In every facet of criminal defense, we preach to our clients the importance of being proactive; of determining at an early stage what can be done to best ensure a positive outcome and then complete those things as soon as possible. Our advice is certainly no different with respect to Washington domestic violence cases. In fact, it is probably even more important that a person accused of domestic violence be proactive in his or her own defense than with any other type of criminal charge. With that in mind, we have created a “self-help guide” or list of things that anyone who is charged with a DV offense should do. This self-help guide is certainly not a substitute for meeting with a Washington domestic violence lawyer, but it will help you with your initial preparation.
1. Meeting with and hiring a domestic violence lawyer.
The first step anyone accused of domestic violence should complete is to meet with a lawyer who is well versed in the area of domestic violence defense. Either by way of referral or personal research, find a lawyer that you can sit down with for a consultation to help devise an initial defense strategy. In an ideal scenario, you would meet with a least two or three lawyers so as to be able to compare advice and determine which firm will best suit your needs. It will also help you plan for what lies ahead. In determining what individual or firm you would like to hire consider factors such as experience with domestic violence defense, familiarity with the geographic jurisdiction of the case, knowledge of other areas of law that may be important to your case (i.e. family law), and certain past successes and legal fees as well. By taking this initial step at the earliest possible moment you will feel both a sense of relief that you are on the right track and a sense of empowerment that you are not simply sitting back and waiting for things to happen to you.
2. Drafting a report of the events.
Perhaps no other area of criminal defense is as ripe for a “he said, she said” type of case. Very often the only witness in a domestic violence case is the alleged victim. Be assured that the state, through the police, will be helping the victim craft his or her version of the events so as to be sure to cover all of the elements of the offense charged. This statement will also be available to the alleged victim to help assist in refreshing his or her recollection should the memory of the events become stale over a period of time. You should do the same thing. Draft a detailed report of what happened to provide to your lawyer. It will help him prepare your case and it will help you recall exactly what happened months after the incident should your testimony become necessary. Include in it:
- Where were you?
- What time was it?
- Who was present?
- What was the catalyst for the situation?
- How did the police become involved?
- What did you say?
- Did you hear the other party’s statement?
- Were there any witnesses?
- Were children present?
- Was anyone injured?
- Was property damaged?
3. Write a synopsis of your relationship to the other party.
Write about your relationship to the other party. This will not only assist your lawyer in finding possible defenses to your case, it will assist you going forward in prioritizing what is important and setting goals beyond the defense process. Include:
- What is the relationship between the parties?
- How long have you known each other?
- Have there been other arguments?
- Have the police ever been phoned before?
- Do either party have a criminal record?
- Do you anticipate the relationship continuing?
- Are their children involved?
- Are your finances linked?
- Do you live together?
- How do you think the other party is feeling about the situation?
4. Keeping a journal of events going forward, after the initial incident occurs.
Domestic violence defense is the only practice area I have where I offer this advice to a client. This is meant as a way to protect your interests going forward as opposed to assisting with your defense. In no other area of criminal defense law are as many false statements made about a client. That’s because in every other area, once the initial occurrence has passed that is pretty much the end of the conflict. With domestic violence, there is a party who sometimes has a vested interest in seeing you fail. It may be for financial reasons, or to assist with a family law proceeding, or simply just for revenge reasons, often times new allegations are made against the client while the case is pending. Allegations of unwanted contact in violation of a no-contact order, of a new assault, stalking behavior, or of threats being made are common. Now certainly sometimes these allegations are true. That is not the point. You want to be able to protect yourself from the false allegation. Keeping a journal provides exactly that protection.
On a daily basis jot down what you did during the day, where you went, who you were with and the times you did these things. If a false allegation occurs, you will be able to quickly piece together your whereabouts as well as potential witnesses to corroborate your alibi. This simple advice has not only assisted past clients to defend against a false allegation when an alleged victim lies about a new occurrence, the reduced credibility tends to shed doubt on the initial allegation.
5. Have No Contact With The Alleged Victim.
This isn’t so much advice on being proactive as it is about self-preservation. This site is filled with warnings about not violating court orders prohibiting contact with individuals (victims, their family members, witnesses, etc.) That’s because its importance can not be stressed strongly enough. There is almost nothing that can affect the outcome of a domestic violence charge as negatively, and with the likelihood of new criminal charges, as a violation of a no-contact order. Many clients don’t reach us until after the court has issued a protective order. Regardless of whether the alleged victim initiates contact, desires contact or there seems to be a good reason for the contact…don’t have the contact. You are the only one who will be penalized for it as you are the only one who was ordered not to have contact.
6. Begin the Treatment Evaluation Process.
This is not to say that in every case the advice to get a treatment evaluation is the same. Each case must be evaluated on an individual basis. In domestic violence cases, however, there are a number of different types of treatment evaluations that could be ordered at some point in time. Determining what those treatment and evaluation possibilities could be in your case is very important. For example, if the allegation involved the use of drugs or alcohol, a drug and alcohol evaluation might be required. Domestic violence and anger management programs are routinely ordered by the courts in these types of cases, either as a condition of the sentence, a requirement to lifting a no-contact order, or for participation in a Stipulated Order of Continuance (SOC) program. Start to discuss these options with a domestic violence lawyer at your initial consultation. Proper and timely evaluations can help in the negotiation of your case, may tend to minimize your eventual treatment obligation, and can save you time and expense.
The bottom line is that there are several different possible outcomes to a domestic violence charge and several different players that will have an interest in the resolution. The court, prosecutor, victim’s advocate and the alleged victim will all potentially have a say in how your future unfolds. Use this self-help guide and be proactive in your defense in order to give yourself the best chance at success.