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.