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Criminal Justice for Survivors of Family Violence

Protection from Violence or Abuse

This article provides a brief overview of what survivors of family violence can expect in the Texas criminal justice process. Resources are included.

Here, get a general idea of what to expect during the various stages of the criminal justice process in Texas. Also, learn who to contact for various forms of assistance.  

The information in this article was written by the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Council on Family Violence, the Bexar County District Attorney's Office and the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.  

Revised by on February 3, 2023. 

How is family violence defined in Texas?

Texas law defines family violence as “an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself.”  

The law includes abuse, defined as physical injury that results in substantial harm or genuine threat; sexual contact, intercourse, or conduct; or compelling or encouraging the child to engage in sexual conduct.  

The law defines “family” to include individuals related by consanguinity (blood) or affinity, marriage or former marriage, biological parents of the same child, foster children, foster parents, and members or former members of the same household (including roommates regardless of gender). 

Family violence also includes “Dating Violence.” Texas law defines a “Dating Relationship” as a relationship between individuals who have, or have had, a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature. 

What should I do if family violence crime occurs?

If you experience family violence, call 911 for law enforcement and emergency medical care. 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available for crisis intervention, safety planning, and referrals to domestic violence shelters and services 24 hours a day at 800-799-7233.  

What rights does a victim of family violence have in the criminal justice process?

Texas law and the Texas Constitution provide for various rights of crime victims during the criminal justice process, but they can be difficult to enforce without legal assistance. 

These rights includebut are not limited tothe right to protection, information, notification, to be heard, to participate in the criminal justice system, and to seek financial remedies. For a complete list, visit the Texas Crime Victims’ Rights brochure provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Does a family violence victim need an attorney to participate in the criminal justice process?

As a victim of a crime, you do not need an attorney in order to participate in the criminal justice system. The prosecutor represents the State of Texas, and a crime victim is not considered a party to the criminal case. The prosecutor must enforce the rights afforded to a crime victim under the Crime Victims’ Rights statute, as set out in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. 

Although not required, crime victims can benefit from having personal representation by an attorney to enforce crime victims’ rights during the prosecution. An attorney with expertise in crime victims’ rights can effectively monitor the proceedings and creatively oppose violations. 

What are other ways a victim of family violence can get support during the criminal justice process?

When a law enforcement agency is investigating a violent crime, Victim Support Services (VSS) functions to fulfill the statutory requirement to ensure that victims of violent crime receive the rights granted to them by law. Licensed behavioral health professionals are dedicated to providing culturally sensitive, trauma-informed services to individuals and families affected by crime in Texas. 

Services may include:  

  • Crisis intervention 

  • Counseling 

  • Arrest notification 

  • Criminal justice support and accompaniment  

  • Personal advocacy 

  • Referrals 

  • Safety planning 

  • Assistance with applying for crime victims' compensation 

To locate the Victim Services Counselor in your area, visit Victim Services Counselors Regional Directory or call 512-424-2211.

What can I expect to happen in the criminal justice process?

  1. Initial report: Typically, a family violence matter begins with a report to law enforcement about an alleged incident of violence or threatened violence. The report can be made by the person who experienced the harm or a witness. 

  2. Criminal complaint: Before an arrest, a complaint must be filed charging a specific person with a violation of criminal law. Someone familiar with the facts of the crime, either by direct knowledge or through investigation, must swear to the complaint. It can be filed by an individual or law enforcement officer. That person then becomes a witness for the state. 

  3. Charges sent to prosecutor for review: The prosecutor’s office will often “screen” the case to determine if there is sufficient evidence to prove a crime was committed and show probable cause the accused is the person who committed the crime. Once the prosecutor's office accepts the case, an arrest can be made and bail set. 

  4. The arrest: A judge may issue an arrest warrant once a complaint has been issued. A law enforcement officer may arrest a person without a warrant if the officer has probable cause to believe the person has committed an offense involving family violence. A law enforcement officer must also arrest a person without a warrant if the person violates a protective order in the presence of the officer. 

