One of the most commonly charged crimes that I have seen lately has been domestic violence offenses. There is no doubt in my mind that the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent "Stay at Home" and "Safer at Home" orders signed into law recently by Governor Kay Ivey has contributed to that statistic. I'm not blaming the governor for the incidents of individual domestic violence crimes alleged or actually perpetrated, rather, I believe that when people are forced, under the color of law to remain at home with one another, this untoward result was certain to occur. People can just get on your nerves sometimes. Some people have better coping skills than others and can deal with domestic situations without it becoming physical and thereby becoming criminal. The sad reality is that domestic violence is a real problem that crosses all demographic categories and
Alabama, just as other states have done, has actually "codified", or written into law what specific relationships constitute a "domestic relationship." The law addressing and defining these specific relationships can be found in The Alabama Criminal Code, Title 13A-6-130 thru 13A-6-139.1 et. seq. In the Alabama Criminal Code, those specific relationships are as follows:
- a current or former spouse
- any person with whom the defendant has a child in common
- a present or former household member
- a person who has or had a dating relationship with the defendant
Most of those "relationships" need no further explanation. A couple of them really DO deserve further explanation. Let's take a closer look at the relationships that are more vague.
A PRESENT OR FORMER HOUSEHOLD MEMBER
A present household member could be a roommate that lives with the defendant at the time of the alleged offense. Imagine two college roommates, who are NOT related and NOT in an intimate or sexual relationship....just a couple of people (either of the same sex or different sex) who are living together renting an apartment while they attend college. Okay...that part makes sense. But what if those SAME two roommates have a physical confrontation (fist fight) five years after they have graduated and moved away from one another? Believe it or not, under the definition of the codified statute, their previous living arrangement qualifies their relationship as a "domestic violence" relationship! Is that nuts, or what? Believe it or not, that qualifies under the law.
A PERSON WHO HAS OR HAD A DATING RELATIONSHIP WITH THE DEFENDANT
Everyone understands what a dating relationship is. While a "dating relationship" does not necessarily mean a sexually active dating relationship, it means a relationship that is to some degree more than a simple friendship but less than a legal marriage. A good lawyer could still make an descent argument with a straight face and attempt to convince the judge that this "dating relationship" was really just a friendship that involved dinner and movies, but nothing more. The grey area is the previous dating relationship status. Under Alabama law as it is written, you could be a thirty year old insurance salesman with a wife and children of your own, a house, two dogs, a boat and a mortgage, and could be charged with Domestic Violence 3rd Degree Harassment if for some reason you were to slap the girl's face that you took to the senior prom when you were in high school twelve years ago! I know it sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? It is ridiculous. But that is the way the law is written.
So now let's get back to reality and what really goes on in criminal courts across Alabama. A good criminal defense lawyer (for example, ME) can reason with a prosecutor or a judge and have those questionable qualifying relationships like I wrote about dismissed. But will your lawyer be willing and able to make such an argument and WIN? I will...because that's what I do...I win. But most often these qualifying relationships are not that extreme in nature. They are more subtle and require a greater degree of sophistication and finesse in order to be properly challenged and removed.
WHY DO QUALIFYING RELATIONSHIPS EVEN MATTER?
In Alabama, if you are convicted of ANY domestic violence crime in ANY degree, you will FOREVER BE PROHIBITED FROM OWNING OR POSSESSING A FIREARM. That means no guns for the rest of your natural life. So what about those guns that you inherited from your grandfather? Well, they can't stay in your home any longer. No more dove hunting (because you can't own or possess a shotgun). No more deer hunting with a rifle (because you can't own or possess a rifle), so you better learn to shoot a bow. No more carrying a pistol for your personal protection, open or concealed. No more trips to the shooting range, either (because you can't own or possess a pistol or revolver). That's why qualifying domestic relationships matter.
In Alabama, if you are convicted of ANY domestic violence crime in ANY degree, you will be presumed an unfit parent in a divorce case. That presumption is, however rebuttable...meaning that while you would be presumed to be an unfit parent, you could put forth evidence to the divorce court that would attempt to prove that you are a fit parent. That's why qualifying domestic relationships matter.
Because of the extreme and severe repercussions that will result if you are convicted of a domestic violence crime in Alabama, these charges must be addressed aggressively and properly by an experienced and effective criminal defense lawyer. If that is what you are looking for, look no further and give me a call immediately!
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