In Kentucky, domestic violence is a serious criminal offense — with potential consequences to match. Even a misdemeanor domestic violence charge can be enhanced to a felony charge. A conviction for domestic violence may result in the loss of important rights, including the right to own a firearm.
Due to the nature of domestic violence, prosecutors are often incredibly aggressive when it comes to these types of charges. If you have been charged with domestic violence, you will need a criminal defense lawyer with experience and skill handling domestic violence cases. A seasoned Lexington domestic assault and domestic violence attorney will protect your rights and work to achieve the best possible outcome for you.
How Kentucky Defines Domestic Violence
In Kentucky, domestic violence is an assault against a family member or member of an unmarried couple by a family member or member of an unmarried couple. A family member is defined as a spouse, former spouse, grandparent, grandchild, parent, child, stepchild, or any other person living in the same household as a child if the child is the alleged victim. A member of an unmarried couple — is defined as each member of an unmarried couple which allegedly has a child in common, any children of that couple, or a member of an unmarried couple who are living together or formerly lived together.
With a few exceptions, Kentucky does not have specific criminal laws that address domestic violence. Instead, individuals are charged with the crime that they are alleged to have committed, without regard for the victim’s status. For example, if a person threatens to kill their spouse, they would be charged with making terroristic threats, just as they would be if they threatened to kill a stranger.
However, committing an act of domestic violence often has consequences beyond what may occur if the alleged victim is not a family member or member of an unmarried couple. Depending on the circumstances of the case, an allegation of domestic violence may lead to a charge being enhanced to a felony from a misdemeanor, the loss of gun rights, and the issuance of restraining orders. A domestic violence lawyer can help you understand what you may be facing if you have been charged with this type of crime.
How Misdemeanor Assault Can Be Charged As a Felony
Assault in the fourth degree is typically a misdemeanor offense. This crime involves intentionally or wantonly causing physical injury to another person, or recklessly causing injury by using a deadly weapon or instrument. However, under Kentucky law, assault in the fourth degree may be enhanced to a felony in certain situations.
Specifically, if a person is charged with a third or greater offense of this crime within a 5 year period, and the alleged victim is a close family member or a member of an unmarried couple, then it will be elevated from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class D felony. In this way, an otherwise minor criminal offense can result in serious consequences. A skilled defense attorney can evaluate the facts of a case and push back against the enhancement of an assault in the fourth-degree charge to a felony.
Domestic Violence Protective Orders
A person who claims to be a victim of domestic violence may file a petition in court asking for protection from their alleged abuser. A domestic violence protective order (DVO) may be ordered after both parties have an opportunity to be heard at a DVO hearing. While a DVO is civil in nature, a violation may lead to criminal charges.
Initially, a judge may issue an emergency protective order (EPO) if a petition indicates that a danger of domestic violence exists. This EPO is valid for up to 14 days until a full hearing is held with the respondent (the person accused of abuse) present. An EPO may include provisions that order the respondent to stay away from the petitioner, granting temporary child custody, requiring the respondent to leave a shared home, and any other provision that may be necessary to prevent further acts of domestic violence.
A DVO may only be issued after a full hearing where the respondent has the opportunity to be heard. If a judge finds that domestic violence has occurred and may occur again, a DVO may be issued for a period of up to 3 years. The provisions of the EPO may be extended, and other provisions may be added.
How Domestic Violence Impacts Second Amendment Rights
Under Kentucky law, a domestic violence conviction or allegation does not impact the right of the accused to buy, sell, or possess a firearm or ammunition. However, federal law does prohibit individuals from buying, selling or possessing guns or ammunition under certain conditions. Specifically, a person subject to a domestic violence protective order and those who have been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime are subject to this law.
Under this law, a DVO must have been issued after an individual accused of domestic violence had the opportunity to participate at a hearing. In Kentucky, this requirement would be satisfied if a DVO hearing was held and the defendant was served with the EPO against them and notified about the hearing. For misdemeanor convictions, the crime must have involved either the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon. Anyone who violates this federal law may be charged with a criminal offense punishable by fines and/or a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
How We Can Help
If you or a loved one is facing accusations of domestic abuse in Kentucky, don’t take the chance of losing important legal rights. Hire an experienced Lexington criminal defense attorney who can help you navigate the complexities of state and federal laws. For a consultation, contact our law firm online or call us at (859) 259-0727.