  1. Initial court appearance: The accused will be taken before a judge to be formally charged. The judge will explain the complaint charges and advise the defendant of their rights. The judge is also required to set a bail amount for the defendant. 

  2. Bail: The legal purpose of bail is to guarantee the defendant's appearance in court at a later date. The judge is required to consider the seriousness of the offense, the defendant's ability to raise the necessary money, and the future safety of the victim and the community. If a defendant cannot post bail, she/he remains in custody. The victim may request an emergency order of protection against his/her abuser when the abuser posts bail. 

  3. Defendant detained after bail is posted, if required by law: There are instances where a defendant may be further detained after posting bail, such as the arrest of a person without a warrant in the prevention of family violence. 

  4. The grand jury: The grand jury is comprised of twelve citizens who serve a set term and decide if enough evidence exists against the accused to go to trial. If it determines there is sufficient evidence against the accused, it returns an indictment or a "true bill." At least nine jurors must vote in favor of an indictment, or the case is 'no-billed,' which terminates the case. Grand jury proceedings are not open to the public, and their deliberations are secret. Only the grand jurors are present when voting takes place. 

  5. The pretrial hearing: Once an indictment has been returned by a grand jury, the case will be scheduled for a pre-trial hearing. At this hearing, the defendant and the defendant's attorney advise the judge if the defendant wants a trial or will plead guilty. If a trial is desired, the defense will inform the judge a jury is required. Each defendant has a right to a trial by jury or judge. Certain motions concerning legal issues may be heard at the pre-trial hearing. On occasion, witnesses may be needed for the pre-trial hearing. If one's presence is required, the prosecution will provide the notification. 

  1. Plea bargain. A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor and defendant, and their attorney in which the State recommends a specific punishment in the case if the defendant enters a plea of guilty. The punishment agreement is not binding until the judge provides final approval. The judge may impose any punishment within the range authorized by law. 

  1. Trial: In a trial, the prosecutor presents the case for the State. The prosecutor's job is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant committed the crime as charged. The defendant has the right to present or not present his/her case. The jury or the judge must decide if the State's case has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. 

  1. Sentencing: If the defendant is found guilty, the law allows for a second stage of trial at which time punishment is set. The defendant can choose in advance to have their punishment set by the judge or jury. A range that is allowable by law will determine the punishment. In addition, a judge may rely on the probation department to conduct a sentencing investigation and offer recommendations. 

  1. Appeal: Following a conviction, the defendant has a right to appeal his or her case to an appellate court. The defendant may appeal on the grounds that an error occurred at trial requiring a reversal of the conviction. 

What is the right of allocution?

The right of allocution allows crime victims and their families to make a brief statement to the defendant in court about how the crime has impacted their life. This statement is made after the defendant has been sentenced for a crime, and the defendant is not allowed to question or comment on the statement. 

What is a victim impact statement?

A victim impact statement is a document that victims and their families can use to record the impact a crime has had on them. The victim impact statement will be used throughout the criminal justice system by the prosecutor, judge, probation office, and parole board, to better understand the emotional, psychological, physical, and financial impact of the crime. 

How can I be notified if the accused is released from jail?

You can track the custody status of an inmate through a system called Victim Information and Notification Everyday (V.I.N.E.) There are two ways to register with V.I.N.E. You can call 877-894-8463 or you can visit the V.I.N.E. website

How do I find out when the offender is eligible for parole?

Contact the Texas Department of Criminal Justice – Victim Services at 800-848-4284.  You must have the inmate’s name and date of birth. 

What is the Crime Victims’ Compensation (CVC) Program?

The Crime Victims’ Compensation (CVC) Program helps crime victims and their families with the financial costs of crime. To learn more information and see if you may be eligible, visit the Office of the Attorney General's website.

More Information

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