How to Win a Domestic Violence Case
If you are the victim of domestic violence, then you should call the police and report the abuser. If he or she is charged with a crime, then you should prepare to work closely with the police during the investigation. Ultimately, you will need to go into court to testify. By contrast, if you have been charged with domestic violence, then a successful defense will require the help of an attorney. Defendants will need to think about finding evidence that supports their innocence.
Winning a Case as the Victim
Call the police.In order to stop the abuse, you need to seek help from the police. You can call 9-1-1 if you are in the middle of an attack, or you can stop by the police station when the abuser is away from home.
- It is very difficult to report an abuser for domestic violence. About 80-90% of all victims who report domestic violence end up recanting their statements.You may have children together or you may care deeply about the abuser. Also, your family may have a hard time believing that you are being abused.
- Accordingly, many victims find it helpful to plan their escape from the abusive situation in advance. They develop a safety plan, which allows them to identify methods of escape, support networks of friends or family, and signs that the abuse has escalated to a dangerous level.
- For more advice on how to develop a safety plan and how to leave an abuser, see Get Out of an Abusive Relationship. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
Request a protective order.Once you have reported the violence, you should seek a protective order. Also called a “restraining order,” a protective order will prohibit the abuser from doing certain things, such as contacting you or coming within a certain distance of you or your children. You can get a protective order by going to the courthouse in the county where you live.
- Courts now have printed, “fill in the blank” forms for you to use to request a protective order. You can ask the clerk for the form and fill it out. There should be no fee for filing the form.
- A judge can grant a temporary protective order “ex parte,” which means without hearing from the abuser. However, the judge is likely to schedule a hearing at a later date so that the abuser can come into court and challenge your allegations of domestic violence.
Cooperate with the police.The police will investigate your allegations of abuse. If they think the situation warrants it, then they will forward the case to the prosecutor, who will then decide whether or not to bring criminal charges against the abuser. You should cooperate with the police in every way possible. For example, the police may want to come to your home to interview you. Make time to meet with them.
Report violations of the protective order.If the abuser violates the protective order—by contacting you or showing up at your work, for example—then you should immediately call the police. The police will arrest the abuser. You can then contact the court to report the violation.
- For violating a protective order, the abuser could face contempt charges. Civil or criminal contempt can result in heavy fines or even jail time.
Prepare to testify.If the prosecutor decides to bring criminal charges against the abuser, then you should prepare to testify. You will need to prepare emotionally not only for seeing the abuser in court but for the cross-examination you will face from the abuser’s attorney. To help you prepare, remember the following:
- It is normal to be nervous. Some people are nervous simply by having to speak in public. The fact that you will see someone who has hurt you will only increase the nervousness you feel.
- Take as much time as you need to answer questions. When people get nervous, time seems to accelerate. You may feel like the questioning is spinning out of control. If you need to pause, then do so. Don’t apologize for doing so either.
- Ask for a break. If you need to take a ten minute break to collect yourself, then ask for one. Witnesses do this all the time, so you should not feel embarrassed.
- Remember that you are not on trial. The state has not chosen to prosecute you; it is prosecuting the defendant. You can expect the defense attorney to try to shift the focus to your actions and any mistakes you have made in life. To prepare for this, write out a list of anything you are embarrassed by: a drinking problem, an affair, bankruptcy. By confronting these things, you can prepare for them to be brought up at trial.
Attend court.Be sure to dress conservatively and professionally. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry or anything that might draw attention to you. If you are a woman, then a judge will expect to see you in a skirt suit or a pant suit. You could also wear a conservative dress.
- Men should wear a suit (if they have one) or dress pants, a button-up shirt, and a tie.
- The prosecutor should reach out to you and tell you when to arrive at court, where to go, and what to expect during the trial.
Defending Yourself in a Domestic Violence Case
Get a lawyer.If you are charged with domestic violence, then you should get a lawyer as soon as possible. You should certainly have one before you speak to the prosecutor or the police.
- If you have few resources, you can request that the court appoint a public defender. Public defenders will provide competent representation, but you should be aware that they will often be over-worked. Accordingly, you should try to get together as much money as possible to hire your own private lawyer.
- You can find a qualified domestic violence lawyer by visiting your state’s bar association, which should run a referral program. When meeting with a referred attorney, ask about the lawyer’s experience handling domestic violence cases. You want someone experienced in this particular area of law.
Pay bail.You might have been arrested and put in jail. In order to get out, you either need to pay your bail (which is set by the judge) or get a bond. A bond will cost less, typically 10% of the amount of the bail. However, you might have to put up property, such as your house, as collateral. Also whatever bail you post will be refunded if you make all required appearances. You will not be refunded any amount that you put up for a bond.For information on how to get a bail bond, see Arrange Bail at No Cost.
