By: Mark Diaz
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How Common Are False Charges In Domestic Violence Cases?
False Domestic Violence Charges Are Not Uncommon
Every relationship has its ups and downs. Even happy, long-term marriages include a certain amount of disagreements and fighting. But when a relationship breaks down, it can lead to more serious conflicts, including allegations of domestic violence.
We all know domestic violence is a serious problem. Here in Texas, the most recent figures from the Department of Public Safety indicate there are nearly 200,000 reported “incidents” of domestic violence annually. Most of these incidents were assaults committed against women. But domestic violence can affect people of all genders and status.
At the same time, it is also important to understand that false charges of domestic violence are not uncommon. Laws are written and enforced in such a manner as to favor accusers over defendants. In a very real sense, domestic violence allegations can turn the table on our constitutional system of justice. That is to say, while every defendant is entitled to a constitutional presumption of innocence until proven guilty, we see far too many cases where prosecutors and police force an accused domestic abuser to “prove” their innocence.
So what are the causes of false charges in domestic violence cases? And what can you do if you find yourself the victim of such allegations? First, let’s review what we mean when we talk about “domestic violence” in a legal context and then address how and why someone might try and pursue false charges.
Family Violence in Texas
Although many states use the term “domestic violence,” Texas law actually refers to it as “family violence.” This also does not refer to a single crime. Rather, it is a category of criminal offenses involving a spouse or another person in a family or intimate relationship with the defendant.
The most common family violence charge we see here in Texas is domestic assault. This involves a violent act against a family member, household member, or a past or current “dating partner.” The Texas Penal Code defines assault as any of the following actions:
- The defendant intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly caused bodily injury to another person.
- The defendant intentionally or knowingly threatened another person with imminent bodily injury.
- The defendant intentionally or knowingly caused physical contact with another person when the defendant knew (or should have reasonably believed) that the victim would regard the contact as offensive or provocative.
In short, it is possible to commit assault merely through verbal actions that make the accuser feel that bodily harm is imminent. Similarly, incidental physical contact may be interpreted by the victim as “assault” and used as the basis for a domestic violence charge, even when the defendant had no such intentions.
Assault is normally prosecuted as a Class A misdemeanor in Texas. But if the defendant has at least one prior domestic assault conviction, any subsequent domestic assault charge can be tried as a third-degree felony. If you are wondering about the practical difference between the misdemeanor and felony domestic assault charge, here it is: A Class A misdemeanor means a jail term of no more than 1 year, while a third-degree felony has a minimum prison sentence of 2 years–and a maximum possible term of 10 years.
In addition to domestic assault, there is a separate offense known as aggravated domestic assault. The key difference between regular assault and the “aggravated” kind is that the defendant used or exhibited a deadly weapon, such as a firearm, or intentionally caused “serious” bodily injury to the victim. Texas considers any form of aggravated assault as a second-degree felony, and in some aggravated domestic assault cases, it can even be tried as a first-degree felony, meaning the defendant faces the possibility of life in prison.
Common Reasons for Making False Domestic Violence Charges
Now that you understand the basics of Texas domestic violence law, let’s turn to the main question: Why would someone make a false allegation of domestic violence?
Perhaps the most obvious scenario for such false charges is a hotly contested divorce or child custody dispute. Parents often file–or simply threaten to file–domestic violence charges with police in an attempt to gain an “upper hand” in resolving outstanding marital issues. Indeed, false domestic violence charges can be a powerful weapon in child custody battles.
One thing to keep in mind here is that even if no criminal charges are ever filed, a party can use the civil court system to obtain domestic violence protective orders. In Texas, judges and magistrates can issue emergency and temporary protective orders without even giving the accused person an opportunity to defend themselves. So merely alleging domestic violence can lead a judge to order the defendant to stay away from their spouse, children, or dating partner–even if that forces the defendant to leave a shared home. And any violation of the order, even by accident, can lead to criminal charges.
Even when children are not involved, false domestic violence allegations may simply be used by a spouse to obtain a more favorable settlement with regard to marital property or alimony. Perhaps the accuser simply wants to keep the house after the divorce. Or maybe they think that if they get a protective order, that will scare their estranged partner into agreeing for their spousal support demands.
In other cases, false domestic violence charges may simply be an act of revenge. Maybe they feel they were mistreated during the relationship and think branding them as a “domestic abuser” in the courts and the public eye will bring them some sort of satisfaction. Often times, accusers do not stop to think about the actual long-term consequences of their actions.
Of course, you might be asking yourself, “Isn’t it a crime to file false charges against another person?” The short answer is yes, it is. Unfortunately, police and prosecutors are typically reluctant to go after individuals who deliberately make false domestic accusations. Nobody wants to be seen as “soft” on domestic violence, and there is often a fear that prosecuting false accusers might discourage other, legitimate victims from coming forward.
What Should You Do When Falsely Accused of Domestic Violence?
So if you are falsely accused of domestic assault or a similar charge, it is up to you to defend your good name and your freedom. The first thing you should do is hire an experienced domestic violence defense attorney to provide you with skilled legal advice and representation.
We know that many people are quite reluctant to even speak with a lawyer in these situations. They often think that hiring an attorney makes them “look guilty.” But the reality is you are dealing with a stacked deck in a domestic violence case. The police and the district attorney’s office are almost always on the accuser’s side. They are not going to give you a “fair shake” or simply accept your pleas of innocence.
More to the point, the state knows how to pressure defendants without representation into accepting harsh plea deals that often include significant jail time and probation. They know that even falsely accused people may agree to such terms in order to avoid the further public humiliation of a trial.
Working with an experienced attorney can also prevent you from making mistakes that may only land you in deeper trouble. One common mistake people make when falsely accused of domestic violence is to confront the accuser directly. In doing so, they might make threats or engage in other acts that in themselves may be construed by the prosecution as domestic violence. And if a criminal charge is already pending–or a protective order remains in effect–the prosecution might view such confrontations as an attempt at criminal witness tampering.
What Are the Defenses to False Domestic Violence Charges?
Every case is different, and an attorney can advise you on the best defenses available for your situation. But broadly speaking, here are some of the more common defense strategies:
- The accuser’s testimony is simply unreliable. When an accuser intentionally makes false charges out of spite or to gain an advantage in a divorce or child custody case, they often give inconsistent stories to police and prosecutors. Any such inconsistencies can be used to “impeach” the accuser’s credibility should the case go to trial.
- In cases where there was physical contact between the defendant and the accuser, the defendant can show they were acting in self-defense or in defense of their children.
- There is simply insufficient evidence to support the prosecution’s case. Sometimes the accuser will recant and refuse to testify in court (and thus under penalty of perjury). In other cases, a specific element of a domestic assault charge cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; for example, there is no proof of any “bodily injury” to the accuser.
Once again, every domestic violence case presents a different set of facts. So it is critical to consult with an experienced Galveston criminal defense attorney who can review your case and provide you with more tailored advice. If you need to speak with a lawyer, call the offices of Mark Diaz today at (409) 515-6170.