida Statutes Section 741.28 defines domestic abuse as “Assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense that results in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.”

This statute recognizes the varying types of domestic abuse, including physical violence, emotional abuse, and psychological abuse.

Florida Statutes Section 741.30 provides legal avenues for protection against domestic violence in the form of injunctions (commonly known as restraining orders). If the respondent (the individual who has to abide by the court order) violates the parameters of the injunction, law enforcement will get involved.

There are serious consequences for domestic violence offenses.

Punishments for Domestic Violence Offenses

Florida Statutes Section 741.283 lists mandatory minimums for those who are convicted. This includes:

  • Minimum of 10 days in county jail –1st offense;
  • Minimum of 15 days in county jail – 2nd offense;
  • Minimum of 20 days in county jail – 3rd or subsequent offense.

A judge may also order other penalties upon conviction, including:

  • Paying fines and court costs;
  • Attend an alcohol or drug program where appropriate;
  • Complete anger management treatment;
  • Complete community service per court order;
  • 12 months of probation.

The state also has a mandatory completion of a batterer’s intervention program for those convicted of domestic violence.

If an individual violates a domestic violence injunction, they may face:

  • Up to one year in jail and/or
  • One year of probation

A common question for those charged with these types of offenses is, “Can I get a domestic violence charge expunged?” The answer is no if that individual entered a plea of guilty or no contest to the charge, even if adjudication is withheld. If, however, charges were never formally filed by the state or dropped/dismissed, the charges can potentially be expunged.

Navigating Domestic Violence in Florida

Domestic violence support group

Florida state statutes are complex and may appear daunting to non-lawyers. But with the right information, people can navigate the legal landscape when dealing with domestic violence issues in Florida.

It is important to understand the criminal justice process to know what to expect moving forward. It is also essential for those who are victims to know the rights and protections that are available across the state.

Gathering and Preserving Evidence

Evidence is integral to building a domestic violence case. Here is a guide on how to safely and effectively gather and preserve evidence of abuse:

Photographic evidence: gather images that show signs of violence, including injuries and damage to property. Take pictures from multiple angles and include your face in at least one of the pictures.

Medical records: gather medical documentation of any visits and treatments of injuries, which can be full medical records and discharge papers.

Communications: gather relevant social media, text messages, email, snail mail, and voicemails. Try to include as much detail, such as contact info, dates, times, etc. Screenshots can be taken, such as emails printed out, if possible. Send or forward these to a trusted friend/family member and/or your lawyer.

Witnesses: if you have any witnesses to abuse or injuries, they can testify about what they saw or heard on your behalf. Witnesses must appear in court in person.

Police reports: try to obtain police reports from incidents involving law enforcement. They can be very valuable. Also, send these to those you trust.

Electronic evidence should be saved in a database such as Google Drive or Dropbox or sent to a trusted friend/family member and/or your lawyer.

Filing a Case: Where and How

Domestic violence cases are typically filed at the county court. A petition for an injunction is often the first step and is submitted to the Clerk of Court. The judge decides whether to approve the initial temporary restraining order. A hearing is then set to review the case, where both parties can testify and present evidence to determine if a permanent injunction is warranted.

When domestic violence incidents occur (before or after injunctions are filed) and local law enforcement is involved, arrests for specific offenses can be made.

Arrest and Charges

In a criminal case, arrests are made based on evidence and testimony, including physical evidence of injuries, property destruction, medical records, documentation of threats, and witnesses. Depending on the strength of the evidence, specific charges such as battery, aggravated battery, kidnapping, and sexual assault may be filed. Florida law mandates that all defendants arrested for a crime of domestic violence must be held overnight.

Within 24 hours of arrest, the court will hold a bond hearing and may release the defendant on his/her own recognizance or set a bond amount for release. The judge presiding over the bond hearing will often impose additional conditions of release, such as GPS or alcohol monitoring and no contact with the victim.

Trial and Sentencing

At the trial stage, the State Attorney and the defendant present their side of the case with their attorneys, including physical evidence, witnesses, expert witnesses, individual testimony, and cross-examination. Once the trial concludes, a verdict is delivered by a jury.

If the defendant is found not guilty, the Court will enter a judgment of acquittal. If found guilty, the sentence will include a minimum mandatory sentence of 12 months reporting probation, where they must attend a batterer’s intervention program.

Additional penalties and possible sentences include jail time, substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, parenting courses, court costs, and fines.

Legal Rights and Protections for Victims

A sculpture of "Lady Justice"

Survivors of domestic violence have critical legal rights and protections, which are included in the domestic violence laws in Florida. They have the right to protective measures, including injunctions, and the right to receive information about these court orders, available support resources, and detailed information about the different kinds of domestic violence.

Protective Measures Available to Victims

Injunctions, also known as restraining orders, serve to protect people from their abusers. They place restrictions on contact and legally restrain individuals from harming other people. Law enforcement officials ensure protection and are responsible for enforcing the measures of these court orders, including placing those who disobey the injunction under arrest as necessary.

Victim Support and Resources

Support and resources are extremely valuable and often necessary to escape domestic violence situations. The state has multiple types of support services to help victims.

Hotline: Call 1-800-500-1119 for assistance with emergency services, information, and safety planning.

Certified domestic violence centers: Providing emergency shelter to survivors of domestic violence and their children.

Advocates: Creating tailored safety plans and providing advocacy and counseling services.

There are also resources outside the state’s purview, including nonprofit organizations providing support services to those in need. These can be found through the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233(SAFE).  The hotline is 24/7 in English, Spanish, and 200+ languages through an interpreter service.

These resources provide essential emergency services and ongoing support on the path to safety. They save lives and change lives, protecting survivors and their children. Victims should not be concerned about a lack of financial resources—these  support services are provided by the state and other agencies to keep people safe.

Contacting a Domestic Violence Attorney in St. Petersburg

If you were arrested for Domestic Violence in St. Petersburg, Florida, it is crucial to contact a domestic violence attorney to represent your case. The Denson Firm has experience with domestic violence cases and can help anyone who may be involved in one. Contact our office today to schedule a free, confidential consultation, and we will discuss your legal options.

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