You were recently charged with domestic assault or another charge related to domestic violence. Chances are that your mind is filled with questions – especially when it comes to how your case will play out in court. Before you become overwhelmed by an endless maze of “What If?” questions, here are several key points that you must remember:
The Purpose of the Domestic Violence Hearing
The domestic violence hearing is typically the first stage of the judicial response to this type of charge. The judge assigned to your case will primarily focus on two key factors: the evidence and the victim. Is there enough evidence presented that will support a protective order that favors the victim? The answer to that question will help the judge to determine if the alleged assailant should be allowed to have any contact with the victim and (if applicable) their children.
Understand Your State’s Definition of Domestic Violence
How is “domestic violence” defined in your state? A common mistake is to assume that domestic violence only applies to physical violence. However, the definition of domestic violence according to your state may paint a different picture – one that could drastically change the way you view your chances.
For example, in Arizona, the scope of domestic violence covers much more than just physical and sexual violence. It also covers emotional abuse, neglect and economic control. You do not even need to be physically near the alleged victim. Such acts as harassing phone calls, recording them without consent, threatening conversations, or even criminal trespassing can fit within this category as well.
The Victim May Not Be Able to Dismiss the Case
Another common misperception is that all you must do is get the victim to drop the charges to make everything “go away.” First-time offenders may avoid seeking legal representation, because they believe that the victim can have a change of heart and “pull the plug” on the entire case. Once again, this goes back to how your state handles domestic violence cases.
An average of 1,200 people become victims of physical abuse by an intimate partner in the U.S. every hour, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). Therefore, it is not surprising that most states take the prosecution of these cases seriously – with or without the continued support of the victim. In most cases, the district attorney is the only one with the authority of drop a domestic assault case. Even if the victim refuses to testify, the State is still able to aggressively prosecute a case.
Mandatory Counseling is Just One of the Potential Results
It is true that mandatory counseling is a typical result of most domestic assault cases even when the assailant is not sentenced to serve any jail time. However, depending on the nature of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history, it can still be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. It could also lead to restraining/protection orders, custody losses, civil lawsuits, and more. To say that a single charge of domestic assault can change a person’s life forever, therefore, is a major understatement.
Take Your Legal Representation Seriously
It is never wise to face a courtroom battle or any major criminal charge without retaining legal representation. A significant number of people fall into the trap of believing that they have an “open-shut” case that will end in their favor – which is why they feel as if they are saving a lot of money by not retaining a criminal defense attorney to handle their case. As referenced above, by going into the legal proceedings associated with this type of charge without an expert attorney at your side, money is not the only thing you risk losing.
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.