December 9, 2023
We have encountered a lot of confusion surrounding domestic violence among clients in Colorado. So we decided to tackle some of the most common questions we encounter:
- I’m not with the victim anymore; Why am I being charged with domestic violence?
- I thought I would end up in state court; Why am I facing federal charges this time?
- What do federal domestic charges mean in terms of possible sentences and penalties?
The following information should answer these and others you might have regarding any Colorado domestic violence charges you or a loved one may currently face.
If you find yourself in a unique situation or have additional questions, an experienced Colorado domestic violence defense attorney can review your case and provide specific advice and guidance when you’re ready.
Here are the general questions to ask:
Why Am I Being Charged with Domestic Violence?
Under our state’s criminal justice system, domestic violence is often a charge applied to enhance the seriousness of a number of other violent crimes. The term specifically refers to the relationship between the aggressor and the victim.
When we talk about “violent” crime, we typically mean an act causing physical harm to a person, but threatening behavior or words can also qualify as violence.
Essentially, a violent crime qualifies as a domestic violence offense when it occurs between two individuals in an “intimate” relationship such as:
- Current or former spouses
- Current or former couples
- Parents of the same child
So, if a violent crime occurs between two people related to each other in this way, it may be charged as a domestic violence crime. These charges are often tacked onto offenses like child abuse, rape, assault, menacing, harassment, stalking, or even trespassing.
Why Am I Facing Federal Domestic Violence Charges This Time?
Domestic violence laws were handled exclusively on a state level in Colorado and across the country until fairly recently. Now, in certain circumstances, these offenses may be elevated to federal charges.
In the 1990s, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The act decreed domestic violence to be a national issue and that federal regulation could help state justice systems address it. The VAWA created a national domestic violence hotline and introduced grant programs aimed at preventing domestic abuse.
During this time, Congress also passed the Gun Control Act making it a federal crime to possess a firearm after a domestic violence conviction.
What Qualifies a Crime as Federal Domestic Violence?
Most domestic violence cases are still handled on a local level in Colorado or the state where it occurred. However, we’ve listed several scenarios that qualify domestic violence as a federal crime.
Interstate Domestic Violence: When a Perpetrator Travels Across State Lines
Under federal law, it is a domestic violence crime to travel from one state to another or leave or enter Indian country with the intention of committing domestic violence. The second requirement for this charge is that the offender actually causes the alleged victim physical harm.
Interstate Domestic Violence: When a Victim Travels Across State Lines
Similarly, it is a federal domestic violence crime to compel an intimate partner to travel from one state to another or to leave or enter Indian country by way of physical force, coercion, duress, or fraud…or by the threat of physical harm to them.
Interstate Domestic Violence: Crossing State Lines to Violate a Protective Order
You may also not cross state lines to violate a protective order or force an intimate partner to cross state lines in violation of a protective order. Note, simply violating distance requirements without actual contact may land you with a federal domestic violence charge.
Domestic Violence Relating to Guns
Federal courts have statutes regarding domestic violence perpetrators and firearms. It is a federal crime to possess a gun or ammunition after any domestic violence conviction or when there is currently a protective order against you.
What Penalties Do I Face for My Federal Domestic Charges?
First, understand that Colorado is a mandatory domestic violence arrest state. This means any call to law enforcement officials for domestic violence will result in an arrest.
When you are the accused, expect to receive a mandatory protective order that may restrain you from coming you into contact with the alleged victim.
If your domestic violence crime winds up being charged at the federal level, what could have been classified as even a misdemeanor offense will now automatically be considered a felony.
A federal domestic violence conviction carries the potential for lengthy incarceration and staggering fines. Not to mention, this is a blemish that won’t be erased from your permanent criminal record, which is likely to make life more difficult in more ways than one — obtaining employment, securing the housing you want, or taking out a loan, to name a few.
Whether tried at a state or federal level, punitive measures for domestic violence crime have steadily increased over the last few decades. Stay within state lines, away from guns, and don’t violate those protective orders. Otherwise, face the consequences.
When you do, don’t do it alone. Reach out to a Colorado defense attorney in order to ensure your best possible outcome.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.