Recently, I have been dealing with more and more domestic violence cases. If you read my last blog about how easy it is to file charges against someone, you will understand why there is such a large volume of domestic cases. Domestic violence is a widespread and critical problem. Legitimate victims need the time and attention of the criminal justice system. They are being deprived of that by the large number of false accusations being filed by angry and emotional individuals at the commissioners' office.
While I understand the importance of legitimate victims seeking justice, as a criminal lawyer I more often find myself working very hard to defend and protect individuals against false accusations from an angry ex. Most of these individuals have never had any contact with the criminal justice system and are understandably terrified. I put every effort into resolving the case so that my client can walk away with a clean record....whether it be convincing the state to dismiss the charges, or taking it to trial.
Either way, it all begins with one person deciding to go to the commissioner's office and file criminal charges. There may or may not have been an actual crime committed. However, one common theme seems to run throughout all of these cases - inflammatory statements. The person filing is emotional and upset and seems to think that "if I convince the court that he/she is a terrible person, a harsher punishment will result."
These inflammatory statements are almost always 100% irrelevant as to whether there was a crime committed. I have accusations such as: he has a history of abusing drugs, he previously broke my jaw bone, he was violent with his last girlfriend, etc. And please disregard my usage of gender because I have seen these allegations from both men and women alike.
In some cases, the person filing charges may or may not even be the real victim. They are just the one that was angry enough to try to get the other person sent to jail. Either way, if charges are filed, the person who is accused of committing a crime is now a "defendant" and needs to hire a competent criminal defense attorney to compile a defense. That involves not only time and money, but more importantly the stress of having to go to court and face the allegations.
Here is the main problem with this system: the real victims of domestic violence get lost in the mix. Domestic violence is a very serious issue. Victims require the appropriate attention and protections of the criminal justice system. However, because of the ease of filing charges and the volume of cases, it is difficult to distinguish the legitimate claims from the false claims. The people filing false accusations are doing a grave disservice to the individuals that have legitimate claims and need protection.
Based on all of my experience in dealing with these cases, a better screening system needs to be put in place. There should be a difference in how cases are handled. For example, when there is an allegation of a real threat, it should absolutely be taken with all seriousness and every resource should be used to ensure the victim will remain safe. Compare this to an allegation that someone was the victim of telephone harassment, when the evidence shows fewer than 5 calls were made on one day and one day alone. Should that person have a warrant for their arrest issued and sit in jail for those phone calls? I suppose it depends on the context of the calls and the reasonable likelihood of the person calling causing any harm.