10 TIPS FOR HANDLING A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CHARGE FROM A PITTSBURGH DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DEFENSE LAWYER
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 10 million men and women each year are physically abused by an intimate partner. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been the victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.
While domestic violence is a major problem in Western Pennsylvania, many men and women find themselves falsely accused of violent offenses, or charged with crimes when they were in fact victims themselves. Sadly, many of these cases involve "a race to the phone," where the person who calls police first is entitled to the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their allegations. To make matters worse, police officers may accuse you of domestic violence if they see physical markings on the other party, but your marks do not become visible for hours or days after the incident.
While it is important for legitimate victims of domestic violence to be treated compassionately, you must understand that your accuser will be given preferential treatment moving forward, even if his or her credibility is sorely lacking. You may be excluded from your home and separated from your children while you await your preliminary hearing or trial. Prosecuting attorneys will presume that your accuser is telling the truth.
At ZLF, we have represented individuals from all walks of life accused of domestic violence. The purpose of this blog is to provide you with common sense tips for managing your situation.
1. CONTACT A PITTSBURGH CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY IMMEDIATELY
Don't wait or delay for any reason - call a criminal defense lawyer now. You should immediately pursue a consultation with a qualified criminal defense attorney in the Pittsburgh area. Doing so will help ensure that you protect your rights and interests moving forward. For a free consultation, contact ZLF at 412-447-5580.
2. DOCUMENT YOUR INJURIES
We've seen the same drill on countless occasions. Police are called to a residence for a domestic violence incident. Partner A accuses Partner B of assault. Partner B claims that Partner A attacked first, prompting Partner B to act in self defense. Police see scratches on Partner A's face, but see no visible injuries on Partner B. Partner B gets charged with Simple Assault and Harassment, only to have severe bruises surface within hours of the initial altercation. Police never follow up with Partner B regarding his or her injuries.
If you have sustained any injuries in the course of a domestic violence episode, take photographs of all affected areas in a well-lit area of your home. Provide copies of these pictures to your criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. These injuries may serve you well in establishing a self-defense claim, or in pursuing a PFA against your original accuser.
3. SPEAK WITH YOUR LAWYER ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL TREATMENT
You should seek immediate medical treatment for any medical emergency. For non-emergency situations, talk to your lawyer about seeking an examination by a medical professional. If you sought treatment before hiring an attorney, get a copy of your records. You may also sign a HIPAA waiver with your doctor, allowing their office to send your medical records directly to your lawyer.
4. ABIDE BY THE NO-CONTACT ORDER
Most individuals charged with domestic violence are subject to a court order prohibiting them from having contact with the other party. This is commonly referred to as a "no contact" order. If subject to a no contact order, DO NOT contact the other individual under any circumstance. This includes in-person, telephone, text messaging, e-mailing, social media and related forms of contact. This also includes third party contact, such as having a family member contact the other party.
Sadly, those subject to a no contact order are often required to vacate their homes while their case remains active. However, at the preliminary hearing, it may be possible to have the no contact provision removed, or modified to a "no violent contact" provision, which is discussed below.
5. LOVED ONES SHOULD AVOID CONTACTING THE ACCUSER
If you are a friend, family member or loved one of a person charged with domestic violence crimes, do not try and take matters into your own hands. No matter how close you are with the accuser, DO NOT, under any circumstance, contact the accuser and try and convince him or her to drop charges. Your attempt to convince a victim to not appear or not testify may lead to you being charged with Intimidation of Witnesses or Victims. The person you are trying to help may also be accused of putting you up to the task.
6. NEVER POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA & NOTIFY YOUR LAWYER IF YOUR ACCUSER HAS MADE INCRIMINATING STATEMENTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
If you are facing domestic violence charges, stay off social media altogether. If you choose to ignore this advice, and the advice of your attorney, DO NOT make any posts, tweets, or references to your incident or your accuser on social media. You do not need to post on the wall of your accuser to be deemed in violation of the no contact order.
However, if your accuser is stupid enough to make posts about your incident on social media, notify your lawyer. Our firm was able to search and print out posts made by a past client's accuser calling her a whore and threatening to exact revenge for a past restraining order she sought against him. These items were valuable in the process of obtaining a full dismissal of the charges against her.
