In every household there comes a time that an intense verbal argument occurs for a number of reasons: jealousy, financial problems, sibling rivalry, etc. However, sometimes people may physically assault a family member because they cannot control their anger, want to assert control or may have been verbally provoked. In so doing, the aggressor has committed Domestic Violence.
Whenever such serious matters occur, you may think of seeking outside help either by calling the police or by consulting an attorney. It is preferable to discuss the issue with an experienced legal professional first, since you may have trouble handling the legal ramifications that may ensue following the crime’s disclosure.
The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the most important legal aspects of Domestic Abuse, in a simplified and accessible way and to provide a starting point for more specialized study.
1. What is Domestic Violence?
Any person who physically abused a family or household member has committed the crime of Domestic Violence. Domestic assault is a distinctive and more serious case than Assault and Battery -which involves strangers- and is treated accordingly.
2. Domestic assault can be difficult to prove.
The easiest way to identify an abused victim is by looking for signs of assault on the body (scratches, bruises, etc.). In the absence of such evidence, eye witness’s testimonies are valuable, but are not always available. What adds complexity when evidence is inconclusive, is that it can be hard to prove the crime or ascertain who the instigator was (both parties can claim to have been abused or acting in self-defense and the aggressor could deny the charge).
3. The severity of the assault, the victim and the aggressor’s medical history and potential addictions are taken into account for the sentence.
Simply put, an aggressor who slapped his spouse will be punished more leniently, than one who punched and kicked her. If a child was abused the law is more severe. A person with addictions (a drug-user or an alcoholic), or mental disorders may also be required to undertake therapy.
4. If domestic abuse is reported, it can severely disrupt family relations.
Domestic assault is a serious criminal charge, which means that if the authorities find out about the crime, they are obligated to take legal action, whether the victim intents to or not. The state laws of Virginia dictate that the authorities can issue a no-contact (protective) order, effectively prohibiting any form of communication between the aggressor, the victim and the rest of the family.
5. First time offenders can have their case dismissed or may be judged more leniently.
The guilty party can have their sentence dismissed, if they have never committed a crime before. It is also possible that the state offers a plea bargain to the accused. If the abuser admits guilt before the case goes to court, the sentence can be more lenient.
6. The alleged abuser’s and the accuser’s personality and habits play an important role in court.
A person with a toxic and abusive personality, will have a harder time convincing the court about his innocence. On the other hand, the accuser may have an ulterior motive or may be a habitual liar. All of the above aspects come into play when the case is tried.
7. It’s advisable for both parties to avoid contact after the crime has been reported.
Whether you are the accuser or the perpetrator it is preferable to refrain from communicating between each other, as any form of contact could have a detrimental effect to your case, especially if a protective order is in effect.
Domestic Violence can be a complex and challenging crime to handle. Whether you decide to press charges against an abuser, or think you have been wrongfully accused, you should always consult with an experienced criminal law attorney.
For more information on US Domestic Violence laws, visit the FindLaw site.
For an example of how States deal with Domestic Violence you can look at Code of Virginia §18.2-57 and the State’s Attorney General’s site.