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Violence Against Women

Violence Against Women Act Offenses 

While all states have laws addressing domestic violence, there are instances in which a domestic violence crime can be prosecuted as a federal crime, typically with much more severe penalties than crimes prosecuted at the state level.

Enacted in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a landmark piece of legislation in the United States aimed at addressing and reducing violence against women, as well as closing specific gaps and enabling the federal government to prosecute these crimes when interstate boundaries are involved.

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
The VAWA seeks to reduce violence by enabling the federal government to prosecute.

18 U.S. Code 2261 Interstate domestic violence says, "(a) Offenses (1) Travel or conduct of the offender.

A person who travels in interstate or foreign commerce or enters or leaves Indian country or is present within the particular maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States with the intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate a spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner, and who, in the course of or as a result of such travel or presence, commits or attempts to commit a crime of violence against that spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).

(2) Causing travel of victim.

A person who causes a spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner to travel in interstate or foreign commerce or to enter or leave Indian country by force, coercion, duress, or fraud, and who, in the course of, as a result of, or to facilitate such conduct or travel, commits or attempts to commit a crime of violence against that spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b)."

18 U.S. Code 2262 - Interstate violation of protection order says, "(a) Offenses (1) Travel or conduct of the offender.

A person who travels in interstate or foreign commerce, enters or leaves Indian country, or is present within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States with the intent to engage in conduct that violates the portion of a protection order that prohibits or provides protection against violence, threats, or harassment against, contact or communication with, or physical proximity to, another person or the pet, service animal, emotional support animal, or horse of that person, or that would violate such a portion of a protection order in the jurisdiction in which the order was issued and subsequently engages in such conduct, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b)."

If you are charged with a domestic violence crime under VAWA, you could face up to five years in prison for general offenses, all the way up to life imprisonment if your actions result in the death of the victim.

What is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)?

The Violence Against Women Act was first introduced by then-Senator Joe Biden and passed as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

The Act was a response to the increasing awareness and advocacy surrounding domestic violence and gender-based crimes. VAWA established new legal tools and grant programs to support victims and improve law enforcement responses.

Key provisions included funding for victim services, the creation of the Office on Violence Against Women, and legal protections such as restraining orders enforceable across state lines.

VAWA has been reauthorized several times, with significant amendments in 2000, 2005, 2013, and most recently in 2022. Each reauthorization has expanded the scope of protections and services, addressing issues such as human trafficking, services for underserved populations, and improvements in the criminal justice response.

What are the Federal Offenses Under VAWA?

The Violence Against Women Act criminalizes acts of domestic violence that come under federal jurisdiction. These crimes are codified in 18 U.S. Codes 2261, 2261A, and 2262.

18 U.S.C. 2261 - Interstate Domestic Violence

Under U.S.C. 2261, crossing state lines or entering/exiting an Indian country with the intent to injure, harass, or intimidate a spouse, intimate partner, or dating partner is a federal crime. This statute addresses scenarios where abusers use interstate travel to evade local law enforcement or continue their abusive behavior.

Penalties for violating U.S.C. 2261 vary depending on the severity of the offense. A conviction can result in the following:

  • Up to five years in prison if no permanent or life-threatening injury occurs.
  • Up to 10 years in prison if serious bodily injury occurs or if a dangerous weapon is used.
  • Up to 20 years in prison if permanent disfigurement or life-threatening injury occurs.
  • Up to life imprisonment if the offense results in the victim's death.

18 U.S.C. 2261A - Stalking

U.S.C. 2261A covers stalking as a federal crime, making it illegal to engage in activities that place a person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury (to themselves, their loved ones, or even their pets) or cause substantial emotional distress.

Stalking

This includes actions conducted via mail, interactive computer services, or electronic communication systems across state lines.

The statute addresses behaviors such as following, monitoring, or threatening individuals using communication technologies, emphasizing the seriousness of these actions when they cross state boundaries.

Penalties for violating U.S.C. 2261A are effectively the same as those for U.S.C. 2261 (up to five years for general offenses, with higher penalties if injury or death occurs).

In addition, a sentencing enhancement applies if the stalking victim is a child (U.S.C. 2261B), and if the stalking violates a protective order, a mandatory minimum of one year in prison applies.

18 U.S.C. 2262 - Interstate Violation of Protection Order

18 U.S.C. 2262 criminalizes crossing state lines or entering or leaving an Indian country intending to violate a protective order. This statute targets individuals who travel to defy court orders designed to protect victims of domestic violence, stalking, or similar offenses, effectively closing the gap left open when perpetrators leave a local jurisdiction to "get around" the protective order.

Protection orders covered under this statute include any issued by civil or criminal courts to prevent violent or threatening acts, harassment, contact, communication, or physical proximity to another person. Penalties for violating 18 U.S.C. 2262 are similar to those of U.S.C. 2261. They include:

  • Up to five years in prison if no permanent or life-threatening injury occurs.
  • Up to 10 years in prison if serious bodily injury occurs or if a dangerous weapon is used.
  • Up to 20 years in prison if permanent disfigurement or life-threatening injury occurs.
  • Up to life imprisonment if the offense results in the victim's death.

What Are Related Federal Offenses?

Under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 110A, domestic violence and stalking includes several related federal statutes related to violence against women, including:

  • 18 U.S.C. 2261B - enhanced penalties for stalkers of children.
  • 18 U.S.C. 2263 - pretrial release of a defendant.
  • 18 U.S.C. 2264 - defines any restitution to the victim.
  • 18 U.S.C. 2265 - full faith and credit given to protection orders.
  • 18 U.S.C. 2265A - defines repeat offenders after a staking offense.
  • 18 U.S.C. 2266 - provides definitions, such as a "bodily injury."

What Are the Common Defenses?

Despite the severity of this crime, a federal criminal defense attorney can employ several defense strategies to fight these charges, as discussed below.

Maybe we can argue that you did not cross the border intending to violate a protective order. In other words, perhaps you crossed a state line but didn't intend to approach the alleged victim then. Maybe you were provoked to do so at a later time.

Prosecutors must show willful intent, so if your lawyer can cast doubt on intent, you may be cleared of the charge or just charged with a violation at the state or local level.

Perhaps we can argue that you did not commit an act against the protected person. Even if you crossed a state line intending to violate the protective order, prosecutors must prove that you acted against the victim. If they can't, you can't be convicted of this crime. Contact us for more information. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.

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