Defending A Domestic Violence Charge: What You Need to Know
Sometimes our relationships with those closest to us end up in court. If you have been accused of domestic violence, you may feel angry, confused or betrayed. You may also be scared about what will happen next. This is understandable. Not only do domestic violence charges have legal consequences, but they jeopardize your social and professional life.
Domestic violence is a serious matter. It is estimated that nearly 20 people are physically abused by a sexual partner every minute in the United States. This means more than 10 million people are hurt by romantic partners each year. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence also reports that more than 20,000 phone calls are made to domestic violence hotlines each day.
Perpetrators definitely need to be punished. However, not every accusation of domestic violence is true or fair. If you’ve been unjustly accused, you can defend your name in court and seek to protect your reputation. You will need an experienced attorney from the start since these cases move quickly. They will explain the relevant laws for your state and explain how your case is likely to proceed. One of the first things your lawyer will do is explain the charges you face.
What is Domestic Violence?Domestic violence is a crime under federal law, namely the Violence Against Women Act. However, most cases are prosecuted under state laws. The statutes vary by jurisdiction but typically, they outlaw conduct that harms the victim or causes them to fear for their safety. Your charge will likely be linked to a criminal charge like:
- Attempted murder
- Sexual assault
- Threatening behavior
The severity of the alleged crime will determine whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony.
States also vary in who they consider to be a victim of domestic violence. However, family members, members of the same household and romantic partners typically qualify. People generally think about domestic violence as occurring only between spouses but it can take place between anyone in a household.
How Does A Domestic Violence Charge Come About?Your domestic violence case probably originated in one of two ways. Either the police were called to your home during a domestic disturbance or someone in your household filed for a temporary restraining order (TRO). If the police were called to your home, you were probably arrested and then issued with a TRO. As the name suggests, the order will only last for a short period of time, so the court will schedule your first hearing quickly.
Even if you think the charges are baseless or entirely out of spite, you need to take the restraining order seriously. Violating it could lead to jail time and also make it harder to defend the substantive case. Don’t call, visit or otherwise contact the complainant. You shouldn’t contact them through a third party either.
Defenses Against Domestic ViolenceYour attorney will craft the best defense for your particular circumstances. In some cases, the allegation is simply untrue. When relationships break down, sometimes one or both parties behave irrationally. Some partners allege violence as a way to get custody of children or get a larger share in a divorce settlement. They may exaggerate or completely make up a story. If you can prove this or at least create reasonable doubt when you go to court, things may go in your favor.
Some situations are more complicated. However, the defense your lawyer comes up with will likely fall into some broad categories. Common defenses include:
- You acted in a way that doesn’t amount to domestic violence. For example, maybe you shouted or expressed frustration but you didn’t threaten the complainant.
- You acted in self-defense. You will have to prove that you had reason to believe the complainant would harm you. Maybe they were coming at you with a weapon or otherwise trying to assault you.
- You acted in defense of a child. You may claim that you were protecting a child from physical harm. Again, you will have to prove that you had reason to believe the child was really in danger.
You can also employ some of the other typical constitutional defenses. Your attorney may challenge whether:
- The court actually has jurisdiction over you and the complainant.
- Your relationship with the complainant is subject to the domestic violence statutes in the state.
- The police read you your rights before arresting and questioning you.
- The police conducted a legal search or seizure.
The Importance of Having a Good AttorneyYou shouldn’t try to handle domestic violence allegations on your own. There is a lot at stake including your freedom, financial wellbeing, and reputation. Whether you are guilty or not, having an experienced, skilled attorney can make a big difference. They will come up with a defense strategy to either get the charges dropped or secure a reduced penalty. If you are facing domestic violence charges in your state, seek the help of an attorney in fighting them.
Liz S. Coyle is the Director of Client Services for JacksonWhite Attorneys at Law. She also serves as a paralegal for the Family Law Department. She is responsible for internal and external communications for the firm.
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