A Complete Guide to Missouri Domestic Violence Laws

Domestic violence is still a prevalent and awful crime, and the crime itself and any allegations, true or false, can dramatically impact the lives of the accused and the victim. There are nearly 50,000 incidents of domestic violence reported a year. Domestic violence is a serious offense and can cause serious repercussions for both the accused and victim and should never be taken lightly.

This guide will take you through Missouri domestic violence laws (or what Missouri often refers to as “Adult Abuse”), the difficult nuances in these cases, the possible punishments if convicted of a domestic assault charge in Missouri, and what you should do to protect yourself against false allegations. You can start by calling Combs Waterkotte right away at (314) 900-HELP or contact us online.

Domestic Violence Laws in Missouri

Missouri legislature has changed in the last two decades to strengthen domestic violence laws. At the turn of the century, lawmakers enacted new assault crimes to cover a wide range of assault charges, from misdemeanors to felonies, in an effort to tackle the prevalence of domestic violence in the state.

There are now four degrees of domestic assault charges. The fourth degree was only introduced in 2017 to ensure victims are able to seek prosecution for any level of physical or isolating abuse, even if not life-threatening. The difference between a domestic assault charge and a normal assault charge lies in the relationship between those involved. For an alleged crime to be considered a domestic assault, the prosecution needs to be able to prove that the alleged aggressor and victim were family or in an intimate relationship.

This difference has some significant repercussions for the accused; a second-degree domestic assault is a Class C felony, whereas a traditional second-degree assault is a misdemeanor. Let’s briefly cover the differences between the four degrees of domestic assault in plain English:

1st Degree: First degree is when the accused attempts to kill, or knowingly cause or attempt to cause, serious physical injury to the alleged victim. This is a Class B felony. In some exceptions – like a repeat offense – it can become a Class A felony.

2nd Degree: Second degree is when the accused causes or attempts to cause serious injury to the alleged victim with a deadly weapon, dangerous instrument, or by choking/strangulation. This degree can also be applied to circumstances whereby the accused recklessly causes serious injury to the victim by means of a deadly weapon. This is a Class C felony.

3rd Degree: Third degree is when the accused attempts to cause or knowingly causes physical injury to the victim. This degree can also be applied to circumstances whereby the accused is guilty of criminal negligence by means of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, purposely places the victim in apprehension of immediate physical injury by any means, or recklessly engages in conduct which creates a risk of death or serious physical injury. It also covers all other physical assault toward a family or intimate household member, or knowingly isolating the victim by unreasonably restricting their ability to access others, communication or transportation. This is a Class E felony.  

4th Degree: Forth degree is when the accused tries to cause or recklessly causes physical injury, physical pain, or illness to the victim. This is a Class A misdemeanor.

Judges have the ability to order an accused abuser to stop abusing, harassing or stalking a victim, and to stay away from the victim’s home. There are two types of order; an ex parte order which is a temporary measure, and a full order, which is only granted after a court hearing and issued for a longer period. They also have the right to refuse bond, or to set bond for the accused extremely high, if they believe they pose a threat to the victim or the community.

Unlike other states, Missouri does not have a mandatory arrest law. In other states, if someone is accused of domestic violence and police officers attend the scene, they must arrest the accused. This is believed to give the victim a sense of safety and impress the severity of the crime upon the aggressor. Missouri has an “almost mandatory” law. This means that officers are allowed to use their discretion on whether or not to arrest the aggressor, but if they chose not to arrest, they must write a report on why they came to this decision. If there is another call about this aggressor within twelve hours, then they must arrest the aggressor.

Complications in Domestic Violence Cases

Domestic violence cases are often difficult, because in most cases, it is one person’s word against another. The only witness is the victim, and in many cases, the victim is uncooperative with the law. In circumstances where the victim is often emotionally and financially dependent upon their perpetrators, it can be difficult to persuade them to testify. In Missouri, the state still cannot force a spouse to testify against another, though they may use “hearsay” statements such as 911 recordings and hospital reports as evidence.

Even cooperative victims are often reluctant to speak out against their abusers in fear of retaliation, and much has been done to help legitimate victims feel safe and protected. They retain the right to be notified of the release of their abuser from jail or prison.

In circumstances where the evidence is simply one word against another, it means that there are complications in some cases with false allegations. If one spouse has good enough reason to, be it divorce, child custody, or revenge for something they see as an injustice, a false domestic violence allegation may seem like a perfect way to get someone out of the picture.

There are also cases where both parties are at fault, and these can be particularly difficult.

Another added complication of domestic violence cases for those involved is that, at least to the community, people are often assumed to be guilty. Even when suspects are cleared, their name can be tarnished. Cases of false accusation are extremely hard for the court.

Controversies and Issues

Domestic violence laws are still a point of contention in Missouri, and domestic abuse survivors still believe that the charges are not strict enough, or not being upheld, with probation and plea bargains allegedly being common for the accused.

Some victims believe that police officers sometimes do not take domestic violence as seriously as other crimes, so they aren’t properly investigated.

Another issue for Missourians regarding domestic violence is in the LGBTQIA+ community. Although same-sex marriage is legal country-wide, Missouri is yet to recognize marriage as anything other than a union between a man and a woman. This can cause issues with domestic violence cases.

What Happens When Someone is Arrested for Domestic Violence

If a call is made to the emergency services about a suspected domestic abuse, the police officers attending the scene can choose whether they believe the aggressor should be arrested. If so, they will be charged with first, second, third or fourth-degree domestic assault. It will be up to the judge to set bond or withhold the option of bond completely.

Missouri is a state who can and will take temporary custody of any children involved in a domestic violence case, so if the state believes it is in the best interest of the children, they will be taken into protective services. The court will determine whether the parents receive their parental rights back, though in most cases the victim will be allowed primary custody.

Sentences for domestic violence crimes varies, but the maximum penalty for each of the following classes of felony and misdemeanor are:

  • Felonies

A: 10-30 years or life imprisonment
B: 5-15 years imprisonment
C: 7 years or less imprisonment, and/or a fine up to $5,000
D: 4 years or less imprisonment, and/or a fine up to $5,000

  • Misdemeanor

A: 1 year or less imprisonment and up to a $1,000 fine

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor of a domestic violence crime you will lose your right to own firearms in most circumstances.

What to Do to Protect Yourself Against False Allegations And Improper Charges

The first thing to do if you are being accused or charged of a domestic assault charge is to get legal counsel. The sooner you have a lawyer to advise you the more likely you are to have success in winning your case. Your attorney will be able to investigate the situation for you and prepare a strong defense to protect your rights and reputation. 

Some of the defenses often used by defense attorneys in domestic assault cases are innocence or false allegations, self-defense, or that the injury was the result of an accident, and your attorney will help you make the best defense possible.  In many cases, Prosecutors will overreach and charge you with domestic violence and ultimately realize that a lesser charge or no charge was more appropriate.  Working with a domestic violence lawyer who knows the ins and outs of the law can make all the difference in your case outcomes.

If you are seeking legal representation for a domestic violence case, you can contact us, Combs Waterkotte, for a free consultation. We are experts in these cases and have an impressive track record of successful cases. Call us today at (314) 900-HELP.