Facing any type of criminal charge can be overwhelming and intimidating. Suddenly, your freedom and future become uncertain, and you wonder about the immediate and long-term impacts of this event. Like many states, California prosecutes domestic violence crimes aggressively. However, these cases are often much more nuanced and complex than prosecutors make them out to be. Intimate relationships are inherently complicated, and it’s not unheard of for alleged victims of domestic violence to exaggerate or even invent such claims. If law enforcement has arrested you for domestic violence, you should contact a skilled and trusted Los Angeles County criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. It’s essential to recognize that just because you have been arrested does not mean that you will be convicted. There are several defensive strategies your attorney can use to defend your rights, and there are factors that may lead the prosecutor to drop the domestic violence charges altogether. Let’s take a look at some of the potential paths a domestic violence case can take.
How California Law Defines Domestic Violence
First, it’s helpful to understand the legal definition of domestic violence in California. Once an alleged victim accuses a spouse, intimate partner, or household member of domestic violence, the defendant may face a criminal charge under Penal Code § 273.5, which states: “Any person who willfully inflicts corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon a victim…is guilty of a felony.” In such instances, the victim must be one of the following: the offender’s spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, fiance, dating partner, mother, or father. If there are no visible marks or injuries on the victim, someone accused of domestic violence may face charges under Penal Code § 243, which defines the offense as battery committed against a spouse, cohabitant, dating printer, or parent. Both of these charges carry significant consequences, including incarceration, costly fines, and other penalties.
Reasons Why Domestic Violence Charges May Be Dropped
It’s crucial to understand that after the alleged victim reports the offense, the case falls into the hands of the prosecutor. Even if the victim decides they want to drop the charges, the prosecutor may continue to pursue the case. Let’s explore some of the factors that may influence the prosecution’s decision to dismiss domestic violence charges in Los Angeles County.
Lack of Sufficient Evidence
The prosecutor’s responsibility is to present evidence to the court showing that the defendant broke the law. In addition, they must prove that the defendant is guilty of this offense beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning they must present clear and convincing evidence to meet this burden of proof. However, without sufficient evidence, prosecutors will struggle to compile a compelling case against the defendant. In domestic violence cases, prosecutors must prove that the defendant knowingly and willingly touched another person (an intimate partner or household member) in a harmful or offensive manner. If one or more of these elements cannot be supported by evidence, the prosecution may decide to drop the charges.
Lack of Witness Testimony
Most instances of domestic violence occur in private, meaning there are no witnesses to attest to the events that allegedly took place. Most cases come down to the accounts of the victim and the defendant, and it’s up to the prosecution to establish the guilt of the alleged perpetrator. Prosecutors may still move forward with a domestic violence case, even without an independent witness—but they often only do so if there is additional compelling evidence, like new, visible injuries on the alleged victim or signs of fighting or a physical struggle at the scene. Without these other sources of evidence to compensate for the lack of independent witness testimony, prosecutors may decide to drop the charges.
The Victim Makes Inconsistent Statements
In most domestic violence cases, the bulk of the evidence comes from the alleged victim’s account of what transpired. However, their testimony may shift and even contradict itself as the victim recounts it on different occasions. In some cases, the alleged victim’s story does not match their injuries, or they have an established and documented history of making false statements. Prosecutors may decide to drop the charges if they think the victim’s testimony or allegations are inconsistent or doubtful.
Defending Your Future and Freedom
It’s natural to feel anxious and concerned when facing criminal charges. However, before you picture the worst-case scenario, enlist the guidance of a knowledgeable and experienced Los Angeles County criminal defense lawyer to help you defend your rights and protect your freedom. Your attorney will work hard to secure the best possible outcome, given the specifics of your case.
If you are facing domestic violence charges in Los Angeles County, call Wegman & Levin right away at (818) 980-4000 to arrange a free consultation with a skilled and aggressive criminal defense lawyer.