Virginia treats domestic violence accusations very seriously. Knowing how to respond if you face domestic violence accusations or charges may mean the difference between having your name cleared and finding yourself in an even more serious situation.
Disagreements may arise in family and household situations that lead to conflict. Understanding how to manage conflicts can prevent situations from getting out of control and reduce the likelihood that you’ll wind up in the legal system facing charges of domestic violence. An experienced Fairfax domestic violence lawyer can help you with complex legal procedures.
What Is Domestic Violence?
Virginia law uses the term “family abuse” in place of “domestic violence,” although the concepts are essentially the same.
Family abuse is any violent, forceful, or intimidating act against a family or household member that results in bodily injury or the threat thereof, including threats or actions of sexual assault or the threat of death.
Forceful detention, stalking, criminal sexual assault, and rape can also be forms of family abuse.
Virginia defines the following people as a person’s family and household members for these purposes:
- Their spouse
- Their former spouse
- Their parents or stepparents
- Their children or stepchildren
- Their siblings or half-siblings
- Their in-laws
- Anyone with whom they’ve had a child, regardless of marital status
- Anyone with whom they’ve lived within the previous 12 months
- Any children residing in their home
These family or household members do not necessarily have to live in the same home as the accused person.
The Cycle of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence often occurs in cycles. It typically begins with a period of relatively minor conflict that builds tension before violence actually occurs.
Domestic violence may involve stalking, hitting, verbal abuse, kicking, throwing objects, choking, and the use of weapons. It often occurs behind closed doors or exclusively in the presence of other household members.
Engaging in violent behavior in front of household members, such as children, may be an attempt to instill the fear of violence and get the victims to defer to the power of the abuser.
Violent outbursts are often followed by a honeymoon phase, a reprieve in which the abuser expresses remorse or makes promises that they’ll change. They may buy gifts for their victims to seek forgiveness and re-establish trust.
Unfortunately, the cycle continues as the abuser slowly resumes the tension-building process. When it culminates in abusive behavior, the violence is often worse than it was the last time around.
What to Do if You Face Domestic Violence Accusations
No one expects or wants to face accusations of domestic violence. Still, it’s important to know what to do if someone accuses you of family abuse, as taking the right actions to protect your rights can help you pursue the most favorable outcome possible for your case.
One of the worst things you can do when facing domestic violence accusations is panic. This is especially true if you find yourself placed under arrest. Do not resist – remain calm, even though this is a very stressful and frightening situation. Comply with police officers’ instructions while still taking care to protect your rights.
The Fifth Amendment gives you the right not to incriminate yourself. You’re not obligated to answer questions from the police, especially if you don’t have legal representation.
Although the police may ask for your side of the story, they can use anything you say against you in court. While it can be tempting to want to explain yourself, doing so can significantly complicate your legal situation.
Avoid Contact With the Accuser
You may also feel tempted to contact your accuser, whether to argue with them or plead with them to rescind the allegations.
However, the safest approach when facing accusations of domestic violence is to avoid contact to the fullest extent possible. This is especially true if the accuser gets a protective order, which forbids further contact between the accused and the accuser.
Total avoidance may not be an option in all cases – for example, you may have reason to communicate regarding your children or inform each other of important family news, changes in employment or your living situation, and other matters.
If you must communicate and an order has not barred you from doing so, keep all communication brief and in writing, and share it with your attorney.
Stay Off Social Media
Social media may be a big part of your life, but the prosecutor can use posts on your accounts or channels against you. This can happen even if it means taking what you post out of context. While you may feel frustrated and want to vent, this can negatively affect your case. It’s best to avoid posting, just to be safe.
Contact a Domestic Violence Attorney
An attorney who has experience successfully defending clients against domestic violence and family abuse charges can help you understand your legal situation and your rights. You’ll benefit from the assistance of someone who understands the complex laws governing family abuse cases and how to protect you.
How Is Domestic Violence Handled in the Criminal Justice System?
Criminal domestic assault and battery, family abuse, and stalking are misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Repeat offenders face stiffer penalties.
Domestic assault and battery and family abuse offenders convicted three times or more over a 10-year period are felons, and face up to five years in prison. Three or more stalking convictions over a five-year period face a similar penalty.
Virginia courts will also issue protective orders as a means of safeguarding alleged victims from alleged and convicted abusers.
