The Victim Has No Control
Alex De Marco, Domestic Assault Defense Attorney
Domestic assault is probably the second most common crime in Minnesota that carries with it actual consequences, next to DWI. That is because, just like DWI, a person can be arrested for DWI at the scene on virtually no real evidence whatsoever. It is not an exaggeration to say if your significant other or family member says you struck them, or even placed them in fear of being injured, that is absolutely all it takes to be arrested. There are numerous organizations and “battered women shelters” which receive a combination of public and private money, and they have combined with various activist organizations to “crack down” on domestic assault. This has resulted in unintended consequences.
One of those consequences is that, even if the alleged victim does not want to “press charges”, even if she changes her story or admits she lied, the charges do not get dismissed on that statement. Too often our law firm is told “she doesn’t want to press charges so this is an easy win.” Not as easy as you think. The phrase “press charges” is largely the result of television shows, and a different time in law when people actually had some control over what their police force did in their name. It is very true that some victims of domestic abuse do not not report every incident of assault, and face a great deal of psychological pain and distortion if they are in such a relationship. It is fashionable to talk about this as “battered women syndrome” or some similar description. The politics of domestic assault have brought this disorder to light with the best of intentions. For centuries women lived in shadows of submission and abuse with no redress for their pain, and no just punishment for their abuser. Contrary to what is often reported, however, such a “syndrome” is an abrogation from the norm, and is not widespread or common to every or even most victims of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse often causes divorces or separation in a short period of time, and after all it is the natural instinct of any person assaulted to fight back and/or contact authorities after the event. However, the focus on this unique phenomenon, syndromes and disorders that cause victims to languish in silence for years and years, has led to a an erroneous assumption that every person who calls the police and tells one story, and then changes it, is lying because they are terrified of their abuser, or suffer from some “syndrome.” This presumption has resulted in a process that prevents the central function of investigation and prosecution: to seek the truth.
We like to think that once an accusation has been made, someone who has lied or misunderstood a perceived incident can come forth and tell THE TRUTH, and spare the accused the very real consequences of criminal prosecution. Unfortunately, the tactics of many prosecuting authorities, officers, and even non-profit shelters and similar organizations, encourage the alleged victim to stick to her story, no matter what. This has become systemic. A Domestic abuse no-contact order, or “DANCO”, prevents the ability of the 911 caller to have subsequent conversations with the accused which might clarify the circumstances of the incident. An order for protection may do the same. The accused is automatically arrested, preventing any contact with other witnesses or demonstration of evidence proving the alleged victim’s story is not true. From the beginning then, both parties are isolated from one another, and the accused is isolated from everyone, leaving only the accuser free to function and assemble a case, and be influenced by other people.
You’ll often see staff from shelters sitting in court, consulting with the woman afterward, speaking to police and the County. To be clear, these shelters do great work and help and protect thousands of abused women every year, especially when they have no place to live or hide from an aggressive stalker. However, at times, staff from these facilities function as an agent of law enforcement, and in a handful of cases, they shelter and alleged victim from her obligation to tell the truth. It doesn’t help that these incidents are often not black and white, and perhaps the accuser wants separation, but has embellished her story and only qualifies for the benefits of this shelter while she sticks to her story. There may be children involved, and sometimes family attorneys and shelter staff will end up advising the accuser to stick to her story put her in the best position to have custodial advantage.
Perhaps the greatest act of true violence to the truth, however, is when the state threatens their “victim.” Again, we have a justice system that SHOULD encourage the truth. We should not have to wait until a trial with sworn jurors and the accuser under oath to hear the truth. This happens more often then people would like to think. In fact, when push comes to shove, it happens nearly every time. We have personally fielded calls from victims in tears saying they made it up, and that they told the prosecutor, and the case still is not dismissed. We never ever put down our shield and sword, and continue to fight the case through trial.
If you’re charged with domestic assault, the fact is you cannot rely on your accuser to close your case. You need an attorney that understands procedure, investigation, and who will do the witness preparation that the state apparently won’t. The fact is, with a “not guilty” plea, and a trial setting, if your lawyer sends an investigator to speak with the accuser and she recants, the state cannot call her as a witness just to get in her statement to police. That is a rule born out of some complicated case law. That statement CAN be suppressed, and the case can be dismissed on the day of trial, if you hire a lawyer that understands the rules of evidence, and who can secure the necessary information ahead of time.
If you’ve been accused of Domestic Assault, you need to contact a St. Paul & Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer who serves the South Metro such as Apple Valley, Eagan, Lakeville, Burnsville, Woodbury, Farmington, Rosemount, Northfield, and Faribault. Why did the developer just rattle off a bunch of municipalities? Because it creates search engine optimization on Google so you can find this blog post, and I’m the only attorney that’s going to tell you how that works so this blog post doesn’t sound so weird. I want you to reach this blog post because I’m good at domestic assault, I’m tired of doing DWI law, and the public defender has too many cases like this. Just call us. (651) 503-8394.