7. NEVER ASSUME THE DA WILL DROP CHARGES IF THE VICTIM DOESN'T SHOW UP TO COURT
Too many individuals go to court unrepresented, assuming that their case will be dropped if the victim doesn't appear in court. While this does happen on occasion, you must always remember that it's not your partner vs. you, but the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs you. If the government has a way of establishing a prima facie case at the preliminary hearing without requiring the victim to appear, you may still be prosecuted for your case. For example, if there is a 3rd party witness, your accuser provided a written or audio-recorded statement, or if you gave a statement to police admitting to the offense, the alleged victim's testimony may not be needed at the preliminary hearing or at trial.
Furthermore, the DA will seek to postpone your case multiple times to make arrangements to secure the alleged victim's appearance. In extreme cases, the DA can pursue a material witness warrant against the victim, forcing him or her to testify against you. You need a strong advocate on the other side to say "enough is enough," and fight for a dismissal.
8. PROVIDE ALL THREATENING OR INCRIMINATING TEXTS MADE BY YOUR ACCUSER TO YOUR LAWYER.
If you are facing a domestic charge, and are facing a no contact order, don't be surprised if your accuser texts you with threats, apologies, requests for money, promises to drop charges, or statements admitting wrongdoing or culpability for the incident. No matter what your accuser says, DO NOT RESPOND. If your accuser tells you he or she just hit the lottery and wants you back, DO NOT RESPOND.
Provide copies of these texts to your criminal defense attorney as soon as possible, as they may serve as a valuable part of your defense moving forward. Likewise, if you receive similar text messages from a friend or family member of your accuser, notify your lawyer immediately. But NEVER respond, or you will violate the no contact order.
9. BE CAUTIOUS WITH A "NO VIOLENT CONTACT" ORDER
Instead of imposing a "no contact" provision, the courts will sometimes make it a condition of your bond to avoid any violent contact with your accuser. This is commonly referred to as a "no violent contact" order. What this means is that you can have contact with your accuser, but if there are any additional verbal or physical incidents deemed "violent" in nature, your bond can be revoked.
Do not be lulled into a false sense of security with a "no violent contact" order. All it takes is one argument and you could end up in the County Jail, or be deemed to have violated the terms of an agreement for your charges to be withdrawn. You don't even need to be charged with a new crime to violate a no contact order.
If you and your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse have a volatile relationship, or a drinking or drug abuse problem, it may be best to live apart from one another until your case resolves. You should discuss this matter with your lawyer.
10. IF AN AGREEMENT IS NEGOTIATED FOR A DISMISSAL OR CHARGE REDUCTION - COMPLY WITH THE CONDITIONS
On the date of your preliminary hearing, your domestic violence defense lawyer may negotiate a one-time opportunity to have your charges dropped or reduced to summary offenses like harassment or disorderly conduct. Every agreement is different, but some of the most common conditions of these agreements include:
- Completion of a Domestic-Violence Based Anger Management Course: Course lengths often range from 8-24 weeks depending on the program provider.
- Drug & Alcohol Assessment and Compliance With Treatment Recommendations
- Having "No Contact" or "No Violent Contact" with your accuser
- Avoiding all future criminal conduct.
In Pittsburgh, if an agreement is negotiated, your preliminary hearing will be postponed for a length of time to allow you to complete or progress through your classes, treatment or other conditions. Although burdensome and costly, it is important for you to fulfill the terms of the agreement, as you will not get another opportunity like this. If you stop going to your anger management classes, don't follow through on treatment recommendations, or pick up new charges, you will have violated the agreement, and your charges will proceed to the Court of Common Pleas for trial.
Your criminal defense attorney should provide you with detailed instructions on how to satisfy the terms of the agreement while avoiding potential violations.
HOW THE ZUCKERMAN LAW FIRM CAN HELP
At ZLF, we have successfully defended clients accused of Harassment, Simple Assault, Aggravated Assault, Terroristic Threats, Stalking and other domestic violence related charges. We have defended clients successfully at all stages of prosecution, including preliminary hearings and at trial. For a free consultation on your case, contact us today at 412-447-5580.