Domestic violence is a category of violent crime that applies to abuse and disputes that may arise in a familial or relationship context. Since the violence is “domestic,” it often occurs within the confines of the home or private spaces where there are few witnesses and little proof of what actually transpired. For this reason, while domestic violence is a very serious problem throughout the country, it is also an area of criminal law that can produce false accusations and unwarranted criminal charges.
Proving Domestic Violence
Allegations of domestic violence are taken very significantly by law enforcement officers because the problem of domestic violence is endemic throughout our society. Although both men and women can be victims of domestic violence, common public perception typically assumes that men are the abusers in a relationship. Thankfully, in a court of law, public perception is not sufficient to establish that a crime of domestic violence has occurred. Instead, a prosecutor must show that violence against a family member has occurred “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is the burden of proof that is applied to criminal proceedings, and it is often the best defense for an individual who believes that he or she has been falsely accused of domestic violence. If you can show that the prosecutor has not proven the case, or has failed to prove one or more elements of the crime, this will likely result in a not-guilty verdict.
Justia provides a comprehensive 50-state survey on domestic violence restraining orders and other processes, as well as forms and resources for each state.
Other Defenses to Domestic Violence
In addition to arguing that the prosecutor has not proved all the elements of his or her case, individuals accused of domestic violence have several other defenses available to them. In many states, domestic violence statutes apply only to certain relationships between individuals. For instance, they may apply to violence that takes place between a husband and a wife, or two household members. They typically will not apply, however, when violence occurs between two individuals who are mere acquaintances or total strangers. If you are facing allegations of domestic violence for actions that you believe are outside the scope of the statute, this can be a defense to your charges.
Relationship to the Defendant
States differ on which kinds of relationships qualify for protection under their respective domestic violence statutes.
Additionally, you may also contend that the violence did not occur, or that, if it did occur, you were not the perpetrator. In these situations, such defenses often result in a battle of credibility between the victim and perpetrator, where the judge or jury must determine who they believe is telling the truth. As mentioned above, if this prevents the prosecutor from proving the case, it may be enough to protect you from a wrongful conviction. However, if possible, the more evidence you can gather to support your argument that you did not commit the crime, the better.
Finally, an individual charged with domestic violence may also raise the affirmative defense that he or she was acting in self-defense. Since domestic violence incidents are often highly charged emotional situations, it may be difficult to initially determine who the primary aggressor was in a domestic dispute. However, in court you may be able to show that your actions were only taken in response to threats or acts of violence against you. For instance, perhaps you physically restrained a partner who was threatening you with severe harm, or kicked a family member to stop him or her from physically attacking you with a weapon. In these situations, since your actions were taken to protect you from another aggressor and were proportional to the threat you faced, self-defense can be a justification for your acts and may absolve you of liability.