If you are a victim of domestic violence you should take immediate action to protect yourself. Your first step should be to call the police to report the violence. The police will take appropriate action and arrest the batterer. Once charges are filed, many courts will assign you a victim’s advocate who will assist your throughout the pending criminal case. At the outset, the Court will, more than likely, condition bond on the offender staying away from the victim, the victim’s residence, school and place of employment. Ultimate resolution of the case will depend upon the circumstances. Courts have the authority to condition probation on the offender staying sober, being assessed for drug and alcohol issues, attending therapy, which can include anger management.
Please note that it is not easy to “dismiss” a domestic violence charge once it is filed. Unfortunately, there is a long history of victims dismissing the charges so that their batterer can return home only to have domestic violence erupt again. Accordingly, prosecutors have become reluctant to dismiss these charges out of concern that the victim will shortly be beaten again. If you insist on testifying contrary to the statements made in the original police report, you may be charged with filing a false police report. Once again, if you are a victim of domestic violence it is important that you call the police and follow through with prosecution.
If you have been charged with domestic violence, you have a right to an attorney as this is a criminal charge that could result in jail time and one will be appointed if you cannot afford one. Before speaking with the police, it is important that you discuss your case with counsel.
Aside from criminal charges, a victim of domestic violence may also seek a Civil Protection Order (CPO). The process for this is very simple. To initiate the CPO, you can go to the Clerk of Court of the Court of Common Pleas in your county. They will provide you with the appropriate paperwork and, if available, a victim’s advocate may be assigned to assist you. This is generally not an attorney. Once the necessary pleadings are completed, you will appear before a Magistrate or Judge who will listen to your testimony. The other party will not be present. If the Court believes that you have been a victim of violence and have a reasonable fear for your safety, they will issue a CPO. This order may also temporarily cover such issues as visitation and support. If you share a home with the batterer, the police will contact that person and see that they leave the residence. They will be required to have no contact with you whatsoever (and this may also cover any children you have if appropriate). This means no contact, including telephone, email and texting.
It is important to note that if you have a CPO filed against you, this is not a criminal charge and you will not be provided with an attorney. A violation of the CPO once issued, however, will result in criminal charges being filed.
When you seek a CPO, the first hearing will be between you and the Court. The Court, however, will set a hearing within ten days to give the person being accused the opportunity to present their side of the case. If there are criminal charges also pending, then this presents a problem as the accused’s defense attorney will likely not want his client to testify at this hearing. Following the hearing, the Court may issue a more permanent CPO which can last as long as five years. The existence of a CPO may affect the right to own firearms, so this issue should be addressed. The Court may also order therapy. As noted above, although a CPO is not a criminal charge, the violation of an existing CPO is a criminal charge.
If you are in the process of a divorce, then another avenue is to request that the Court grant you exclusive occupancy of the marital residence. Courts will generally not order one party out of the home unless there has been violence or severe psychological abuse. If you are contemplating a divorce and have been a victim of violence, you should discuss a motion for exclusive occupancy with your attorney. If you are granted exclusive occupancy of the martial residence, the Court will usually provide temporary support as appropriate. Most Courts will not order spousal or child support as long as the parties are living together. They also will not allocate parenting time if the parties are living together.
If you have been charged with domestic violence, whether by criminal charges or a Civil Protection Order, it is important that you do not simply “plea” if you are not guilty of acts of violence. A second charge of domestic violence will be a felony. Violation of the Civil Protection Order can result in criminal charges. A simple telephone call, or even sending roses, can result in the violation of a CPO. Both a CPO and a criminal conviction for domestic violence have severe consequences and you should retain the services of an attorney before pleading to charges or agreeing to the CPO.