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Domestic Assault Laws and Penalties in Minnesota

Domestic violence convictions carry severe consequences in Minnesota, including jail or prison time, loss of firearm ownership licenses, and protective orders. The state can charge these crimes as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on whether aggravated factors apply.

If you face an accusation of domestic assault, the emotions can tempt you to make statements to the police. Avoid talking to law enforcement without an attorney. Something you say could be used as evidence to convict you or to upgrade the charge from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Like many other states, Minnesota recognizes domestic violence as a pervasive social problem. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in 2020, 33.9% of women and 25.1% of men in Minnesota have experienced domestic violence at some time in their lives. Also, Minnesota domestic violence hotlines receive an average of 13 calls per minute.

To address this problem, the state legislature enacted laws meant to prevent domestic assaults, intervene in ongoing abuse situations, and punish offenders. For the accused, this ups the stakes because they can face many consequences beyond probation or serving time.

But the law entitles defendants to the presumption of innocence. Because of this, the state must prove charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Shaky cases built on contestable evidence, poor investigative techniques, and contradictions cannot succeed because there is room for reasonable doubt. The state must prove its case.

If you are facing domestic assault charges, you may feel the system is stacked against you. This is untrue. By hiring an experienced domestic assault defense attorney, you can fight back against wrongful accusations and unfair characterizations that threaten your civil liberties.

The Legal Definition of Domestic Assault in Minnesota

Minnesota law defines domestic assault as an act that inflicts or attempts to inflict bodily harm on a household or family member. This may include striking the victim, attempting to strike the victim, or other aggressive behavior intended to make the victim fear for their safety.

Prosecutors can bring charges under simple domestic assault, a misdemeanor, or aggravated domestic assault, a felony. Simple domestic assaults involve no injuries or minor injuries to the victim and do not include using weapons. But an assault causing major injuries, using a weapon, or both may be charged as aggravated domestic assault.

For instance, a defendant accused of shoving a family member may face simple domestic assault charges. On the other hand, a defendant accused of beating a family member unconscious may face aggravated domestic assault charges.

Additionally, accusations involving the use of a weapon during a domestic assault, such as a gun, bat, hammer, or motorized vehicle, may induce prosecutors to charge the case as a felony.

Domestic abuse law in Minnesota goes beyond simple- and aggravated domestic assault. Qualified domestic violence-related offenses include other offenses, such as the following:

  • Attempted strangulation
  • Criminal sexual conduct
  • Harassment
  • Interfering with an emergency call
  • Malicious punishment of a child
  • Murder
  • Nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images
  • Stalking
  • Terroristic threats
  • Violation of an order for protection or no-contact order

Who Qualifies as a Household or Family Member?

To qualify as a domestic violence crime, the alleged victim must be a member of the same family or household as the defendant. Specifically, Minnesota law defines a household or family member as one of the following:

  • People related by blood
  • Spouses
  • Former spouses
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Cohabitants or previous cohabitants
  • Parents of the same child, regardless of marital status
  • A fiance
  • A boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Sexual partners

Penalties for Domestic Violence Offenses

Domestic violence penalties range from probation to incarceration, fines, and other sanctions. A judge weighs various factors in deciding the sentence, including the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal history.

Misdemeanor or Gross Misdemeanor Domestic Violence Penalties

Misdemeanor simple domestic assault carries a sentence ranging from probation to three months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Repeat offenders convicted of a domestic-violence-related crime in the previous ten years face gross misdemeanor domestic assault, which carries up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $3,000.

Felony Domestic Assault

Felonies are crimes with possible penalties of over one year in prison. Minnesota law permits prosecutors to upgrade domestic assault charges to a felony when aggravating factors are present, including the following:

Strangulation During the Assault

Strangulation accusations can lead to felony charges. Minnesota law defines strangulation as placing pressure on the neck or throat or impeding breath by blocking a person’s nose or mouth.

Prior Convictions

A defendant with previous domestic violence-related convictions in the past ten years may face felony charges based on this aggravating factor, even if the level of assault would otherwise constitute a misdemeanor. Also, if a court finds a defendant violated an order of protection in the past ten years, it may upgrade the charge to a felony..

Great Bodily Harm

Prosecutors could justify felony domestic assault charges if great bodily harm existed. For example, the state may make an allegation of great bodily harm if the victim sustained broken bones and severe hemorrhaging.


