Levels of Domestic Violence Offenses

Interviewer: What are the different degrees of domestic violence, starting with the more minor ones.

Paul Tafelski: Here in Michigan and in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb County, we don’t really have different degrees of domestic violence. What we have is if you have a first offense, a second offense, and a third offense; the third offense becomes a felony. It’s basically the same crime. It doesn’t matter if it’s a minor case or a real serious case, but the maximum time in jail gets longer for each prior offense that you have and the more the likelihood of being put in jail and put in jail for a significant amount of time increases with each offense as well.

What happens that does constitute more serious crimes, though, is when the elements change. As I described before, normal domestic violence is basically an assault and battery. An assault is just legally defined as placing someone in imminent fear of a battery. A battery is defined as a harmful or offensive touching. If you look at those elements and you satisfy them, and then you have a domestic relationship, then you have a domestic violence charge.

The way it becomes more serious is if you had that same crime but let’s say you add a weapon. It could be any kind of weapon. It could be a gun. It could be a stick. It could be a piece of wood, a chair, a vase, an object from your house, anything. But now you hit somebody with that or you threaten to hit them with that, or you point a gun at them, then it becomes a felonious assault, which is a five-year felony that is much more serious than a domestic violence charge.

One step above that is the crime of assault with intent to do great bodily harm, less than murder. That is when you actually use a weapon and you cause an injury. From the facts of the case, it appears that you were trying to inflict great bodily harm on someone without killing them. That becomes an even more serious felony.

Every time, you’re basically looking at all these things as being different degrees of a fight. Every time the fight escalates to the next level, the charge usually kind of escalates to the next level with it. That’s pretty much a general explanation of how these types of crimes work.

Interviewer: What would be some examples of intent to do great bodily harm less than murder?

Paul Tafelski: Let’s say, for example, you had a knife and you point it at somebody and you’re arguing with them. You actually stab them, and you stab them in the shoulder. Then you stopped and ran away. You didn’t try to stab them again and again. In that case, they could say you’ve got a knife and you actually stabbed somebody with it. You didn’t stab them in the heart and you didn’t try to keep stabbing them to kill them. There’d be an example where they’re saying you didn’t demonstrate the intent to kill, but you certainly tried to inflict serious harm on them. That’d be an example of that crime.

Trespassing as an Act of Domestic Violence

Interviewer: Would there be any cases where trespassing is considered domestic violence?

Paul Tafelski: In order for there to the domestic violence, basically the difference between assault and battery and domestic violence is that domestic violence is an assault or a battery involving someone with whom you had a domestic relationship in the past. That domestic relationship could be ongoing or it could have been previous. For example, it can be your current girlfriend or your former girlfriend. It could be your current wife or your ex-wife. It could be your 15-year-old child or your adult child who doesn’t live there anymore. Those are all domestic relationships. Then you combine the crime of assault and battery to that, and they have a domestic violence case.

Just trespassing would not necessarily be a domestic violence. If you add to it that you trespassed and then you were making a threat to someone that they believed was real concerning inflicting physical violence or harm to them, then that could constitute domestic violence. Typically, around here, when there’s domestic violence, we see some element of physical touching or a real threat of a physical touching, like raising your fist and having the person run away or something like that.

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