July 24, 2013

Domestic Battery Arrests in Florida Can Be Based on Very Little But Have Lasting Effects

Domestic battery charges, along with DUI's, are generally the most serious misdemeanor crimes in Florida. That means misdemeanor prosecutors tend to focus the most on domestic violence cases and domestic battery defendants. While DUI arrests have their share of serious problems, there may be no more arbitrary arrest than the domestic battery arrest. This is a problem when the most arbitrary arrest is also the most seriously treated crime in misdemeanor court. Not to diminish the severity of domestic violence, which is a serious problem in this country, but this is how many domestic violence "investigations" proceed.

First, something happens. It may be just an argument with no physical contact, it may be a mutual fight where both parties are equally involved, it may that one party starts it and the other party defends him/herself, it may be that one party starts it and the other party goes overboard and overreacts, or it may be that one side commits a clear domestic battery without any mitigation. In any case, someone calls the police. Usually it is one of the parties, regardless of which one is at fault. Sometimes it is a witness, but these cases normally happen inside the home with no witnesses.

When the police officer shows up, that is when anything can happen. Usually, an arrest happens, but who gets arrested is anyone's guess in many cases. The police officer may side with whomever called the police. The police officer may side with whomever is more cooperative and polite and make an arrest of the person who is angrier or rude to the police. The police officer may just make a quick assessment based on how each party looks and make an arrest based on that. In almost every case, whatever happened is over by the time the police officer arrives so the police officer will not be able to make any observations as to how the incident started, who started it and whether any self defense actions were taken. arresting no one is always an option, but it does not seem like an option the police like to take.

Certainly, the police officer's job is difficult since both parties will likely be angry and shouting at the other, one or both may be impaired and there are often no eyewitnesses around. However, the result is often a very quick judgment based on who knows what and an arrest that is not supported by actual, reliable evidence. The police officer rarely takes the time to check with neighbors to see if anyone saw or heard anything. Once the police officer decides who the "good guy" is and who the "bad guy" is, the investigation is largely over. We rarely see videotaped statements or at least written statements signed by each party. In fact, usually, you get a couple of lines in a police report wrriten by the officer presumably from whomever the police officer decided was the victim, and that version of events is not verified by the alleged victim.

Domestic battery charges are serious in Florida. They can potentially result in months in jail, normally come with probation and lengthy anger managment classes and stay on a person's criminal record forever if the charges are not dropped or reduced. Many of these cases are very weak from an evidentiary standpoint because the police "investigation" is often more assumptions and conclusions than actual facts, corroboration and legwork.

May 26, 2013

Jacksonville, Florida Police Make Domestic Battery Arrests on Word of One Person

While some people consider misdemeanor crimes to be relatively minor, they can be quite serious, both in terms of punishment and the effect it can have on a person's permanent criminal record. As the job market has become more difficult over the years, we have received a lot of calls from people with misdemeanor crimes on their records who did not think much of them at the time but are now having real problems today due to them missing out on job opportunities.

Among the misdemeanor crimes in Florida that are serious, DUI and domestic violence are at the top of the list. DUI's are serious because they can often stay on one's record forever (depending on the disposition), they are expensive and they can result in long driver's license suspensions that can really disrupt a person's life. Domestic battery charges are serious because the punishments can be severe, they often stay on a person's record forever and (like DUI's) future similar arrests can result in felony charges for what would normally be misdemeanor conduct.

As criminal defense lawyers in the Jacksonville area, we handle a lot of domestic battery cases. An alarming number of these arrests and subsequent criminal charges stem merely from one person's word with no objective, corroborating evidence. The police officer often does not take the time to investigate the allegations, talk to both sides, locate witnesses or do anything else to find out if the allegations are true or if there is a defense such as self-defense. Often, the police officer will side with the first, or only, person to call 911 and make assumptions from there. This is particularly problematic in domestic battery cases since the parties are people who normally have a significant history together and the person calling the police may have an incentive to have the other party arrested.

