Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
Here’s 5 things you need to know about domestic violence in California
QUESTION #1: CAN THE “VICTIM” DROP THE CHARGES?
ANSWER: NO. Bad night? Got a little drunk and things got out of control? You wanted to teach your spouse/significant other a “lesson” so you called the cops and said you got slapped around, even though it didn’t really happen? Or maybe things got a little heated and you shoved each other during a loud argument and one of you or a neighbor called the police? But now, after your loved one has been arrested, you want to take back the accusations and make this go away? TOO BAD. You see, you are no longer in control. The police refer every domestic violence arrest to the local prosecutor. If the prosecutor thinks they have a case, they’ll file a case.
QUESTION #2: IF I’M ACCUSED OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, SHOULD I TELL THE “VICTIM” NOT TO SHOW UP TO COURT?
ANSWER: ABSOLUTELY NOT. This is a terrible idea. First, if there’s a criminal protective order or “no contact” order in place, you shouldn’t even be talking to the alleged victim. So the very act of talking to him/her could result in new charges being filed against you. Second, even if you ARE allowed to talk to the alleged victim, it is a crime to dissuade a witness from testifying. Third, if the alleged victim has been subpoenaed to go to court, YOU should not be the one to give him/her advice as to how to handle it.
QUESTION #3: I’M THE SO-CALLED VICTIM, THE PROSECUTOR WANTS ME TO TESTIFY, I DON’T WANT TO. WHAT DO I DO?
ANSWER: CALL A LAWYER. I know you’re reading a blog post written by a lawyer, so this is the answer you’d expect, but I’m serious. Contact a criminal defense attorney who deals with domestic violence (yes, that links are to me). There’s lots of issues here: What is the nature of your testimony going to be? Have you been served a subpoena or are you just being hassled by a prosecutor or the police? Are you worried about incriminating yourself? If you have a subpoena in your hand, you need to call an attorney and show him/her the subpoena and get some advice before deciding whether or not to show up at court. If the subpoena was lawfully issued, you need to show up to court. Only a qualified lawyer can tell you if it was lawfully issued.
QUESTION #4: BUT I TOLD THE COPS NOT TO ARREST MY HUSBAND/WIFE/BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND?
ANSWER: THAT’S THEIR JOB. If the cops get called to a domestic disturbance and there’s ANY evidence that someone laid a hand on someone else, someone is getting arrested. That is just the policy of most police departments in California. This is why when the police showed up, they separated the two of you and asked you questions out of earshot from each other. Even if there were no bruises or visible injuries to either of you, if one person even admits to barely touching the other person, even if self-defense, someone is going to jail. That’s just the way it is in our post OJ Simpson world. Sorry.
QUESTION #5 THIS SUCKS! DON’T PROSECUTORS UNDERSTAND THAT COUPLES FIGHT SOMETIMES?
ANSWER: YES AND NO. Look, no politician is going to ever get re-elected by passing a law that softens up the domestic violence laws. And to be fair, there are many serious and legitimate cases of domestic violence out there. But just as often, there are other agendas going on: Revenge, trying to get leverage in a divorce or child custody case, substance abuse, mental illness, jealousy. But that’s the job of a lawyer and possibly a private investigator to figure out. DO NOT TRY TO INVESTIGATE OR DEFEND YOUR OWN CASE. Whether you are accused of domestic violence or if police and prosecution say you’re a “victim”, you need to talk to a lawyer before making any real decision about how to proceed.