Allegations of domestic violence can significantly and negatively impact one's life, both personally and professionally. An arrest may lead to adverse publicity. An arraignment would lead to an entry on one's criminal-record - which will appear in certain background checks no matter what the ultimate result of the case. Many of those arrested and arraigned for domestic violence charges would never have imagined themselves as a defendant in a criminal courtroom. All of those accused should educate themselves on exactly what these situations entail.
For starters, despite the common belief that an alleged victim of domestic violence may simply "drop" the charges, that is not usually the case.
Massachusetts domestic violence laws
Domestic violence refers to a broad range of criminal behavior. According to Massachusetts General Laws, domestic violence is abuse between "family or household members," which includes people who are or were married to each other, are or were living in the same household, are or were related by marriage or blood, are or were in a "substantive dating or engagement relationship," or have a child together.
Massachusetts General Laws also state that abuse can mean one or more of these acts:
- Causing or attempting to cause physical harm
- Placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm
- Causing another by force, threat or duress to engage involuntarily in sexual relations
Like many cities and towns throughout Massachusetts, the Boston Police Domestic Violence Unit adheres to a mandatory arrest policy in domestic violence cases. In Boston, if the police are called to a home about a possible domestic violence incident, they are required to arrest the person they think is more "culpable." This often comes as a shock to the wife or girlfriend who only called the police under the mistaken belief that the police would merely talk to their partner. It also can lead to arrests based upon very scanty information - "he-said, she-said" situations which may result in poor and hasty decision-making by the arresting police officer.
Once a person is arrested and arraigned in court, it is an assistant district attorney - and not the alleged victim - who will decide whether charges will go forward against the alleged perpetrator. For example, if a neighbor hears a loud argument at the house next door and calls the police, the police will arrive seeking to implement their mandatory arrest policy. Once someone is arrested, it often does not matter whether the alleged victim wants to go forward with the case or not. By statute, the alleged victim has the right to make his or her desires known to the prosecutor and the judge; but it is the district attorney that decides the direction of the case. Unless the individuals are married, the district attorney can actually force the alleged victim to testify in trial or risk being found in contempt of court.
Sufficient evidence in a domestic violence case
Assuming that the alleged victim either asserts a marital privilege or is not compelled to testify, the prosecutor will still evaluate the remaining available evidence to determine the viability of a prosecution. 911-call recordings are routinely scrutinized. Statements made by an alleged perpetrator to the police are often used as evidence during a domestic-violence trial. Oftentimes, the police will take photographs of alleged injuries and/or property damage. Medical records are often summoned to court. Importantly, the prosecutor may seek to introduce into evidence statements of the alleged victim as "excited utterances," as a way to avoid having to call the alleged victim as a witness at trial.
An experienced criminal defense attorney understands what the district attorney must prove in a domestic violence case. These cases should be investigated for possible weaknesses and defenses at the earliest possible juncture. Sometimes a good offense is the best defense against these criminal cases. If you are accused of committing domestic violence, you should contact a well-qualified criminal defense attorney to maximize your chances of getting the case dismissed in court.