For our part, we do not believe criminal charges, particularly domestic battery charges, should be brought on the basis of the word of the first person to call the police when no further investigation is done and the alleged suspect has an equally plausible story as to what happened. Unfortunately, all too many people in the Jacksonville area do get arrested on such evidence. And if they do not fight the charges, they may get stuck with a domestic battery conviction that stays on their records forever. A domestic battery charge is not a good charge to have on your record forever.

If you have been arrested for domestic battery in the Jacksonville, Florida area and want to better understand your rights and defenses, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

September 16, 2012

Facebook Friend Request Is Considered "Contact" in Domestic Violence Case

In just about all domestic battery cases in the counties in and around Jacksonville, Florida, the judge will place a no contact order on the defendant when he/she is released on bond while the case is pending. Even when the domestic battery case is very weak and looks like it may eventually be dropped, in the early stages of the case the judge does not know much about the case and will put a no contact condition in a defendant's bond out of an abundance of caution. This means that the defendant cannot have any contact with the victim until the case is resolved or the no contact order is specifically lifted by the judge. This can be difficult in many domestic violence cases where the defendant and alleged victim are married, share children and/or live together. Sometimes, the defendant will have contact with the alleged victim because the alleged victim initiates or requests the contact. However, if things go badly and the police become involved, the police officer likely will not care that the alleged victim initiated the contact and arrest the defendant for violating the no contact provision of the bond. The same is true where one person gets a restraining order against another that prohibits any kind of contact.

In a recent case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was arrested for domestic battery, and the judge ordered that he have no contact with the victim when he bonded out on the charge. The defendant never called the victim or saw the victim, but he did send a Facebook friend request to her. The victim contacted the state about the friend request, and the state filed a motion to revoke the defendant's bond based on a violation of the no contact provision of the bond. The judge agreed, and the defendant's bond was revoked and he had to stay in jail while his domestic battery case was pending.

When a judge orders no contact with the victim, whether part of a bond, probation or a restraining order, that typically means no direct or indirect contact of any kind. This will likely include any messages sent by phone or over the internet. A simple message like this one can result in an arrest and a lot of unnecessary time in jail.

August 9, 2012

Police in Jacksonville Make Quick But Critical Decisions in Domestic Battery Cases

As criminal defense lawyers in the Jacksonville, Florida area, we see a lot of domestic battery cases. Although they are usually misdemeanors, they can be very serious charges that stay on a person's criminal record forever. Domestic battery cases are often considered the most serious misdemeanor cases by the prosecutors so they may get more attention than most other misdemeanor cases. The Florida legislature has paid special attention to them by creating a law that says if a person pleads guilty or no contest to a domestic battery charge in Florida, or loses at trial, the record of the domestic battery charge will stay on that person's criminal record forever, even if the judge withheld adjudication in the case. In other words, a person cannot seal or expunge a domestic battery case unless it is completely dropped or the defendant gets a not guilty verdict at trial.

For such a serious charge (which can carry a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail), it is disturbing to see how quickly and often arbitrarily the decision is made to arrest a person for domestic battery. These cases often start when someone makes a call to report some type of domestic disturbance. The police officer usually does not have a lot of specific information about what happened and who did what. When the police police officer arrives, he/she makes observations after the fact and tries to determine what happened based on the statements of two people who may be impaired, upset, excited, biased or otherwise unreliable. Since these incidents usually occur in the home without witnesses, the police officer often does not have an objective third party to help him/her decide who was at fault, if anyone. What usually results is a quick decision about who the bad guy is and who the good guy is based on limited and unreliable evidence. Once the arrest is made, the state does not typically go back. They do what they think is necessary to get a conviction and validate the arrest, no matter how questionable the arrest was.

If you have been arrested for domestic battery in the Jacksonville, Florida area and want to protect your rights, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

October 19, 2010

Domestic Violence Cases Up 10% in Jacksonville, Florida

Most crimes have been on the decline across the country over the last few years. However, domestic violence, or domestic battery, cases have increased by 10% in Jacksonville, Florida according to a recent Jacksonville news article. There is no question that domestic battery is a serious crime. However, domestic battery is also probably the best example of a crime where people often get arrested without justification.