These come in different types, including:
- Emergency protective orders offer at least 72 hours of protection following an arrest.
- Preliminary protective orders offer protection pending a hearing, which must occur within 15 days.
- Protective orders offer up to two years of protection when the court finds a victim has suffered or faces an immediate threat of domestic violence.
These protective orders work in several ways. First, they prohibit the alleged or convicted abuser from having contact with family or household members. They also prohibit them from accessing the shared residence and any vehicles they share with the alleged victim.
In some cases, they provide for the relocation of family or household members to alternative housing. They may require the alleged or convicted abuser to enroll in treatment. Finally, they may award the alleged victim temporary custody of minor children for up to two years.
Contacting the victim in any manner, including by phone, email, or text, is a violation of the order. You may even get in trouble if you take a call from the alleged victim. Violations of protective orders are misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Understanding the Legal Process
The legal process in family abuse cases begins with the reporting to the police of an allegation of domestic violence. If the police believe you’ve committed an offense based on the accuser’s allegations, they’ll place you under arrest. Authorities will then schedule a court date.
At this point, the prosecutor must examine the evidence of your case to determine whether to prosecute. They’ll base their decision on the evidence, including witness statements, physical evidence, phone and written records, and anything else that helps shed light on the veracity of the allegations.
If the prosecutor believes the evidence is sufficiently suggestive of a crime, they will choose to prosecute you.
In prosecuting a domestic violence case, a prosecutor must prove two critical elements:
- That the defendant and their accuser have a relationship that makes them family or household members under Virginia law
- That the alleged violent action occurred, and it was not welcomed or excusable
If the prosecutor can prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, they may secure a conviction, and sentencing will follow.
How a Domestic Violence Attorney Can Help
Fighting a charge of domestic violence is a complex endeavor, and it’s not one you can handle on your own. You’re probably already facing serious challenges stemming from an accusation and arrest, ranging from lack of access to your home, vehicle, and other property to financial strain and reputational damage.
Adding a complicated legal battle to the mix does not make any of these challenges easier to address.
This is why you need an attorney with experience fighting on behalf of individuals accused of domestic violence and family abuse in Virginia. They will understand the law and have a track record of successfully defending clients against these types of charges. Crucially, they will know the most effective strategies to employ in your defense.
Your attorney will listen to your side of the events and look at all the evidence of your case to understand what happened, then help you understand your legal rights and options.
They’ll seek to develop an effective strategy for defending you against the charges, as well as look for inconsistencies in the accuser’s story and evidence they can use to call their account into question.
Your case can go in a couple of different directions. Your attorney may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to have the charges reduced or dropped entirely based on the evidence available.
Alternatively, your case will go to trial. In this event, your attorney will provide a robust defense and attempt to establish your innocence, perhaps by arguing that the prosecutor can’t prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Possible Defenses Against Domestic Violence Charges
Your attorney commits to defending you against the domestic violence charges against you.
While their approach to your defense will depend on the particular circumstances of your case, they might select one of these proven strategies:
- You Were Defending or Protecting Yourself or Others – A person may face accusations of domestic violence stemming from an incident in which both parties inflicted violence. One possible defense is that you committed a violent act in self-defense or to protect others, such as children, from acts of domestic violence.
- You Were Defending Your Property – You may be able to claim you were acting in defense of your vehicle, home, or business because the accuser was attempting to break into or damage your property, possibly with the intent of harming you.
- The Police Violated Your Rights During Your Arrest – The police must abide by the law when conducting searches and placing individuals under arrest. Your attorney may be able to argue that the police didn’t follow proper procedures and that the court should dismiss the charges.
The defense strategy your attorney pursues will depend on the strength of the evidence that works in your favor. It pays to be honest and forthcoming with the information your attorney needs so they can put their experience, knowledge, and understanding of the law to work on your behalf.
Any surprises down the road could upend their defense, with potentially devastating consequences.
Consult a Domestic Violence Attorney Today
An accusation of domestic violence or family abuse is a very serious matter. Regardless of whether the allegations are true, you have rights under the legal system. But you need an attorney to help you safeguard those rights, fight the charges, and move forward with your life.
A domestic violence lawyer will understand how the law applies to your situation, gather evidence to build a strong case on your behalf, and seek the fair and just treatment you deserve under the law.