If you have been accused of domestic violence, this charge comes with additional consequences that simple assault charges do not carry. It is in your best interest to understand how these types of cases are prosecuted so that you can make informed decisions about your own defense.
Here, we provide an overview of what you should know when charged with domestic violence offenses. If you want answers to your specific questions about your case, contact Bryan J. Jones to schedule an appointment. We will listen to you. We will investigate. And we will make sure you get the best defense possible in your unique circumstances.
Understanding the Difference Between Assault & Domestic Violence in Virginia
Assault is not domestic violence, but domestic violence is assault when the alleged victim has a certain statutorily defined relationship with the alleged attacker.
In Virginia, simple assault is
an intentional act by one person that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful or offensive contact.
Virginia Code § 18.2-57 covers assault and battery. These two, however, are not the same thing. Assault is the threat while battery is the actual harm. You do not need to commit a battery to be charged with assault. To be charged with assault, however, the alleged victim must have feared imminent harm.
Domestic violence is a general term used to cover assault and battery between spouses or household members. Domestic assault is defined under Virginia Code § 18.2-57.2 as an incident:
- a current or former spouse or household member; and
- an intentional touching that is committed in a threatening, angry, or vengeful matter with no legal purpose to do so; or
- an intentional act to cause harm and the ability to cause that harm; or
- an intentional act to cause fear of harm and that fear of harm was felt by the intended victim.
Domestic violence can be established even when no harm was committed – all that is required is the intent to cause harm. In Virginia, domestic violence is treated more severely than simple assault. The idea is a simple one: it's harder for an alleged victim to find safety because he or she lives with the alleged offender. Plus, domestic violence charges are usually coupled with protective orders that can impose immediate problems before the suspect has had an opportunity to defend himself or herself.
Understanding What the Prosecutor Must Prove to Render a Conviction
In domestic violence cases, the prosecutor must prove that:
- the alleged offender and alleged victim had a statutorily defined domestic relationship; and
- the alleged victim – at a minimum – feared imminent harm from the alleged offender, meaning the harm would be immediate and that the offender could actually cause the harm.
These two elements may sound easy enough to satisfy, but they are not – at least as far as the second element goes. The first element will be determined by the relationship. For example, are the alleged victim and offender spouses (former or current), family members, roommates, or household members?
The second element is harder to prove. The prosecutor must prove this element, too, beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor will need evidence to satisfy this element, and that evidence will primarily come from the alleged victim, like:
- photos of any harm done
- video of what happened
- testimony of what happened.
If there were any eyewitnesses, then their testimony will also be key to the prosecutor's case.
But as we all know, there are always two sides to the story. Understanding what the prosecutor will admit as evidence will be important when the alleged offender retells what happened fro his or her perspective.
Understanding What the Prosecutor May Admit as Evidence
The evidence will influence the prosecutor's decision to drop the charges or pursue those charged either by offering a plea deal or going to trial. Here's what the prosecutor's evidence may entail.
Alleged Victim's Testimony
The victim's own words will be the most powerful piece of evidence, which can either harm or help your case. Many times the victim was the initial aggressor and many times the alleged victim does not want to pursue charges because the alleged domestic violence incident was no more than an argument that got too heated.
If the case goes to trial, the prosecutor may put the alleged victim on the stand. If that's the case, it will come down to the victim's credibility. During cross-examination, your attorney will ask questions that highlight problems with the victim's testimony or motives why the alleged victim may have falsely accused you of domestic violence. Your attorney will create doubt about the victim's telling of the incident.
If there were any witnesses, like children or another adult person who are either household members or not, their perspective of what happened will be important, too. The police officers responding to the incident are often key witnesses for the prosecutor. They may not be eyewitnesses, but they can account for the statements the victim made, the victim's injuries (if any) and damaged property (if any).
But again, everyone has a version of the story told from their own perspective and biases. Your defense attorney will – during cross-examination – ask questions designed to uncover these biases and identify any holes in the eyewitness account. Your attorney may have your own eyewitnesses testify on your behalf, too, that challenge the State's witness testimony.
Physical evidence is important for the State's case against you. Jurors will find physical evidence more believable than eyewitness testimony because they like objective "facts." The physical evidence that the State may offer as evidence proving your guilt can include:
- torn or bloodied clothes
- destroyed or damaged property
- photographs of the alleged victim's injury
- video – like those taken from a cell phone – of the incident.
As you can imagine, this type of evidence can be very damaging to an alleged offender's defense. But with the help of an experienced defense attorney, different interpretations and alternative explanations can be presented. It will come down to the alleged offender's credibility, too.
Understanding the Potential Outcomes of a Domestic Violence Case in Virginia
There are a number of outcomes that could result in your domestic violence case. Much of it depends on the evidence and your attorney's ability to negotiate and persuade the prosecutor, the judge, or the jury.
When the prosecutor has determined the evidence isn't enough to convict, the prosecutor may drop the charges.
When the prosecutor may think the evidence is there but is questionable, the prosecutor may offer a plea deal to avoid the costs of trial. But for this outcome, the alleged offender must agree to the plea deal – these deals are sometimes in the best interests of the suspect but most times, are not. It is always important to discuss any plea offer with your attorney.
When the prosecutor does not offer a plea deal or when the alleged offender does not accept a plea offer, the case may go to trial. If the jury decides in your favor, then you may be acquitted of all charges.
If the case goes to trial and the jury believes the alleged victim, then you could be found guilty and convicted of domestic violence.
Contact an Experienced Domestic Violence Defense Attorney in Charlottesville, VA
If you have been charged with a domestic violence charge, it is important to seek legal representation immediately because the penalties imposed on you are immediate. Bryan J. Jones, a smart and aggressive domestic violence defense attorney, is committed to his clients' defense and will help you get the best outcome in your case. Contact his office today either online or at (434) 260-7899.