By: Mark Diaz
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Things To Avoid When You Are Being Accused Of Domestic Violence
Arguments among spouses and other family members are not uncommon. Sometimes these arguments can get quite tense and emotional. But when a disagreement results in any form of physical violence, the law may end up getting involved.
Domestic violence–or family violence, as it is formally known in the Texas Family Code–is classified as any assault against a family member, household member, or current or past dating partner. An assault in this context means intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to the victim. Even threatening or putting a family member in “imminent” fear of bodily injury is sufficient to justify a domestic violence charge.
Of course, anyone can claim they were a victim of domestic violence. Whether a prosecutor can prove such allegations in court is another matter. Yet many people falsely accused of domestic violence still manage to dig themselves in deeper by taking certain actions that inflame an already tense situation. With that in mind, here are some common mistakes to avoid anytime you are arrested, or even questioned by the police, on allegations of domestic or family violence.
Never Confront Your Accuser
For many people, our first instinct when someone makes any sort of false allegation against us is to confront them directly. Think about someone who has said something untrue or mean about you on Twitter or Facebook. Did you post an immediate response out of anger or frustration? Did you escalate the conflict into a “war of words”? Were you convinced you could force your accuser to recant or apologize merely by confronting them?
While it is natural to answer “yes” to these questions, when you are involved in a law enforcement investigation into domestic violence, the absolute last thing you should ever do is confront your accuser. There are several reasons for this:
- First, confrontation will in fact likely escalate matters and may lead the accuser to make even more allegations, true or false, against you.
- Second, police and prosecutors may look at confrontation as corroboration of the accuser’s allegations.
- Third, as is true in any criminal matter, anything you say or do publicly could be used as evidence against you at trial; to put it another way, the police do not need to read you your Miranda rights before considering an inflammatory post you made on Facebook.
If the Accuser Has Obtained A Protective Order, Obey It To The Letter
Anyone who believes that they have been a victim of domestic violence can ask a judge to issue a Protective Order. If a judge issues a Protective Order against you, you are required not to harm, threaten, or harass your accuser or other members of their family (such as minor children). The order may also require you to maintain a certain distance from the accuser’s home, workplace, school, or daycare. You can also be forbidden from carrying a handgun, even if you legally own such a weapon and have the proper licenses.
In some cases, a Protective Order may force you to leave your own house if the accuser is someone that you live with. You can also be ordered to undergo drug testing or attend anger management classes. If you have children, the Protective Order may also incorporate provisions forcing you to pay child support and setting limits on your visitation rights.
So as you can see, a Protective Order can quickly turn your life upside down. The critical thing to understand, however, is that you have no choice but to obey all of the conditions established by the judge. Violating a Protective Order is a criminal offense in Texas. And if you have prior violations, you may be charged with a felony.
Keep in mind, even if you know the domestic violence allegations are untrue, that cannot justify violating a legally issued Protective Order. No judge will be sympathetic to a defendant who deliberately ignores the court’s instructions. There are legal mechanisms to challenge and appeal a Protective Order with the court. But this is one area where you never want to try and “take the law into your own hands.”
Do Not Pressure the Accuser to Recant Their Allegations
Many people facing domestic violence charges incorrectly assume that if they can just talk to their accuser and convince them to recant their allegations, that will make their case go away. To put it bluntly, this is not how the law works. And placing any pressure, no matter how well-intended, on an accuser is only likely to exacerbate your legal troubles even further.
Here’s the thing: An accuser does not have the legal right to demand prosecutors “drop” a domestic violence case. Domestic violence is not simply a private matter between the parties, like say a contract dispute. Domestic violence is a crime under Texas law.
That means that once the police or the District Attorney believes there is credible evidence of a criminal act, they may still be professionally obligated to proceed even if the initial accuser later recants or changes their story.
The truth is that it is not uncommon for accusers to recant in domestic violence cases. Some do so because they knowingly made a false allegation in the first place. But others were genuine victims who are simply afraid of the consequences if they proceed.
For instance, if the accuser is still in a relationship with the defendant, the accuser may fear the loss of financial support if the defendant goes to jail. Police and prosecutors are well aware of this, which is precisely why they often elect to proceed with a criminal case–relying on other evidence–even after the accuser no longer wishes to continue.
And once again, if the District Attorney finds out that you “convinced” or “pressured” the accuser to change their story, that will likely make the prosecutors dig in even harder against you.
Do Not Sit and Wait for the Case to “Go Away”
Having said all this, another mistake to avoid is simply doing nothing. We often hear from clients who think the best way to respond to a false domestic violence allegation is to take no action and basically “wait for the matter to go away.”
There are, in fact, a number of steps you can take to protect yourself that do not cross any of the lines discussed above. Here are just a few examples:
- Keep written records of all of your interactions with the accuser, such as emails and text messages.
- If you previously shared any passwords or passcodes with the accuser, make sure to change them so they can no longer gain access to your private information.
- If there are other family members or friends who can serve as witnesses in your defense, make sure to contact them and let them know what is going on.
Never Fight Domestic Violence Charges Without The Assistance Of Counsel
At the risk of repeating ourselves, domestic violence is a criminal matter. This means that once the accuser has gone to the police, you need to contact and retain an experienced Galveston domestic violence lawyer to assist in your defense.
An attorney can help you in several ways. First, a domestic violence lawyer can help you get a previously issued Protective Order against you lifted. Second, a lawyer can help you prove that the accuser is lying or fabricating their claims. Indeed, many accusers may back off an accusation once they know the defendant is represented.
And even when police and the District Attorney wish to proceed with a case, an attorney can ensure your constitutional rights are respected throughout the process. Remember, you always have the right to have an attorney present when questioned by the police. And you never have to answer questions at all–you have the right to remain silent. These rights protect you against potential self-incrimination.
A Domestic Violence Lawyer Can Help Negotiate A Plea
A domestic violence lawyer can also provide you with guidance when it comes to any potential plea negotiation. Prosecutors will often agree to reduce a charge or give a favorable sentencing recommendation in exchange for a guilty plea. Such deals are more likely to work out in your favor when you are represented.
Finally, if a domestic violence case does go to trial, your attorney can prepare and present your side of the story. Perhaps you were acting in self-defense when an alleged act of domestic violence occurred. Or maybe your accuser’s injuries were the result of an accident or some other cause. Or perhaps the prosecution simply cannot prove–beyond a reasonable doubt–some necessary element of the charge. Your lawyer can make sure the jury hears all of the relevant facts and arguments before rendering a verdict.
So if you are facing domestic violence charges and need legal advice or representation, contact our domestic violence lawyer in Galveston today to schedule an initial consultation.