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Violence Against Women Act

The Violence Against Women Act is a Federal Law that was first enacted in 1994, after there was a growing concern over domestic violence and other crimes committed against women. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) enhanced the investigation and prosecution of sex offenses committed against women and also established grant programs with the goals of researching and preventing domestic violence.

Since 1994, the act has been changed and reauthorized several times. Under VAWA, domestic violence is defined as a crime of violence (either felony or misdemeanor) that is committed by either a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim, or by a person who shares a child in common with a victim, or by a person who is cohabitating or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse or intimate partner or by a person who is similarly situated to a spouse of the victim. Although the act was originally enacted over a growing concern to protect women, the act protects males as well as females.

When This Act Applies

Under federal law, it is illegal to travel in interstate or foreign commerce with the intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate a spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner and in the course of such travel, commit or intend to commit a crime of violence against that spouse, intimate partner or dating partner. It is also illegal for a person to cause a spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner to travel in interstate or foreign commerce and in the course of – or as a result of that travel to commit or intend to commit a crime of violence against that spouse, intimate partner or dating partner.

Therefore, federal law will apply in any case where a person has traveled across state lines with the intent to commit a crime of violence and then either commits or intends to commit a crime of violence against one of those specified people. Federal law will also apply in any case where a person has caused their own spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner to travel across state lines and then commits or intends to commit a crime of violence against that person.

The prohibition of domestic violence being committed across state lines is the key difference between federal law and state law.

Who is Protected

Under VAWA, spouses, intimate partners, and dating partners are all protected. Spouses and intimate partners include current or former spouses of the abuser, a person who has a child in common with the abuser, a person who is currently cohabitating or has cohabitated as a spouse with the abuser, or a person who is or has been in a romantic or intimate relationship with the abuser. A dating partner includes any person who is or has been in a romantic or intimate relationship with the abuser. The length of the relationship, the type of relationship and the frequency of interaction between the people in the relationship will be considered in determining the existence of such a relationship.

Penalties

If a person is convicted of domestic violence under VAWA, the potential penalties a person will face depends on the circumstances. For example, if a person causes his or her spouse to travel across state lines and as a result commits a crime of violence against his or her spouse which results in the spouse’s death, he or she will face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

If his or her spouse suffers life threatening bodily injury or a permanent disfigurement as a result, he or she will face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. If he or she uses a dangerous weapon during the offense or if his or her spouse suffers a serious bodily injury as a result, the maximum penalty is 10 years in prison.

In any other case, the maximum penalty is five years in prison. In the event that a person commits an interstate stalking crime, in violation of a civil or criminal injunction, restraining order, no contact order, or any other court order, the maximum penalty is one year in prison.

How An Attorney Can Help

A domestic violence lawyer will be in a better position to defend your federal case than a lawyer who typically defends cases in a state or local court. The laws, potential penalties and legal procedures are very different which is why it is very important to consult with an attorney who handles these types of cases on a regular basis in federal court.

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