Domestic violence tends to be much more complex than similar criminal offenses due to the relationship between alleged victim and alleged abuser. Because romantic and family relationships can be messy, it is not always clear to outside observers whether they have witnessed domestic violence or simply a heated argument.
That being said, it is not always possible to explain away a misjudgment. Contrary to popular belief, crime victims do not have sole discretion over whether the alleged perpetrators face criminal charges.
When police get involved, prosecutors get to decide
Imagine a scenario in which a husband and wife are having a loud argument in their apartment. It is mostly yelling, but neighbors can also hear items being thrown and broken. One concerned neighbor calls the police to report suspected spousal abuse. Police officers arrive on the scene, see the chaos and arrest the husband. Because he is a man and much larger than his wife, he is presumed to be the abusive spouse.
In reality, the scene was just a heated argument and neither spouse tried to injure the other. But because police were called and the husband was arrested, the prosecutor now gets to make the decisions as to whether he is criminally charged. Despite the wife’s insistence that there was no abuse, the prosecutor may choose to pursue the case anyway.
The rule of thumb is that once police are involved in what appears to be domestic violence, the alleged victim may not be able to have the charges dropped against the alleged abuser. The case can proceed without the help or endorsement of the supposed victim.
A well-meaning policy that can lead to injustice
Why don’t domestic violence victims have the final say in charging decisions? It is largely to prevent victims from being pressured or coerced into dropping the charges against their abusers. It is common for abuse victims to either face threats of additional violence from their abusers or pressure from family members to drop the charges and handle the matter privately. Because so many victims try to recant their testimonies, prosecutors have taken the decision out of their hands to avoid putting them in a situation of further coercion or violence.
This is a well-meaning policy, but it can lead to serious problems in cases where noisy disputes were mistaken for domestic violence. Ironically, it forces both the alleged perpetrator and the alleged victim to defend against the charges.
Find an experienced legal advocate
Allegations of domestic violence are serious, and they can have far-reaching consequences. If you’ve been accused of domestic violence – either by a loved one or police – you cannot afford to face criminal charges on your own. You need the help and advocacy of an experienced criminal defense attorney.