For example, we recently handled a case for a client in Jacksonville where the young woman and her boyfriend got into a heated argument. He grabbed her by the shoulders during the argument. She grabbed his arm at some point. Neither was injured in the slightest. He was scared that she might call the police so he called the police first. Because he called the police first, the young lady was arrested for domestic battery. This was clearly a race to call 911 with the loser getting arrested for a very serious charge. This is not an uncommon situation. In many situations, whoever calls the police and gives his or her story to police can get the other person arrested. The police are often at a disadvantage. They were not present for the incident and often do not have (or do not look for) independent witnesses to question to find out what actually happened. They make an arrest based on incomplete and very biased testimony from someone who is looking to get back at his/her husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc. In many situations, like the example above, no one should be arrested. However, it often seems like the police feel like they need an arrest to justify the trip out to the scene. Fortunately, in the case of our client, we made it clear that our client was arrested in error, and the domestic battery charge was dropped.

As mentioned, domestic battery is a serious crime, and should be treated as such when violence occurs. However, many of these domestic battery arrests are the result of a flawed investigative process and need to be defended vigorously. If you have been arrested for a domestic battery or other domestic violence charge in the Jacksonville, Florida area, feel free to contact us for a free consultation to learn your rights.

August 10, 2009

Will the Police (or the State) Drop My Domestic Battery Case if the Victim Drops the Charges?

Domestic battery is perhaps the most serious misdemeanor crime in Florida and one that the State Attorney's office takes very seriously in the Jacksonville, Florida area. However, many of them turn out to be weak cases for the State and cases where the true facts are far different from what is written in the police report.

The law office of Shorstein & Lasnetski, LLC handles a lot of domestic battery cases in Jacksonville, Florida and the surrounding areas. One question we get quite a bit is if the police and the State can proceed with domestic battery charges when the alleged victim decides she wants to drop the charges. The answer is that the State can charge a defendant with domestic battery and continue with the prosecution when the alleged victim wants to drop the charges. Once the police have been called and made an arrest, the police officer prepares a report and sends the file to the State Attorney's Office. That file will contain the police report and may also contain pictures of injuries and/or witness statements. It is up to the prosecutor, not the alleged victim, whether or not official domestic battery charges will be brought.

However, when the alleged victim wants to drop domestic battery charges, that is still very relevant. When we handle domestic battery and other domestic violence cases, we always try and work with the alleged victim to learn the true facts surrounding what happened and determine if the alleged victim wants to drop the charges. When the alleged victim wants to drop the domestic battery charges, we can use that information and present it, along with other information, in a way that convinces the prosecutor to drop the charges or at least informs the prosecutor that the domestic battery case is not as serious as he/she may have thought from reading the police report and obtain a favorable result for our client.

So, the short answer to the common question is that the police and the State can pursue a domestic battery case even when the alleged victim wants to drop the charges. However, it is almost always helpful to a defendant in a domestic violence case when the alleged victim does want to drop the charges, which is often the case. In that scenario, we can use the alleged victim's intention to drop the charges along with other beneficial information to achieve a good result for the accused in a domestic battery case.

August 7, 2009

Defenses in Domestic Violence Cases in Florida

Police in Jacksonville, Florida and the surrounding counties of Clay County, Nassau County and others make a lot of arrests for domestic battery and similar domestic violence related charges. What often happens is there is some incident, whether it is an argument, a disturbance or an actual physical altercation, and someone calls the police. The police arrive and have to make an assessment of what happened after the fact. It can be a difficult thing to do since one or both of the parties are highly emotional and are not in the right frame of mind to discuss the incident rationally. The police often make quick decisions to arrest someone, often the male, write a report and move on to the next case. The report is often one-sided and paints a picture that appears more serious and incriminating than what actually occurred. The result may be a domestic battery charge against someone that is not warranted.

