Frequently Asked Questions about Domestic Violence
Q: What is domestic violence?
A: Domestic violence is the use of physical, sexual, economic, emotional and/or psychological abuse by an intimate partner or family member to control the actions of another. In most states, domestic violence crimes include behaviors that constitute assault, battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment and other criminal offenses that result in physical injury or death.
Q: Can I be arrested for domestic abuse if the injury is minor?
A: Yes. Minor physical injuries, and even the threat of violence, may result in an arrest in a domestic violence case. However, the severity of the injury may influence the specific charge brought.
Q: If my wife believes she made a mistake when she called the police, can she have the domestic violence charges against me dropped?
A: No. The prosecutor makes the charging decision, not the victim. Domestic violence victims commonly recant statements made to police. However, because the victim may be pressured to change his or her story and because domestic violence frequently recurs, the prosecutor generally will file the charges if there is sufficient evidence of domestic abuse — even if the victim changes his or her story.
Q: What is the penalty for a domestic violence crime?
A: The penalty for a domestic violence crime depends on many factors, including the laws of the jurisdiction, the severity of the act, whether previous offenses have occurred and whether the victim was injured. First-time offenders are usually placed on probation, required to serve a few days in custody, perform community service or complete a counseling program. However, many jurisdictions have begun aggressively prosecuting domestic violence crimes and a prosecutor may seek jail time even for first offenses without serious injury. Others penalties can include significant fines, domestic violence counseling, restitution and anger management classes. In cases with the most serious offenses, such as rape and murder, the prosecutor may seek life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Q: What type of counseling could I be required to attend?
A: Counseling for batterers typically focuses on anger management, especially understanding the reasons for violent behavior and learning how to resolve problems without using violence. The court usually monitors attendance and can reinstate a suspended jail sentence if the offender fails to attend counseling sessions. Batterers usually must pay for court-ordered counseling sessions. If alcohol or drugs are involved, a court also may require the defendant to attend alcohol or drug treatment programs.
Q: What do I do if domestic violence charges are filed against me?
A: If you are arrested for domestic violence, contact a lawyer immediately. It is best to involve a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible in your case. If brought in early enough, he or she may be able to arrange bail for you or have the charges dropped altogether.
Q: Will domestic violence charges affect my relationship with my children?
A: If you are convicted on a domestic abuse charge, you may lose custody of your children and have severely restricted visitation rights, if any. If the children have actually observed the abuse, they may be emotionally and psychologically injured even if they were not physically hurt. There is a greater chance of children from an abusive home becoming juvenile offenders and abusing alcohol and drugs. If your partner brings allegations of domestic abuse against you, it may be difficult for you to maintain a normal relationship with your children and you may want to consider counseling for yourself and for your children.
Q: What is an order of protection?
A: An order of protection is a generic term describing orders issued by states to protect victims of domestic violence. The order can be called a no-contact order in one state and a stay-away order in another. These orders are issued upon the petition of a victim of domestic violence who has been physically harmed or threatened with physical violence. Protection orders may require the abuser to leave the family home or provide financial support to the victim and their children. The accused must receive notice of the hearing for the protective order and an opportunity to contest it. In certain emergency situations, however, the court may issue the order first before providing notice and opportunity to be heard to the accused — known as an ex parte order. These orders are valid for a limited time until a formal hearing can be held.
Q: Is a protective order filed against me in one state valid in another state?
A: Yes. Under federal law, states are required to enforce valid protection orders issued in another state if the order is violated in their jurisdiction. They must enforce the order even if the terms would not be valid under its laws. Thus, if you follow your partner to another state and violate the terms of the protective order issued against you, you may face legal action. Additionally, if you have violated any of the state’s own laws when you violated the protection order, you can be charged with those violations in addition to the order violation.
Q: Is domestic violence only applicable to married people?
A: No. Each state defines who can be subject to civil or criminal penalties for domestic violence. Domestic violence can occur between married people, divorced people, people who live together, people who used to live together, straight couples, gay couples, people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, couples with children and couples without children. The people can have a family relationship, such as father and son or mother and daughter.
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