Domestic violence charges
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Domestic violence (DV) charges are unique in the criminal justice system in the sense that law enforcement officers have very little discretion once a 911 call has been made. If a DV call is made, someone will be arrested. It is important to note that once you have been arrested for a domestic violence related charge, the alleged victim is unable to simply have the case “dropped”. The District Attorney assigned to your case is solely responsible for determining how and if your case will go forward. You should also be aware that domestic violence charges are unique in that even misdemeanor convictions could result in a loss of your firearms and hunting rights. That is why is it so important to have a local attorney who is accustomed in dealing with your local prosecutor in all domestic violence cases.
Getting arrested for a domestic violence charge in the Sacramento area is a major event that can have far reaching consequences. The best way to understand a domestic violence arrest is to go through the process chronologically. Please note that these time estimates are the typical time frames for someone who is out of custody. Typically, when the person is not released from custody, these time frames are accelerated and these events move much faster.
Day 1 – Arrest – Once you are arrested you will likely be taken down to the nearest police station. It is unlikely that you will be OR’d (released on your own recognizance) before your first court appearance. If you want to get out of custody, you will have to post a bail bond. You should know that most bail bond agents will give you a 20% discount on your premium if you have an attorney. In serious felony cases, this discount alone makes it worth hiring an attorney.
If you have firearms in your house, the arresting officers WILL remove all the firearms in the house and store them for “safe keeping”. You will be given a yellow piece of paper that is a receipt for the firearms that were taken. DO NOT LOSE THIS PAPER. This paper will be critical in retrieving your firearms once the process is over with.
Days 3-30 – Arraignment- Your arraignment will be about 3-30 days after your arrest. The smaller counties in the greater Sacramento area tend to have faster arraignments than the larger counties. At the arraignment, the judge reads the charges against you and it is the first time your attorney is able to negotiate with the District Attorney. You should know that 90% of cases end up being a simple continuance at the arraignment.
Days 30-180 – Negotiations and more court appearances- This is the time where your attorney will review the discovery from the DA’s office and the witness statements. Typical defense strategies include impeaching the complaining party because they were intoxicated or under the influence at the time, impeaching the complaining party with other witness statements, impeaching the complaining party with their prior domestic violence allegations that were proven to be false and building your self-defense arguments. It is very common in domestic violence situations for both the defendant and the alleged victim to both be under the influence, and both be fighting by the time law enforcement arrives on the scene. The particular facts of your case will ultimately determine your best defense strategy.
Day 180(+) -*Felony cases only*- Preliminary hearing- If you are being charged with domestic violence as a felony, the DA’s office has to prove there is enough evidence to justify a trial. Typically the DA’s office will bring in the officer who arrested you, and possibly the alleged victim to testify at the preliminary hearing. Both the DA and your attorney will have an opportunity to ask the witnesses questions. The standard for a preliminary hearing is much lower than that of a jury trial. Therefore, the practical purpose for the preliminary hearing is to allow a new DA and a new judge to evaluate the case, and hopefully to strike a better plea bargain. If the DA’s case is weak at the preliminary hearing the judge might reduce the charges to a misdemeanor.
Days 180(+) – Trial readiness conferences- If the negations have not resulted in a dismissal or an acceptable plea bargain the case will go to a trial readiness conference. At the TRC your attorney, a new attorney from the DA’s office (usually the one who will handle the trial) and the judge make a last ditch effort to work out a deal. The court does this in an effort to have the county avoid paying for a costly and time consuming trial. Many times the best deals come from the TRC negotiations.
Day 270(+) – Trial – Typical domestic violence trials last about 3-5 days. If you are acquitted, it is all over and you walk free. If the jury is unable to come to a unanimous decision it is up the DA’s office to decide if your case will be retried. Even if you are convicted, you can still “win”. Many times the judge will sentence you to a lower amount of time than was offered by the DA if the judge is convinced that your case has merit.