Who Gets Charged With Domestic Violence?
Although no two family violence cases are alike, generally speaking domestic violence involves an assault or threat of assault by a person on a spouse, ex-spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend or any member of the family who resides in the same household. Emotions can run very high in cases involving those who love one another and those who find themselves charged with domestic violence come from all walks of life and from all socio-economic classes. One single episode of a family member losing his or her cool during an extremely stressful situation can end up in an arrest, criminal charges and potentially a lifetime of repercussions to deal with.
Although there are exceptions, in the majority of domestic violence charges the accused has never been in trouble before. It’s true that some people just have trouble controlling their temper and those anger issues should certainly be addressed. Likewise the husband who has spent years and years intimidating and physically assaulting his wife should definitely be on the receiving end of the legal system. In some cases, however, the accused is simply not guilty and has been falsely accused—a situation which is not all that uncommon. Many times a messy divorce or a troubled relationship makes one party attempt to get back at the other and make up allegations of violence. It is likewise a fairly common occurrence during child custody cases for one spouse to falsely accuse the other of violence simply to gain custody.
Allegations Lead to Arrest
Because of the widespread information regarding domestic violence the police officers can be quick to handcuff a person accused of domestic or family violence with very little real evidence to go on. The mere accusation from a family member of alleged domestic violence will likely result in charges being filed, and once the police arrive it’s a pretty sure bet they won’t leave alone. The police may feel they are covering themselves in the event they should leave the scene of an alleged violent event then one spouse ends up injured or dead later on. The problem with this tactic is that while the motivation is reasonable, the actions surely violate the presumption of innocence our nation is founded on.
Felony or Misdemeanor?
The underlying assault or aggravated assault charges will generally dictate the criminal classification of a domestic violence event. In other words if one spouse is alleged to have smacked the other with a frying pan, then they may be charged with aggravated assault as well as domestic violence. Should the accused have a prior conviction for domestic violence then a simple assault which would normally be charged as a misdemeanor could be bumped up to a felony. Further, any instance of domestic violence in which choking is alleged can make the assault charge into a felony assault charge.
Can the Charges be Dropped Once Made?
Once an allegation of domestic violence is made, it cannot be “taken back,” should the accuser have a change of heart. The state prosecutor will aggressively pursue the cases with or without the cooperation of the alleged victim. In the past, spouses were able to drop such charges if they changed their mind, and a spouse who didn’t wish to testify against the defendant could refuse. This would often leave the prosecutor with insufficient evidence to make the charges stick and he would be forced to drop all charges. The laws have changed substantially over the years and except in a few circumstance a spouse can be compelled to testify although they will have to be subpoenaed to do so.
Penalties for Domestic Violence
The person accused of domestic violence may be placed under a restraining order which prohibits him from returning home or even speaking to the victim. A first offense could get you up to a year in county jail while a second offense could result in felony charges and up to several years in prison. Beyond this a conviction will give you a lifelong criminal record which can alter your ability to get a job or obtain a professional license and you will likely not be able to own a firearm. If you’ve been charged with domestic violence don’t wait in hopes it will all go away. These are very serious charges and you need an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner from the very start.