Domestic related charges such as domestic assault, can be some of the trickiest criminal case to defend. These cases have a strong emotional component, in addition to significant political policy overtones.
Whether or not the incident is indicates a serious threat, or the evidence of a crime is strong, prosecutors are rarely willing to just drop the charges. No district attorney is willing to risk being accused of being “soft on domestic abuse”. Most district attorneys are elected to office, and many hold higher political aspirations.
District attorneys and prosecutors are fearful of any chance that someone arrested for domestic violence related charges later hurts the victim again. If there is a prior record of an arrest but no charges or prosecution, that fact would be potentially damaging and embarrassing. It is much simpler for DAs to instruct prosecutors to be unreasonably tough in every case, even on minor charges with little evidence.
The situation with police officers is similar. In many cases, if the officers at the scene of any incident have any possible suspicion at all of violent behavior, their official policy is to arrest on the spot.
Look, it is true that domestic abuse and spousal violence is a serious problem. We absolutely don’t want to minimize that women are hurt by husbands, boyfriends, and other domestic abusers, and the results can be horrific and tragic.
But a doctrine of better safe than sorry” in arresting someone is the opposite of “innocent until proven guilty“. And these two ideas don’t have to be incompatible in all cases, they are just different situations. A police officer’s job is to support and protect public safety. But our criminal court system is there to defend and protect citizens, and provide justice for all.
The bottom line is just because you were arrested doesn’t mean you are guilty of a crime. This is true in all cases, but it is particularly important in cases where the police may suspect domestic violence or assault.
But it is true that in these cases you are going to need a very good and experienced lawyer to defend you, tell your side of the story, and fight for your rights and fair treatment under the law.
Domestic Violence Laws Around the Country
In many states, there are no specific criminal penalties for domestic related criminal offenses.
But you may face enhanced penalties for a criminal charge that is related to a domestic relationship (see below).
Enhanced penalties for criminal charges with a domestic component can be:
- Domestic Violence Counseling
- Anger Management
- Alcohol or Drug Substance Abuse Treatment Programs
- Restraining Order / Protective Order / No-Contact Order
- Other possible enhanced penalties relating to the charge that could include jail time and fines.
Domestic Violence Related Charges
A domestic assault is the most typical charge in a domestic violence or abuse case. But other criminal charges can induce domestic violence penalties.
- Aggravated Assault
- Aggravated Battery
- Criminal Property Damage / Malicious Destruction
- Sexual Assault / Rape
- Violation of a Protection Order or Restraining Order
What is a Domestic Relationship?
Laws vary from state to state, but typically for a crime to be considered domestic violence, the defendant and the victim must be
- Former Spouse
- Girlfriend/Boyfriend currently, or formerly (some states have a minimum dating period to meet this requirement, such as 6 months)
- Current or former roommate
- The parent of your child
- Other family relationship, including parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins in some cases. Exact familial relationships that fall under domestic abuse laws can vary.
Domestic Violence Defense Strategies
There are a variety of ways to defend people accused of domestic charges. Some include challenging the letter of the law, and some include negotiating for a reasonable outcome.
If your relationship does not meet the legal definition in the statute, they domestic charges should be dropped. For example, if you had a relationship, but it lasted less that 6 months, it may not be considered a domestics relationship under the law.
There are very few “simple” domestic assault or violence cases. The facts are tricky, you’ve often got emotional and conflicting testimony, and a prosecution that is typically aggressive with these charges.
For a realistic assessment of the best way to defend your charges in court, you need a detailed consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has defended these cases before.
Domestic Charge Defense FAQ
The person who is supposedly the victim wants to drop the charges. Does that mean my case is over?
Not necessarily, no. Most prosecutors can go ahead with a case even if the victim is not cooperative.
However, the case will almost certainly be tougher for them to prove in court. We may be able to argue for a dismissal, or negotiate a reduction in charges to make sure you don’t have a domestic violence conviction on your record.
But sometimes the prosecutor will want to move forward anyway, and we could have to take a case to trial and argue in front of a judge or jury.
The person who is the victim absolutely lied and made up the whole story because he or she was mad at me at the time. How can I get my charges dropped?
I know this happens more often than most people think. But that doesn’t mean that the charges will automatically go away.
The prosecutor will have to be convinced that this is true, and the victim isn’t lying now due to pressure. So it really depends.
It may take some legal wrangling and tough negotiations to make your case go away. And even a lying witness can sometime be very convincing. But ultimately if there is no evidence that a crime was committed, it’s a good case to fight in court, if necessary.