What Qualifies as a Prior Offense to Enhance a Domestic Assault?

The severity of your domestic assault charge will depend on the number of prior “qualified domestic violence-related offenses.” One would think that this list of prior domestic-related offenses would be limited to purely domestic-related offenses, such as a prior domestic assault conviction or an Order for Protection conviction. You are probably going to be surprised to learn that this list of offenses that can enhance a domestic assault charge captures offenses that you would think should not count.

Here are the list of offenses that can cause any future domestic assaults to be enhanced (i.e. lead to a higher severity level of charge):

  • Order for Protection violation;
  • First- and Second-Degree Murder… but not third-degree murder (????);
  • First- through Fifth-Degree Assault – i.e. a simple assault stemming from a bar fight can be used to enhance a domestic assault;
  • Any prior domestic assault, including domestic assault by strangulation;
  • Female Genital Mutilation;
  • First through Fourth Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct (but not fifth degree);
  • Malicious Punishment of a Child;
  • Terroristic Threats (now known as Threats of Violence);
  • Harassment Restraining Order violation;
  • Stalking;
  • Interference with a 911 Call;
  • Nonconsensual Dissemination of Private Sexual Images; and
  • Domestic Abuse No Contact Order (DANCO) Violation.

The one that catches everyone by surprise is that any assault, including a simple fifth-degree misdemeanor bar fight type assault, can be used to make a domestic assault charge worse. For instance, a college kid gets an assault conviction from a bar or fraternity fight. Eight years later, an argument that went to far with his significant other now becomes a gross misdemeanor to start. Completely different circumstances, different individuals involved, yet the prior matters greatly.

This is why it is important to understand the full, big picture when working through your criminal case. Collateral consequences, such as an offense being eligible for use to enhance future dissimilar offenses, must be understood by the defendant as they work through their case. Having a criminal defense attorney that understands these ramifications, always, for every charge, matters to ensure that the defendant can be put in the best position possible going forward.