- Once released from prison, you must follow the conditions of your release. This is non-negotiable. The judge will either tell you what you can’t do, or you will be provided instructions in writing. If you violate the conditions of your release, then you can be arrested again.
- Once you are re-arrested, the judge will look at you in a different light. Now you are someone the judge knows has broken the law. Accordingly, your likelihood of ever getting the domestic violence charges dismissed has been greatly reduced.
- For this reason, you also need to observe the terms of any protective order. Don’t give the police a reason to pick you up.
Collect evidence.To win a domestic violence case as a defendant, you need to cast doubt on the alleged victim’s story and credibility. For example, you could argue that you never touched the alleged victim. If you are accused of hitting him or her, then take photographs of your hands as soon as possible. Photographic evidence that shows no bruises, scratches, cuts, or swelling can help prove that the alleged victim is lying.
- You might also want to cast doubt on the alleged victim’s credibility. For example, you could emphasize his or her drinking problems. A problem with alcohol impacts their ability to perceive what was happening during the incident. You could gather drunken text messages from the alleged victim, receipts for alcohol purchases, video of him or her acting drunk, etc.
Find witnesses.Witnesses are key to a domestic violence defense. Particularly helpful are people who observed any incident but don’t know you. Because they are strangers, a judge will view them as unbiased. If you can find witnesses, then take down their personal contact information, such as their phone number and email address.
- You also can take down a witness statement, in which the witness explains what they observed.The witness should sign and date the statement.
Check if the alleged victim will recant.If he or she lied to the police, then they may feel remorse and want to recant. Unfortunately, a recantation will not prevent prosecution. The state could still proceed with the criminal charges against you.However, when the alleged victim refuses to co-operate, then the state has more of an uphill battle getting a conviction.
- You cannot reach out personally to the alleged victim, even if you are not under a protective order. But your lawyer can. If you think the alleged victim will recant their statements to the police, then you should let your lawyer know.Your lawyer can then follow up.
Dress appropriately for court.You might end up going to court a dozen or so times, for various hearings before trial. You always need to look professional. Dress conservatively. Although you do not need to wear a suit, you still should look like you are going to an office.
- For men, this means dress slacks, a dress shirt that buttons up (and that is tucked in), along with a tie. You should also wear nice dress shoes with dark-colored socks.
- Women also need to look conservative. Wear a business suit (skirt or pantsuit is fine) or else pair a nice blouse with dress slacks. You might also wear a very conservative dress, but make sure it is not a cocktail dress or anything that shows your shoulders or back.
- You should also cover tattoos by wearing long sleeves or by applying make-up. Remove facial piercings and loud, colorful jewelry.
Decide if you want to testify.In a criminal prosecution, you have a Fifth Amendment right not to testify against yourself. Whether you testify or not is ultimately up to you; however, you should always listen to your lawyer’s input. There are many factors to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to testify:
- You need to remain calm at all times. The prosecutor would love nothing better than to get you so angry that you snap or explode in rage.Any juror who saw this reaction from you would probably believe you could hit a loved one. For this reason, you need to be honest with yourself. If you can’t control your anger under extreme stress, then you might want to pass on testifying.
- You should also see if other witnesses can testify as to the events in question. In some cases, you are the only source as to what happened between you and the alleged victim. However, sometimes other people observe the incident. If these witnesses can place all relevant facts in front of the jury, then there is less of a need for you to testify.
Testify.If you choose to testify, then make sure to practice with your lawyer before the trial. You should practice on honing your answers, so you don’t give away too much information. On the day of the trial, remember the following:
- Sit tall and keep your voice up. You want to appear confident in what you are saying. If you slouch or whisper, you can come across as shifty.
- Look at the jurors. Be sure to look into their eyes as you answer the questions.
- Don’t rush. No matter how quickly the questions are asked, you should take your time before answering. Think before speaking. Also, don’t guess. If you don’t know the answer to something, say so.
- Respond to the prosecutor in the same manner you talk to your own attorney. Don’t be snarly or short-tempered. Imagine that your own lawyer is asking the prosecutor’s questions.
Appeal, if necessary.If you lose at trial, then you will have the right to appeal. You should ask your lawyer’s advice on whether an appeal is worth it.
QuestionCan the plaintiff make an honest mistake on the restraining order report?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, it's always possible to make mistakes. Make sure that it is corrected as soon as you find a mistake, as it could be serious.Thanks!
QuestionCan an historic case of domestic abuse go to court?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe limit in most countries is 11 years, but extreme cases may be handled despite being from too long ago.Thanks!
- If you are the defendant in a domestic violence case, then you should talk with your lawyer about taking a plea deal. Although pleading out means that you will have to admit your guilt, you might be able to get the guilty plea “held in abeyance.” Under this arrangement, you complete a term of probation and, at the end, the case is dismissed or the charge is reduced.
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