Although many people are arrested for CDV based on false or unfair allegations, many others are arrested after they have in fact been physically abusive toward their spouse or other companion. If you believe that you are actually "guilty as charged" a reasonable question can be what can a criminal defense attorney actually do for you? The answer is that there is a lot, and the services of an attorney can frequently result in obtaining benefits even for clients who believe that they are guilty.
First, it is important to realize that being arrested for domestic violence is not the same as being convicted. You are arrested when the police write you a ticket or serve an arrest warrant on you. Arrests for CDV almost always involve being taken to the County jail and held until you can post bond. A conviction occurs when you later go to Court. You must either plead guilty or no contest to be convicted, or have a trial and have a judge or jury return a verdict of guilty.
The penalties for a CDV conviction are the same whether or not you plead guilty, no contest or are found guilty after a trial. They include the criminal record, and potential for some combination of jail sentence, fine or ordered counseling.
Initially take the same steps in representing a client who advises us that they are guilty as we would otherwise. This includes not pleading guilty at the initial court date, filing discovery motions, and reviewing the available evidence. Sometimes after we review the evidence we find that notwithstanding our client's belief that they are guilty, there are meritorious legal or factual defenses that can help be used to challenge a CDV arrest.
Usually the next event in a case after we have reviewed the evidence is to have a pre-trial conference with the Court and the prosecutor. This can be an opportunity to discuss settlement of the case in ways that can result in not being convicted of CDV. These options might include:
- Entrance into the pre-trial intervention (PTI) program. This program is available for those who have no or only a limited prior criminal record. Defendants do not have to plead "guilty" or "not guilty" to enroll. It is offered on select CDV cases after negotiation with the prosecutor. Completion of the program guarantees a dismissal of the charge along with expungement of the record. To complete PTI requires completion of domestic abuse counseling, passing drug tests and performing community service.
- Having charges reduced: CDV is a serious criminal offense to have on your record. Frequently there are opportunities to plead a domestic violence charge to another offense. This will have the benefit of quickening the time until you are eligible for an expungement and prevent an automatic enhancement for a future CDV charge. Usually plea negotiations include an agreement that instead of jail the sentence will be a nominal fine or completion of a counseling program.
- Developing a strategy that may result in a successful defense of the charge at trial based on legal defenses (illegal search, failure to give Miranda advisements, etc.), or factual defenses (no household member relationship, no witnesses, etc.). Keep in mind that as a criminal defendant no matter what you may have said earlier to law enforcement, at a trial you have an absolute right to remain silent. This means that the prosecutor, police or judge cannot force you to testify or answer any questions.
Every case is different, and frequently after we have had a chance to consider the specific facts of an individual case we have uncovered a way to help someone who at first thought that their case was hopeless.
Our advice to anyone who has been arrested for criminal domestic violence (or any other serious crime), is to be sure to consult with an attorney before going to your first court date. At the Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC, we provide free initial consultations to those who are able to meet with us in our office. At that consultation we will review any potential defense strategies, and provide you with a no obligation quote for what representation will cost.