Introducing a weapon into a domestic violence situation can result in felony charges. For example, threatening to hit someone with a baseball bat may result in felony charges.

A domestic violence incident can lead to a host of other, more serious charges, depending on the defendant’s alleged actions and outcome for the victim.

Other Domestic Assault Consequences

The sanctions courts may impose for domestic violence go beyond probation, incarceration, and fines. Minnesota lawmakers intend domestic violence legislation to help prevent domestic violence and the continuation of a pattern of abuse. To facilitate this, they have enacted the following policies:

Warrantless Arrest

Law enforcement officers in Minnesota can arrest domestic violence suspects without a warrant, provided they have probable cause to believe the domestic abuse occurred within the past 72 hours. Additionally, police must detain a person suspected of violating an order of protection for at least 36 hours.

Higher Bail

Allegations of an order of protection violation allow judges to set high bail, which requires a cash bond of up to $10,000 for release.

No Contact Orders

Domestic violence suspects may be served with a no-contact order. Violation of this order can lead to a revocation of the bond.

Firearms Restrictions

Courts may order the seizure of a domestic violence suspect’s firearms. Those convicted of a domestic violence-related offense lose their legal right to own firearms for at least three years.

Civil Orders of Protection Against Domestic Violence Suspects and Convicts

A complicating facet of domestic violence law is that the civil, family court issues orders of protection. Because these are civil orders of protection, many of the rights afforded to criminal defendants do not apply.

For example, the presumption of innocence, reasonable doubt standard of proof, and criminal court evidence procedures are not in force. As a result, family courts can impose orders of protection against those accused of domestic violence even if criminal charges never materialize, a judge throws them out, or the defendant wins acquittal.

Courts issue temporary civil orders of protection based on ex-parte proceedings. Ex-parte means the person subject to the order may not attend the proceeding. Instead, the party asking for the order gives their version of events, and the court must, for purposes of the temporary order, presume the allegations are true.

In essence, if what the party seeking the order alleges qualifies for an order of protection, the court automatically issues a temporary order.

Because of the ex-parte proceedings, some people receive orders of protection by surprise. They may have no inkling they would be subject to such an order until a police officer arrives at their door and serves it.

If you are subject to a temporary order of protection, you must abide by the terms or face incarceration. The order lists the restrictions you must obey. In addition, the order states the date of a hearing where the court determines if the order is made permanent. You have the right to attend this hearing and object to the order, and you are entitled to a lawyer.

Avoid discussing the allegations with the police, the other party, or any third party. Instead, contact a criminal defense lawyer who handles domestic assault cases, even if you have not been arrested. You need counsel on handling the order because you may face severe consequences if it is made permanent.

Depending on how the judge rules, a permanent order can require you to do the following:

  • Move out of a home shared with the alleged victim
  • Surrender firearms and gun licenses
  • Have no more contact with specified family members
  • Loss or modification of visitation rights with children
  • Remain a certain distance away from the alleged victim
  • Attend domestic violence counseling
  • Restrictions on selling, destroying, or gifting property
  • Other conditions deemed appropriate by the court

Orders of protection also create a public record. Though being subject to a permanent order of protection does not constitute a criminal conviction, it is still part of the public records database.

If you want to avoid being subject to the often onerous restrictions of a permanent order of protection, seek legal counsel at the earliest possible time.

Note that an order or protection violation can subject you to arrest and criminal charges. Though having an order of protection against you is not a conviction, violation of one could result in time behind bars and a misdemeanor or felony record.

Domestic assault convictions can have profound consequences. In addition to the possibility of incarceration and fines, you may be subject to orders of protection that infringe on your civil rights and can lead to adverse rulings in family court. For these reasons, you should take domestic assault charges and orders of protection seriously.

Gerald Miller, P.A., specializes in domestic assault and order of protection defense. Courts dismiss many domestic assault charges for lack of evidence or when an attorney establishes reasonable doubt at trial. Also, many orders of protection never become permanent because the allegations are unfounded.

If you face domestic assault allegations, contact Gerald Miller, P.A., for an expert consultation.

Related Content: What Does Domestic Violence Mean in Minnesota?





About the author

Gerald Miller

Gerald Miller is a top-notch and experienced DWI/DUI lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. in Minneapolis, MN. He has more than 35 years of experience in Criminal Defense practice. He has also been a mentor to numerous DUI/DWI defense attorneys.

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