Los Angeles Domestic Violence Lawyer
At the Law Offices of Hart J. Levin, our trained Los Angeles domestic violence defense attorneys, and former prosecutors, know exactly how to intervene and in many cases prevent charges from being filed. In fact, we are able to prevent a conviction in 90% percent of our domestic violence cases when we are hired immediately after the arrest. We do this by contacting law enforcement and witnesses immediately in what we call “pre-filing-intervention” – meaning we attempt to fix the issue before the case is filed by the prosecutors. Regardless of the stage of your case, our attorneys know the Los Angeles justice system and how domestic violence disputes should be handled.
Why Should I Speak to a Domestic Violence Attorney?
If you or a loved one is facing a charge for domestic violence, this is the type of crime that must be handled immediately in order to avoid charges and a conviction. Without intervening, the district attorney will make their filing decision based only on what is in the police reports, which can be very one-sided and exaggerated to make the accused person look much worse. If we can intervene quickly and show the detectives and the prosecutors a more full picture of what happened and reasons not to file the case BEFORE they file the case, we are often successful at preventing a conviction or having charges filed. Once a case is filed by the DA, it is much more difficult to have the charges dropped since the DA is not going to want to dismiss a case that is already filed, even with an uncooperative accuser, since it is against their office policy to dismiss domestic violence cases.
Domestic violence cases are the opposite of “innocent until proven guilty.” Instead, the officers make a split second decision as to which person is more at fault and immediately arrest them and remove their civil liberties before a judge can review the case.
The Domestic Violence Lawyers at Hart J. Levin
As a former Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney, I have a unique insight into the policies in place to handle “DV” cases throughout Los Angeles County and the state of California. The District Attorney’s office in Los Angeles has a specific policy to pursue domestic violence cases even when the victim wants the case dropped. That can have huge consequences because once someone makes a report against another person for domestic violence, if they later change their mind, or decide that the story they told police was not entirely accurate, the police and DA are obligated to pursue the case, even when the victim demands them to “drop the charges.” The idea of “dropping charges” in DV cases does not apply to local prosecutors and judges. They have decided that it is in the public interest to prosecute these cases even without a willing participant victim witness.
The main reason for this of course is that domestic violence in the home is considered to be extremely volatile and dangerous as emotions run high and the potential for one person to seriously harm the other person increases dramatically. Domestic violence incidents all too often result in the death of one party due to a heated dispute where tempers flare and violence begins. Much of the LA District Attorney’s Office policy on domestic violence arrests comes from the OJ Simpson saga, in which Nicole Brown Simpson was repeatedly the victim of spousal abuse and authorities were unable to protect her, and believe that her death was the direct result of a domestic dispute with OJ Simpson. There are many pictures of Nicole Brown Simpson’s face covered with bruises and cuts after disputes in the home, and experts believe the violence continued to escalate until it ultimately led to the murders of Nicole and Ron Goldman.
The policy of the LA DA and local law enforcement is clear. When someone makes a call to the police stating that there is violence in the home, when the police respond, one party must be arrested. This is incredibly important to understand as one person can easily get another arrested with a simple phone call, without any evidence to back it up.
Understanding Domestic Violence Cases in Los Angeles
Los Angeles domestic violence is much more common than you may think. There are many different terms for domestic violence in California, including spousal battery, corporal injury on a spouse and even child abuse.
Domestic violence refers to crimes of violence or threats from one family member to another, or one romantic partner to another. Both Los Angeles and the entire state of California are extremely aggressive in prosecuting domestic violence crimes. And there is good reason for that, there are over ten thousand domestic violence arrests in CA each year. Law enforcement and prosecutors share a common goal – to prevent crimes of domestic violence from escalating to more deadly crimes, including murder.
When LA Police Arrive in Response to Domestic Violence Calls
When one or both parties in the dispute calls 911 for assistance, either because they genuinely need help or because they want to scare the other party from further action, law enforcement is required to respond to the scene. When they respond to the location, they separate both parties and take separate statements. This is so that a couple cannot coordinate their stories or one person can’t intimidate another person to not give a statement. After the police obtain the statements, they will determine which person they believe is most at fault, and place them under arrest immediately. They will then be taken to the local jail where they will wait up to several days to see a judge, unless they can afford to bail out. Typical bail on a domestic violence case is $50,000. Upon an arrest for domestic violence, officers typically recommend a felony charge be filed and suggest the $50,000 bail amount. Keep in mind, all of these steps can be taken even if there is no physical evidence to prove that there was unlawful touching. The mere statement from one person to the police that they were harmed or threatened is enough to cause the arrest and detention of another party until they can afford to bail out of jail or see a judge in court.
The police are forced to always take one person into custody out of the fear that if they leave both people in the home together after a fight, the violence will start again and could result in one or both people being killed.
