In the face of the Coronavirus outbreak, strict stay-at-home orders have caused family tensions for many people to run high. It is not surprising that Fairfax Police report that during April 2020 alone, they experienced a 26 percent increase in domestic-related calls compared to the previous April. As people continue to work from home, care for their small children, and face a lack of connection with family and friends, unfortunately these incidents become more likely. But that doesn't mean that just because you are accused of domestic abuse, you will be convicted, since there are many ways to fight the charge. There are also several things you can and should do after such a charge, including contacting a Fairfax domestic violence lawyer. I'll tell you more below.
1. Know Your Rights under Virginia Law
According to Virginia domestic violence laws, if you physically strike or harm a family member (or other person who legally qualifies as a family or household member), you can be charged with assault and battery against a family or household member under Virginia Code 18.2-57.2. Something key to note here is that regardless of whether you actually harm someone by assaulting or hitting them, or simply threaten to harm them and you make physical contact with them (even if you do not cause physically injury to them), you may be charged with this crime. Assault and battery against a family or household member is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Not only can you face up to a $2500 fine, but also jail time for up to a year. Additionally, if you are convicted, it will remain a part of your criminal record permanently.
If it is your first domestic abuse offense and you have a clean criminal record otherwise, under Virginia Code 18.2-57.3 the court may place you on probation for up to two years. In addition, you will be required to enroll in a domestic violence class that provides treatment or education for underlying issues that led to the incident. The court may also order an alcohol or substance abuse evaluation of which you may be required to follow the recommendation from the evaluation. If you have been convicted of assault and battery against a family or household member two times or more, you will instead be charged with a Class 6 felony and face fines up to $2500 and five years in prison.
While the penalties for a conviction are harsh, keep in mind that even if you have been accused, you will not necessarily be convicted: you have rights under Virginia law. At the top of this list is the right to remain silent during an arrest. During your arrest, avoid saying anything about the incident to the arresting officers as it can be used against you in court. Even after you are in police custody, you are not required to answer questions without an attorney present. At this point, it would be a good idea to hire a Fairfax criminal attorney with experience handling domestic abuse charges. Your attorney will attend police questioning with you and provide advice on what to say and not say. Your attorney will protect your rights.
Another important thing to know about Virginia law is that if the incident was the result of a heated moment and your accuser later decides to drop charges against you, this could be difficult to accomplish. Under Virginia law, the charge is brought not just by your accuser, but by the Commonwealth of Virginia. So even if your accuser decides they want to drop the charges, they may not be able to, and they may even be required to testify against you in court. The prosecutor assigned to your case decides and controls if the case will go forward or not, and sometimes the prosecutor's decision to go forward with a trial on domestic assault and battery charge are very much inconsistent with how the accuser would like the case to be handled.
If your accuser is serious about having charges against you dropped, it is best to work with a lawyer who has experience with these kinds of cases. A Fairfax domestic violence attorney can work with both of you toward an outcome that is fair for all parties involved. In addition, if there is a protective order in place, you don't want to violate it by contacting your accuser to try to work things out. By working with an attorney, they can get in touch with your accuser without you being charged with a second very serious crime.
2. Follow Your Protective Order
As part of your arrest, you will likely receive a protective order, and it is extremely important that you adhere to its conditions. Protective orders can forbid you from going to the accuser's home, talking to them, seeing your kids, and even driving a car you share with the accuser. Whatever the conditions laid out in the order, even if they are difficult to swallow, the best thing you can do is follow them to a “t.” It can also be helpful to keep in mind that while protective orders are inconvenient, they may at least initially benefit you because they increase the odds that a similar incident will not happen while the case is pending, especially if you find yourself in a volatile relationship when tensions may be escalated after a domestic assault and battery charge. The best thing to do is contact a lawyer as soon as possible. There are legal steps that can be taken to have the protective order rescinded or not to have the protective order extended.
If you fail to follow your protective order, this will not look good in court: violating a protective order is a very serious crime of its own, so on top of the Class 1 misdemeanor you will face for the domestic assault and battery against a family member charge, you will now have an additional class 1 misdemeanor charge for violating the protective order. Not a good situation to be in at all. Since a Class 1 misdemeanor already carries up to a $2500 fine, a year in jail, and a permanent criminal entry on your record, you won't want to accumulate any extra punishments.
3. Collect Evidence
Whether you have already hired a lawyer or have not yet done it, evidence will be essential to your case. The more evidence you can provide, the more you enable your attorney to properly handle your case. Even if you are not allowed to visit your home under a protective order, in our digital age, there are many kinds of evidence you can gather including email and text conversations you have had with your accuser, relevant social media posts, and videos you have saved in your phone. Also, taking pictures of your injury can be helpful. Simply writing down the details about the incident that led to your arrest can be incredibly valuable to your attorney. A few days after a heated encounter, it is sometimes hard to remember exactly what happened, so the sooner you can capture these details, the better.
There are many defense strategies for domestic violence cases, and your attorney will use the evidence you provide as well as others' accounts to build your case. If, for example, your accuser attacked you and you protected yourself by using reasonable force, but injured them in the process, you will want to make sure the details you provide your lawyer are as accurate as possible so they can make a strong case in court. Maybe it's a case of mutual combat. Or one of intoxication of drugs or alcohol. In another scenario, let's say your accuser made a false allegation. Again, the more details you can provide your attorney with about what actually happened before, during, and after the incident, the better.
In addition to these steps, depending on the evidence and history or record of previous domestic violence, enrolling in counseling or treatment if you have substance abuse or psychological issues could show mitigation in court and could reflect positively on your case. The court may see this as an assurance that you won't commit this crime again and potentially your case will be resolved with a better outcome. A good Fairfax domestic violence lawyer can tell you more about this, as well as other things you should do before your case goes to court.
If you are facing domestic abuse charges and need help, Kassabian & Kassabian, P.L.C. may be able to assist you. Mr. Kassabian believes that every client is entitled to justice regardless of their crime, and he will fight to ensure that your rights are upheld.
Call John at 703-750-3622 for a free consultation.