Domestic violence: An introduction.
Few crimes cause as much discomfort or are as despised by the public as domestic violence. Those accused of a domestic violence charge have a rough path ahead, even if they aren’t ultimately convicted. Why? Because, as stated on the New Jersey Courts website:
In 1991, the Legislature found and declared that domestic violence is a serious crime against society. It found that thousands of persons in this State were regularly beaten, tortured and in some cases killed by their spouses or cohabitants. The legislature also found that a significant number of women were assaulted while pregnant. Victims of domestic violence came from all social and economic backgrounds. There is a positive correlation between spousal abuse and child abuse and that children, even if they are not themselves physically assaulted, suffer deep and lasting emotional effects from exposure to domestic violence. The Legislature further found that some of its most vulnerable citizens, the elderly and disabled, are victims of domestic violence as well.
Victims of domestic violence came from all social and economic backgrounds. There is a positive correlation between spousal abuse and child abuse and that children, even if they are not themselves physically assaulted, suffer deep and lasting emotional effects from exposure to domestic violence. The Legislature further found that some of its most vulnerable citizens, the elderly and disabled, are victims of domestic violence as well.
It should come as no surprise, then, that a conviction for domestic violence carries with it significant criminal penalties. In addition, a conviction frequently results in consequences that can last well beyond any court-imposed punishment.
One unfortunate issue related to domestic violence charges is the frequency with which individuals are falsely accused. For those men and women, the fight to clear their name doesn’t always end upon acquittal or the dismissal of charges. Reputations are harmed, sometimes irreparably. Professional licenses and job prospects may be negatively impacted. Relationships with friends and family may be damaged for long periods of time, if not permanently. All of these factors demonstrate why it is so important for anyone charged with domestic violence to hire an attorney experienced in handling such cases.
What does domestic violence include?
To fully understand the nature of the offense, you should be aware that domestic violence includes the abuse and neglect of the elderly and disabled, not just spouses, domestic partners, children or parents. New Jersey law states:
The relationship between the two people must be one of the following: marriage; separation; divorce; living together in the same household at present or in the past; a person whom the plaintiff has dated or a person with whom the plaintiff has a child in common or anticipates having a child in common.
The law further provides:
The elderly or disabled can be victims of domestic violence. Abusers of elderly disabled persons tend to be close relatives, such as adult children involved in caring the victims or persons who have a professional caregiving relationship with the victim.
In general domestic violence is deemed to have occurred in one or more of the following crimes is committed against a person protected by the state’s Domestic Violence Act:
- Terrorist Threats
- Criminal Restraint
- False Imprisonment
- Sexual Assault
- Criminal Mischief
- Criminal Trespass
What happens when you are accused of domestic violence.
The punishment doled out for a conviction for domestic violence depends on what is referred to as the grade (severity) of the crime. To fully understand what is at stake if you are accused of this type of crime, an examination of what happens after an accusation is made is helpful.
One thing that many people are surprised to learn is that “a police officer must arrest and take into custody a domestic violence suspect and must sign the criminal complaint against that person if”:
- The victim exhibits signs of injury which may have been caused by an act of domestic violence;
- “Exhibits” is broadly defined as any indication of bodily injury which includes physical pain or any impairment of physical condition;
- Probable cause exists to believe that the accused has violated a “no contact” court order;
- A warrant has been issued;
- Probable cause exists that a “weapon” as defined in the statute has been involved.
In addition to the mandatory arrest provision, a police officer may, at his or her discretion, arrest or sign a criminal complaint against a person (or do both) if he or she finds probable cause to believe that an act of domestic violence has been committed even if none of the above-referenced signs are present.
There are other circumstances under which an arrest and/or criminal complaint may be carried out as well.
What will the courts do?
In most cases, a restraining order will be issued against you. It is common for the court to issue a temporary restraining order (also called a no-contact order) in domestic violence cases. This means essentially what it says: that you are to have no contact with the accuser. This seems simple enough unless the alleged victim has custody over your children, for example. Your access to your home, your children, your belongings, may all be restricted by such a protective order.
If you have been wrongly accused, this can be devastating. It essentially means that you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. An experienced domestic violence attorney will begin work immediately to restore your rights.
- Note that violation of a no-contact order, no matter how unfair it may be, normally results in significant penalties even if you are subsequently cleared of the underlying domestic violence charge(s).
Regardless of whether an emergency restraining order has been issued, a full hearing will be scheduled within 10 days of the date the complaint seeking a restraining order was filed. If the court is satisfied that the evidence proves the allegations against you, a subsequent order may be issued containing whichever of the following are applicable:
- Prohibition from subjecting the victim to further abuse
- Exclusive possession of the residence to be granted to the plaintiff/victim
- The plaintiff will be awarded sole custody and parenting time
- Requirement that you compensate the victim for losses you caused
- Requirement that you undergo a psychiatric evaluation and/or counseling
- A prohibition against you entering the plaintiff’s home, workplace or school
- A complete prohibition against you contacting the plaintiff in any way
- A requirement that you pay the plaintiff’s rent or mortgage
- A prohibition which forbids you from possession of a firearm.
What about jail?
If you’re guilty, probably. Whether you are incarcerated and the length of the sentence both depend on the severity of the incident or whether there have been prior domestic violence charges. Unlike other criminal violations, there is no specific predetermined punishment. The court attempts to ensure that “the punishment fits the crime”.
What else you should know.
In addition to whatever criminal penalties may be assessed, remember that a domestic violence charge can impact your life in a variety of ways; a conviction even more so. Repercussions can include a limitation on your ability to come and go as you please or a restriction on your parenting or property rights. A domestic violence conviction may support an application for permanent modification of custody or visitation rights. Depending on your profession (attorney, for example), you may even lose your license or be subject to sanctions.
Domestic violence is a serious matter. If someone has accused you of it, you need qualified legal representation.