When Is Domestic Violence a Federal Crime

The recent indictment by a Dallas County grand jury of Johnny Manziel for a Class A misdemeanor assault based on allegations made by his former girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, has placed the recurring issue of domestic violence in the center of public discourse.


Manziel’s guilt or innocence will, and should be, decided in a court of law, not in the court of public opinion. The reason for this is that there are some 700,000 people wrongfully arrested for domestic violence each year in the United States.


For example, in 2005, a restraining was served on television personality David Letterman for allegedly beaming seductive code words and eye signals at a woman he had never met. Each year there are 1.5 million temporary restraining orders issued by courts that are just as false and ridiculous as the one issued against Letterman.


These numbers are the reason why guilt is presumed in domestic violence cases before a judge or jury ever hears the case.


To be fair, however, we should point out that it was once said that there are “lies, damn lies and statistics.” Most women’s groups say that false domestic violence allegations are relatively few in relation to actual documented allegations.


Unfortunately, actual incidents of domestic violence are indeed becoming more prevalent here in Texas and throughout the United States. Because of this, both law enforcement and courts are taking domestic violence accusations seriously. Although these types of charges are usually handled by the state, there are situations where domestic violence may become a federal offense.


To understand how this can happen, we must first look at how domestic violence charges work in general.


What Constitutes Domestic Violence


If someone assaults or commits an act of violence against an intimate partner – a family member, household member, or current or former dating partner – they have committed an act of domestic violence. If the same act of violence against a random person, it would generally be considered assault or a related offense. The existence of the relationship is what makes the crime an act of domestic violence.


In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to help local criminal justice systems deal with certain situations regarding domestic violence. Under federal law, it is a federal domestic violence crime to:


  • Travel interstate (or to leave or enter Indian country) with the intent to injure, harass, or intimidate that person’s intimate partner when in the course of or as a result of such travel the defendant intentionally commits a violent crime and thereby causes bodily injury. Note that the law requires specific intent to commit domestic violence at the time of interstate travel as well as the existence of bodily injury in order for prosecution to take place.
  • Cause an intimate partner to cross state lines (or to leave or enter Indian country) by force, coercion, duress, or fraud during which or as a result of which, there is bodily harm to the victim. This subsection does not require a showing of specific intent to cause the spouse or intimate partner to travel interstate. It does, however, require proof that the interstate travel resulted from force, coercion, duress, or fraud.


Basically, if someone travels to another state with the intent to commit domestic violence and bodily injury results, or if the injured partner is forced to flee across state lines, the federal government can charge the alleged perpetrator with domestic violence.


Federal Domestic Violence Lawyer

It is also a federal crime to:


  • Cross a state line with the intent to injure, stalk, or harass another person;
  • Stalk or harass someone by mail or computer;
  • Cross state lines with the intent to violate a protective order; and/or
  • Cause an intimate partner to cross state lines in violation of a protective order


In addition, Congress has enacted statutes about domestic violence offenders and guns. It is a federal crime:


  • To possess a gun and/or ammunition if you have been convicted of a domestic violence offense
  • To possess a gun and/or ammunition if there is a protective order against you


Laws dealing with domestic violence, at either the federal or state level, are harsh involving tremendous criminal and civil sanctions.


That’s why the issue of false allegations should not, and must not, be casually dismissed. These allegations occur—most often made by parties seeking an advantage in divorce and custody proceedings—because our legal system, especially law enforcement and the courts, has become intimidated by the social and political fallout if they do not view every allegation with a presumption of guilt.