Domestic violence is a serious issue in the United States. Arguments can get out of hand, leaving husbands and wives as well as brothers, sisters, roommates, girlfriends and boyfriends facing charges of domestic violence. Under Florida law, there are many different situations in which domestic violence charges can be brought against a person who shares a home with another. By the time the police arrive, they are likely ready to make an arrest and may not care who gets loaded into the back of the police cruiser. Police may be responding to a 911 call, to neighbors who have overheard yelling or screaming, to word of mouth or to the opinions of witnesses on the scene, and, rather than try to sort it all out, removing one partner from the situation is the solution.
Because the factors surrounding an arrest for domestic violence can be extremely subjective, the right call is not always made—sometimes the person who actually contacted the police is the one who ends up in jail. Florida law classifies domestic violence as a criminal act, therefore from the first contact with law enforcement there is a prosecution mentality. This is true even in cases when the accuser recants and does not want to press charges against the accused. Because the fear of violence can, in some instances, cause true victims to withdraw their complaints, law enforcement tends to err on the side of the complainant. This level of caution extends after the arrest when the accuser is generally prohibited from recanting or dropping the charges. Most often, the person accused of domestic violence has never been in trouble with the law before.
Certainly some people have trouble controlling their tempers, and a husband may have spent years intimidating and physically assaulting his spouse. These situations require immediate assistance, but many times, a domestic violence call is a situation which simply got out of hand. If you have been accused of domestic violence, you must speak to a Sarasota attorney from The Family Law Place at the earliest opportunity. Such charges are very serious and, as such, have serious, long-term consequences. The attorneys at The Family Law Place have the resources available to offer you the help you need, as well as a solid legal defense.
What Acts are Considered Domestic Violence?
Broadly defined, domestic violence is a pattern of controlling behaviors including violence, or threats of violence, used by one person to establish power over another. Domestic violence is not a disagreement or marital “spat,” rather is a series of abusive behaviors. Physical harm (slapping, strangling, hitting, kicking, shaking, burning, etc.) and emotional or mental abuse are included in the definition of domestic violence. A real, credible threat of violence is considered domestic violence as well as the actual acts of violence.
The legal system defines domestic violence as “assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense which results in physical injury a family or household member.” Family and household members include spouses, former spouses, those related by blood or marriage, any group of people residing together as a family or who have resided together in the past as a family, girlfriends, boyfriends, partners or parents with a child in common. With the exception of parents with a child in common, family members or household members must either be currently residing with one another or have resided with one another in the past. There is no distinction made between a married couple and those who are cohabitating.
What if I Was Wrongfully Accused?
As many as one in three women will experience at least one instance of domestic abuse or domestic violence in their lifetime; although there is never an excuse for a man to abuse or terrorize a woman, there is another side to the story. It would likely surprise many to know that a significant number of spouses who are physically or verbally abused are men—husbands, boyfriends, significant others. Since most men who suffer abuse at the hands of a female do not report the crime—through embarrassment or fear of not being believed—it is hard to get an accurate number.
In sum, domestic violence is a very serious issue, yet nationwide, at least 700,000 persons are wrongfully arrested and charged with domestic violence, based solely on the word of another. Keep in mind this is the number of accusers who actually admit they made up the accusations. In reality there are likely many, many more. The accuser could be angry, jealous, seeking to gain the upper hand in a divorce or child custody situation or seeking revenge for a past slight. Perhaps the biggest tragedy involving false allegations of domestic violence lies in the fact that such acts of vengeance and anger may silence the voices of the true victims.
Some Reasons Behind False Allegations
Revenge may well be the number one reasons behind false allegations of domestic violence. The desire to “get even,” following a divorce, an affair, a child custody case or an asset division considered to be unfair, is behind the majority of false allegations of domestic violence. Child custody cases are famous for producing allegations of domestic violence. One parent may seek to defame the other during a contentious custody case, feeling there is little risk in making such a false allegation, with the “payoff” being given full custody.
Domestic violence charges tend to come down to he said/she said, and the woman in the situation is more likely to be believed, whether she is speaking the truth or not, simply due to physical size, relative strength and being female. Although a person who recants allegations of domestic violence could, in fact, be doing so in response to a threat from the abuser, he or she could also be having a very real attack of conscience.
Potential Consequences of a Domestic Violence Conviction
The consequences you could face should you be convicted of domestic violence are extremely serious. Unfortunately, many of those arrested on charges of domestic abuse—and after spending a frightening uncomfortable night in jail—are told if they enter a plea of guilty or no contest, they will simply be put on probation and will be allowed to go home. What they are not told is that the arrest will never come off their record, and, that, under Florida law, any disposition of a domestic violence case involving a guilty or no contest plea—even absent adjudication—cannot be sealed or expunged. This means that your ability to obtain employment in the future could be severely (negatively) impacted, due to your domestic violence charges.
A conviction of domestic violence with bodily harm can result in a minimum sentence of five days in the county jail. If you have a prior conviction for domestic violence—even absent adjudication—a subsequent conviction can be charged as a felony with a maximum sentence of five years in prison. A conviction for aggravated domestic battery—with or without a prior criminal record—could result in a mandatory state prison sentence of up to fifteen years. Whether you voluntarily plead guilty or no contest or are found guilty at trial, you may be required to attend and complete a six-month family violence counseling program. You could also be sentenced to an alcohol evaluation, psychological evaluation and treatment or even restitution to your accuser. An arrest or conviction for domestic violence can be used against you in a pending divorce or child custody case.
If you are convicted of domestic violence, you will be prohibited from using, owning or possessing a firearm and will have your concealed weapons permit suspended. You could additionally be subject to payment of fines and court costs, anger management counseling or a “no contact” order which prohibits you from seeing the alleged victim or even entering your home. If you are convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence charges, you could nonetheless be sentenced to one year of supervised probation, a fine up to $1,000, up to a year in jail, limited visitation rights to the alleged victim or your children and up to six months’ participation in a batterers intervention program.
Defenses to Charges of Domestic Violence
The attorneys at The Law Place will never accept a plea bargain on your behalf which is not in your best interests, or without your approval. We have no hesitation in going to trial, should that be the best course of action for your future. The defense we employ for your charges of domestic violence will depend on the specific circumstances of your case, however some “typical” defenses include:
• You believed intervention on your part was required in order to protect another person.
• You were protecting yourself against the violent behavior of another.
• You are actually innocent; we will aggressively investigate the credibility of your accuser in cases of false allegations of domestic violence.
How We Can Help
The sooner you call an experienced domestic violence attorney following your charges, the better. The attorneys at The Law Place may be able to file a bond, allowing your release, interview the alleged victim and witnesses to compile statements which can be used in your defense, get you back into your home (in some cases), attempt to have the charges against you dropped, and, when necessary, fight aggressively on your behalf at trial. Our attorneys have spent many, many years successfully defending those charged with domestic violence. We will personally fight for your freedom and your future, handling all aspects of your domestic violence case.