At Shorstein & Lasnetski, LLC, we analyze a lot of domestic battery cases and the evidence that the police contend supports the charge. There are several ways for criminal defense lawyers, especially those experienced in domestic battery cases, to defend against domestic battery charges. Once the incident is over, the alleged victim usually calms down and decides she does not want to prosecute. If done the right way, this can be an important tool for a defendant in a domestic battery case. Additionally, once the alleged victim calms down, she will often discuss how the actual facts of the incident are different, and less serious, than what was initially reported and what is in the police report. The police do not often conduct a full investigation when they respond to a domestic battery call. If the alleged victim is claiming an injury, the police may not document it with pictures which calls into question the existence or seriousness of the injury. If an altercation allegedly occurred, did the police take pictures of the surrounding area, i.e. the room in the home where it supposedly occurred, to show that something did happen there? If there were any witnesses such as roommates, neighbors or guests that would have seen or heard a disturbance, are there written or recorded statements?

When we investigate domestic battery cases, we always ask these questions and others and often find that a complete investigation was not done. With these holes in the domestic battery case and the alleged victim's intention to drop the charges (or even without this last element), domestic battery cases will often have several good avenues of defense that result in good results for the client.

October 30, 2008

What Does it Mean to Drop Charges in a Domestic Violence Case?

I thought it was a good time to address this question which we get quite often from individuals in and around Jacksonville, Florida about victims and alleged victims trying to drop domestic violence charges against a person who was arrested for, or charged with, a domestic violence related offense. There was a recent article on www.Firstcoastnews.com which referenced a study by the National Institute of Justice that found that incidents of domestic violence increase during difficult financial times. The article noted that money issues were the major cause leading to domestic violence. Clearly, we are going through a period that is bringing significant financial distress upon many families in Jacksonville and throughout the country.

It is not uncommon for some sort of domestic incident to occur, whether it is a heated argument, one person pushing a spouse or significant other or a more violent incident where the police are called and respond to the scene. This is often followed by an arrest and formal charges. It is also quite common for the person who called the police (the victim or alleged victim) to later decide that he/she does not want to pursue the case, i.e. wants to drop the charges. The reality is that the person who called the police or who is an alleged victim or a real victim does not have the authority to drop the charges. He/she can go to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office or local police or the prosecutor's office and ask them to drop the case, but once the police and/or the prosecutor's office get involved, that decision is up to them. The police or prosecutor will likely listen to what the alleged victim has to say, but he/she is not bound by anything that is said. Because of the high number of purported victims who later request to drop domestic violence charges, it is very common, perhaps more likely than not, for the police and prosecutors to pursue a domestic violence case until the very end, including a trial, when the alleged victim is not cooperating. This is particularly true where there is other evidence of domestic violence, such as independent witnesses, statements from either party or a witness and/or visible injuries that are memorialized in photographs or a police report.

This is not to say that the police or prosecutors will never drop a domestic violence case when an alleged victim makes the request. This does happen. However, there is clearly a misconception among people that when a person who claims he/she was the victim of a domestic violence incident later tells the police or the prosecutor that it did not happen or that he/she does not want to pursue the case, that means the case just goes away.

April 23, 2008

Duval County, Florida Domestic Violence Addressed by Attorney General's Office

According to the Florida Attorney General's Office, Duval County (Jacksonville) was one of five counties with the highest rates of domestic violence fatalities in Florida in 2006. As a result, the Florida Attorney General's Office is expanding a pilot program to deal with the increasing domestic violence fatality crime rates. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, reports of domestic violence-related manslaughter or murder were up 17% from 2006 to 2007 in Florida.

The program is called INVEST (Intimate Violence Enhanced Services Team), and it offers prevention and protection services for people considered to be at high risk of suffering a fatal domestic violence attack in Duval County and the other high risk counties. Participants in the program, including the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the Hubbard House, attempt to identify those at high risk of being victims of a domestic violence fatality and make contact with the victim and the suspected offender to prevent the violence from occurring. The program is actually derived from a similar program created in Jacksonville, Florida where, despite the continued high risk, domestic homicides are down an average of 46% in the seven years since the Jacksonville program has been in place.