Throughout the last year, as the country and world have dealt with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, stay-at-home orders and other health precautions have resulted in most Americans spending more time in their homes than ever before. Unfortunately, one of the many side effects of this new normal has been a substantial increase in incidents and allegations of domestic violence, especially between intimate partners. Such allegations can lead to legal complications for all involved, related to both criminal charges and civil court matters involving divorce and child custody.
Both before and during the pandemic, domestic violence has been a serious issue affecting millions of people throughout the United States. However, not all allegations of domestic violence are founded. If you have been accused, arrested, or charged with domestic violence, it is important to know that a Tucson, AZ domestic violence defense attorney can help you understand the nature of the charges you are facing, avoid costly legal mistakes, and protect your rights in pursuit of a fair outcome.
Know the Penalties You Can Face
If you are facing allegations of domestic violence, it is crucial that you understand the stakes of your case, as criminal penalties for offenses related to domestic violence are often severe. However, it is not always easy to determine what those penalties may be. This is in part because, in Arizona and many other states, domestic violence is not a distinct offense, but a term used to describe a variety of offenses when they are committed against a member of one’s household or a person with whom one has a domestic, romantic, or sexual relationship.
For example, in Arizona, domestic violence includes violent crimes such as assault, intimidation, threatening, manslaughter, murder, and negligent homicide, but it can also apply to nonviolent offenses including stalking, criminal trespassing, harassment, and disorderly conduct. The severity of the charges and accompanying penalties depends on the severity of the crime. Lower-level domestic violence offenses are often charged as misdemeanors, with sentences including probation, fines, and jail time. However, repeat offenses and serious crimes can be charged as felonies, with possible sentences including years in prison. A conviction for domestic violence also often comes with a court order to complete domestic violence classes and counseling.
If you are convicted of a domestic violence offense, you will likely face additional consequences beyond the terms of your criminal sentence. For example, you could lose your right to own a firearm or your access to public assistance. A criminal record involving domestic violence can also limit future employment and educational opportunities. Additionally, if you are involved in a divorce or child custody proceeding, a domestic violence conviction could have serious implications on the outcome, especially when it comes to visitation or physical custody of your children. In such cases, it may be beneficial for your criminal defense attorney to work closely with a family law attorney to help you achieve the best possible outcome for all legal matters.
Understand the Implications of an Order of Protection
In addition to the criminal charges you may face for domestic violence allegations, the alleged victim may file a separate proceeding known as an order of protection against you. If granted, the order of protection can prohibit you from committing certain acts that are considered domestic violence, communicating with or attempting to contact the alleged victim, residing in or coming near the home you shared with the alleged victim, or coming to the alleged victim’s school or workplace. You may also be prohibited from possessing a firearm while the order is in effect. An order of protection issued in Arizona can last for up to one year, and the duration is longer in many other states.
An order of protection can present serious difficulties for the defendant. In many cases, they are granted quickly and ex parte, meaning that the defendant does not have the opportunity to present his or her case in a hearing before the order goes into effect. This can be especially challenging if the order grants the alleged victim exclusive possession of the home, as you will likely need to find a new residence on short notice, and you may find yourself separated from other personal property located in the home. An order of protection can also prohibit contact with the alleged victim’s minor children, which means you may be unable to see your kids while the order is in effect.
As the defendant named in an order of protection, you do have the right to request a court hearing to contest the order, and an attorney can help you represent your interests. If you are successful, the order may be modified or dismissed. However, you should be aware that while an order is in effect, it is strictly enforced by the court and local law enforcement, and if you violate the order in any way you may face additional legal penalties beyond what you may already be facing in a pending criminal case.
Work With an Attorney on Your Defense Strategy
When domestic violence allegations have been filed against you, you should consult promptly and closely with an attorney who can help you determine your best course of action. Your attorney can advise you regarding how you should respond to any orders, requests, or questions from the court or law enforcement and avoid any mistakes that could be detrimental to your case.
As your criminal trial approaches, your attorney can work with you on a defense strategy that gives you the best chance of avoiding a conviction and the many consequences that come with it. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to demonstrate that the actions for which you were accused were done in self-defense. Alternatively, it may be possible to present factual evidence and witness testimony to demonstrate that the alleged victim’s claims against you are false or exaggerated.
Even in cases in which it is not possible to avoid conviction, your attorney may be able to help you negotiate for a reduced sentence. For example, you may be able to avoid jail time in favor of probation and domestic violence counseling. In some cases, if you are facing charges of domestic violence with no prior convictions, you may be eligible for a diversion program including counseling and education that, if completed successfully, can result in a dismissal of the charges and avoidance of a conviction on your criminal record.
Domestic violence allegations can upend your life, especially when coupled with a divorce or the risk of losing your relationship with your children. It is important to take allegations seriously, but you do not need to resign yourself to the full extent of the possible consequences. An experienced Pima County criminal defense attorney can provide you with the legal assistance and representation you need to protect your rights and resolve your case in a way that allows you to look forward to a better future.
Michelle Behan is an Honorably Discharged Veteran from the United States Navy, where she served nearly ten years as a Cryptologist. After separating from the Navy, Ms. Behan spent five years as a Special Agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in both South Dakota and Arizona, where she investigated violent crimes on the Indian reservations, crimes against children, and national security crimes.