We have received several calls lately from folks who have been charged with Domestic Violence. The problem is that these individuals already entered guilty pleas in their case, thinking that it was “no big deal.”
Domestic Violence is a serious issue in our society. But there are many instances that should never have been brought to court. In these cases, there is often an argument between co-habitants. Maybe the situation escalated to shouting and even slight contact (but no punches or hitting). Sometimes neighbors hear the argument and call the police just to be safe. Once the police arrive, they are forced to act on their “preferred arrest policy.” This means that someone will be arrested and taken to jail, even if there is little or no evidence of a fight. In many cases, the so-called “victim” doesn’t want to pursue the case at all.
Thinking that this is no big deal, the person charged simply pleads guilty without ever consulting with an attorney. Here is where the problems really begin. The prosecutor’s office staff tells the “victim” that the person probably won’t go to jail. There will probation and counseling for anger issues. Then the person just pleads guilty thinking it’s no big deal.
What they don’t realize is that even if there is no jail sentence, the other requirements can be ominous. The court will place the person on probation and order an assessment for anger management or domestic violence counseling with a recognized facility that works regularly with the court. We have never had a client undergo an assessment and NOT need counseling. In other words, everyone who is assessed is likely to “need” counseling. These counseling programs often last 26 weeks. They require weekly group sessions. The defendant has to pay for the counseling, which can be costly. The counseling program reports directly to the probation department. We have seen probation violations when someone misses just one session. Then the person faces a potential jail sentence based on a probation revocation proceeding.
This is not to say that these programs are not a valuable part of the system. But we must go in with our eyes open and fully understand the requirements, costs, and potential consequences. In many cases, we are able to find viable alternatives. Not everyone has to plead guilty and face these consequences. We routinely work with private providers who can meet and counsel a person. Through negotiations with the prosecutor, this alternative is often sufficient to satisfy the court that the relevant issues are being addressed.
But this has to happen before a person enters a guilty plea. It is imperative that people retain competent lawyers as soon as possible. Then the case can be handled properly from the beginning.
Back to the original scenario, the person who contacts us after pleading guilty has a difficult hurdle to overcome. They are already on probation, already required to do the counseling, and may even be facing probation violation proceedings. Our options are limited. We can try to modify the sentence or modify the terms of probation. Sometimes the only option is to try to withdraw the guilty plea and start over. This is not automatic, and there are specific legal standards that govern the process. In short, courts like finality. And starting over is frowned upon.
There are other long term consequences to a domestic violence conviction. Such a charge can never be expunged or sealed. And it will prevent other unrelated charges from being expunged or sealed. A domestic violence conviction can preclude someone from possessing a firearm under the Brady Bill. Sportsmen routinely call us to ask whether they can carry a rifle or shotgun during hunting season. If they have a domestic violence conviction, the answer is no. People can be precluded from certain professions, such as daycare, law enforcement, military, and teaching. We have even helped individuals who lost their non-teaching jobs in within a school system.
The moral of the story is to contact a href="http://www.yp-lawyers.com/" target="_blank"> criminal defense lawyer as soon as the case begins. We often receive calls before the police arrive at the scene (or shortly after). Even when the case seems like “no big deal,” it can turn out to be a long term nightmare.
Posted in Criminal Law