Domestic violence calls are treated as an urgent matter by police and in fact are the number one cause of police officer fatalities on the job. This is because when they respond to the scene of a domestic dispute, tempers are flaring, people aren’t always rational, and they may fear that their lives are over or their spouse is leaving and there is no reason to live. This is especially dangerous when there are weapons like handguns in the home.
What Happens After an Arrest is Made?
The issue with domestic violence calls is that once they are made, they trigger a cascade of events that are very difficult to stop. The criminal justice system intervenes and does not easily overlook violence in the home, even when both the victim and the accused want the case dropped.
In most domestic violence arrests in Los Angeles, once the person (more often the male) is arrested, the spouse may feel guilty about causing them to be arrested, incarcerated, and possibly losing their job. They often beg the police to release their spouse or say that they lied when they initially called the police, in an effort to get the case thrown out. This is what is known as the “recanting witness,” something that police officers, prosecutors and judges anticipate in nearly every domestic violence case. Plain and simple – in most DV cases in LA, the victim does not want to testify and wants the charges dropped. There are other reasons why the victim may want the case dropped – they may fear retaliation when the accused is released, or they may feel that the main provider in the household is at risk of losing their job and their livelihood may be at risk.
After the person is arrested for DV, the police write a police report including everything that each person told them. It is often recorded as well on bodycam video recorders. The police then submit the reports to the DA’s office to formally file charges. It is ultimately up to the DA whether to file charges, and if so, as a felony or misdemeanor or not at all. If the arrest occurred in an incorporated area (a city), if the injuries are minor the DA will typically refer the case to the LA City Attorney’s Office to file the case as a misdemeanor. If there are more significant injuries, then the DA will keep the case and file it as a felony. The most common domestic violence charge is PC 273.5, which is a wobbler, meaning it can be filed as either a felony or a misdemeanor.
Domestic Violence Convictions
A common concern with calling the police about a domestic dispute is that the government and courts now get involved into someone’s personal life including intimate details they typically do not want to share. Prosecutors will try to force a victim to testify in court, even when they beg not to testify or say they lied from the beginning. Prosecutors are trained to anticipate a reluctant victim witness and have a special technique they use to question reluctant victims on the witness stand, known as “greening the witness.”
In other words, once the case is in the system, it is much more difficult to resolve since the prosecutor will aggressively seek a conviction, even for the slightest of offenses. Domestic violence has many different levels of severity, and on the lighter side is something known as spousal battery (Penal Code 243(e)1, otherwise known as harmful or offensive touching. That means that pushing someone, pulling their hair, or any other act that can be deemed “offensive” is enough to trigger an arrest. Injuries are not required. Visual proof is not needed. Therefore, the mere allegation that one person grabbed another, with no other physical evidence or visual proof, is enough to support a conviction for this charge.
A conviction of this charge typically carries stiff penalties including:
Up to 1 year in the county jail
3 or more years of probation
A year of domestic violence counseling and classes
A restraining order preventing one person from coming back in the home
Community service, labor, fines, and much more.
More severe allegations of domestic violence carry potential sentences up to many years in state prison and even a felony strike offense, making it potentially a life in prison offense if the injuries support a conviction of domestic violence with “great bodily injury.”
Mere threats themselves can be considered a form of unlawful abuse in the home, and are often referred to as “criminal threats” or “terrorist threats,” even though they are not related to terrorism. Penal Code section 422 deals with such threats and is a wobbler, meaning a threat can be treated as a felony or a misdemeanor by the criminal justice system. An arrest on a criminal threat allegation is especially challenging to defend since there will be no physical evidence (bruises, etc) to prove that it happened or did not happen, only one person’s word against another, in the typical “he-said-she-said” scenario. The threat can be deemed unlawful even if it was not meant in a serious manner. In the heat of passion people may say outrageous things like “I’ll kill you” when in fact they don’t actually mean that, but are venting their anger. This still constitutes a criminal threat that can bring about an arrest by police and a restraining order by the courts, preventing one party from going back to their home, until the case is resolved.
This is why it is critical to act quickly when one is arrested for, or under suspicion of, domestic violence charges. Letting the courts decide the appropriate punishment is the worst possible resolution as they take a one dimensional approach to the situation, make assumptions as to who is the victim and who is the abuser, and seek to punish the accused as a domestic batterer who needs to learn a tough lesson. To be clear, there is no sympathy given by the courts, judges and prosecutors to those accused of domestic violence.
Call the Los Angeles Domestic Violence Lawyers at Hart Levin
If you or a loved one are facing possible charges or an arrest for a domestic dispute, we are here to help. Call anytime for a free consultation and we will advise you of your rights and the best course of action to help.