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3 important things to know about domestic violence

Domestic violence is a broad term that's heard often, but not everyone knows what it means under the law -- nor do they realize the consequences that can be attached to a conviction for domestic violence. Here's a few things you should know.

1. What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is any act of aggression or violence committed against a family or household member. It also extends to ex-spouses, ex-roommates, ex-romantic partners and the other parent of your child. Even peripheral family members, like in-laws, fall under this category.

2. What charges can you face?

If you're charged with domestic violence, there's a large range of possible charges. You can be charged with assault and battery, aggravated assault, kidnapping, and a number of other offenses -- it depends largely on the circumstances of your case.

It may also depend partially on the prosecutor involved. Many domestic violence charges are treated as "wobbler" crimes that can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor can be punished with a diversion program, like anger counseling, or a stint in a local jail for up to a year. A felony can send you to state prison for up to five years. If the charge is more serious, including something like permanent injuries, the felony level can be raised and you could face fifteen years in prison.

3. What defenses are possible?

If you feel like you've been wrongly accused, there are several possible defenses:

-- You were defending yourself. You may have inadvertently injured the other person while trying to stop someone else from hurting you or another individual.

-- Your the victim of a revenge accusation. Did you break it off with your boyfriend or girlfriend? It isn't unheard of for an unstable exes to make up allegations of abuse and even injure themselves to manufacture proof.

-- There's no proof you did anything. Sometimes the best legal defense is simply to point out the lack of proof and bring up questions about the other person's credibility.

-- The violence was consensual and got out of hand. While unusual, some couple do engage in sexual activity that involves violence and misread cues could cause a problem.

Because of the potentially severe consequences to your freedom, your finances, your life in general and your reputation, get a defense attorney immediately if you've been accused of domestic violence.

Source: FindLaw, "Florida Domestic Violence Laws," accessed March 31, 2017

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