Domestic Violence and You
Every 15 Seconds, A Woman Is Beaten...
If you are a victim of domestic violence, you are not alone. About one fourth of all homicides and aggravated assaults are committed by one family member against another.
You have a right not to be battered or assaulted. Remember that physical abuse is a crime, even if the person who hurt you is your spouse, partner, boyfriend/girlfriend or otherwise known to you. It is your right to protect yourself from future violent incidents.
This information has been prepared by the District Attorney's Office of San Joaquin County in order to provide you, as a victim of domestic violence, with accurate information as to how your case will be handled. It is our hope that the information provided will answer your questions and relieve some of your fears.
Questions About Domestic Violence
What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence most often takes the form of physical abuse which occurs between spouses, former spouses, people living together in an intimate relationship, parents of a child, or people involved in a dating relationship. It may involve the use of actual physical force, sexual assault and/or property damage. Actual physical injury to a person involved is NOT required. Domestic violence can, and often does, involve verbal threats of physical harm to either the victim and/or close family members.
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Misdemeanor or Felony - What is the Difference?
Generally, felony domestic violence involves a serious injury, or the use of a weapon, or an express intent by the abuser to inflict serious injury on the victim. A case may also be filed as a felony if the abuser has demonstrated a past history of domestic violence, or other serious criminal activity. Most other incidents of domestic violence are filed as misdemeanors. A person convicted of a misdemeanor can be sentenced up to a year in the local jail, while a person convicted of a felony can be sentenced to state prison.
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What is the Domestic Violence Unit?
The Domestic Violence Unit of the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office is a special unit formed to effectively identify, prosecute, and provide counseling services for domestic violence cases occurring within San Joaquin County. The unit consists of specially trained attorneys, paralegals, investigators, victim advocates, and support staff. The unit was formed in an effort to stop the escalation of domestic violence in San Joaquin County. Last year alone, various law enforcement agencies in our county responded to more than 8500 calls involving domestic violence. You are not alone.
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Will charges be files by the District Attorney's Office?
The District Attorney's Office of San Joaquin County recognizes that domestic violence is a serious problem for families in our county. We want to stop the violence. Our goal is to provide some measure of safety for victims along with accountability and counseling for their abusers.
A prosecutor assigned to the Domestic Violence Unit reviews all the evidence and will file charges if there is sufficient evidence to successfully prove the case in court. This evidence may include the following:
- The Police Report which includes all the information gathered during the investigation including your initial statement, as well as statements you may have made to other people such as family members, medical personnel, and other witnesses. There may also be a follow‑up investigation done by a detective from law enforcement.
- Photographs of injuries or property damage which may have been taken by the responding law enforcement officers.
- 911 Telephone Calls reporting your domestic violence incident.
- Medical Reports.
- Criminal history of the abuser, which may include Prior Domestic Violence Reports. If your abuser has a criminal history, including acts of violence against you and/or others, a computer print‑out of these prior incidents will be obtained.
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Will my abuser go to jail?
Our goal is to stop the violence and offer some protection to the victim. Most first‑time misdemeanor domestic violence offenders receive anywhere from no jail time to 15 days in the county jail. The emphasis is placed on having the offender accept responsibility and obtain treatment. For this group of offenders, the court will order them to enroll and complete a batterer’s treatment program. In addition, they are placed on formal probation for three years and ordered not to annoy, harass or strike their victim. If they do not complete the treatment program, disobey the court orders that protect you, or disobey any other terms of probation, the court can sentence them to more time in jail.
If the abuser has prior convictions for domestic violence against you, or if he is currently on probation for a violent crime, the prosecutor will make a request to the court that the defendant serve an amount of time in jail which is appropriate for his record and the crime committed.
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Will I have to testify against my abuser in court?
You will only have to testify in court if you are either ordered by the judge to appear in court to testify in a trial or receive a subpoena from the District Attorney’s Office directing you to appear. However, most domestic violence cases are resolved without having to resort to a jury trial. This is how it works:
- When a criminal complaint has been filed against your abuser, he will be ordered to go to court and enter a plea to the charges against him. This first step is called an arraignment. At the arraignment, the judge will offer the defendant a reduction in his sentence if he takes care of the matter without further court appearances. At this stage, the defendant is given an opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty, there will be no jury trial and you will not be required to testify. If the defendant pleads not guilty, he may be appointed an attorney if he cannot afford one, and another court date will be set for a pretrial conference on the case.
- At the pretrial conference, the defendant will appear with his attorney. By this time, the defendant’s attorney will have had an opportunity to review all of the evidence that the prosecutor will use in court to prove that the defendant committed domestic violence against you. The prosecutor may recommend a particular sentence to the judge in exchange for a guilty plea from the defendant. Generally, the defendant will be given only up to the next court date to decide whether he will take the plea bargain.
- The defense attorney will talk to the defendant and let him know what sentence the prosecutor will recommend to the judge. A majority of defendants in domestic violence cases change their pleas to guilty prior to the jury trial. This occurs because they now see all of the evidence that the prosecutor has gathered against them and how it will be used to convict them. Additionally, they understand that if the case goes to jury trial and they are found guilty by the jury, the prosecutor will recommend a harsher sentence and the judge will most likely follow that recommendation.
- It is important for you to know that if the defendant pleads guilty early in the proceedings, there will be NO trial; you will NOT have to testify; and you will NOT receive a subpoena.
- Even on the day of the trial, the defendant can still change his plea to guilty. This means that even though you receive a subpoena and have to go to court, you will NOT have to testify if your abuser pleads guilty.
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Will there be any court orders to keep the abuser away?
You can request that law enforcement obtain an Emergency Protective Order (EPO) from the on‑call judge when they respond to the scene and there is an immediate and present threat of domestic violence. This order is effective immediately and orders your abuser not to contact you or abuse you. Once a case is filed and if you believe the defendant may harm you in the future, contact the Domestic Violence Unit and request that the prosecutor ask the judge to issue a “Stay Away” Order, This order tells the defendant to stay away from you and not to hurt, threaten, or harass you anymore. If the defendant does not obey the order, he will be told to appear in court again to answer to the judge who made the order. If this happens, the judge can send him back to jail in order to protect you. You should follow-up the judge’s Stay Away Order and the Emergency Protective Order by obtaining a civil Restraining Order. If you need help in obtaining a civil Restraining Order, the Women’s Center and the District Attorney’s Office Victim/Witness Program can assist you. Do not hesitate to call law enforcement if your abuser violates these orders. Persons who violate these orders may be arrested and prosecuted for violations of a court order.
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Will I have the right to an attorney?
No. You do not have to hire an attorney because you are the victim of a crime. When the defendant abused you, a criminal act which violated the laws of the State of California was committed. The prosecutor from the Domestic Violence Unit represents the People of the State of California. The People of the State of California are prosecuting your abuser for violating the law and it was their decision to file the case.
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Can I drop the charges?
No. It is not possible for you to drop the charges because you are not the one who filed the charges. The charges were filed by the District Attorney’s Office after reviewing all of the evidence. It is important for the defendant to understand that the laws of the State of California must be followed. Violent acts against you, or anyone else, have no place in our community. It is also important that your abuser gets help in the form of counseling so that this violence can be stopped.
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My abuser has promised never to be violent with me again. Should I believe this?
No matter how sincere the intention, it is very difficult to stop abuse without counseling. Many abusers grew up in violent homes and were themselves abused. Many witnessed their parents physically hurting one another. Violent behavior may be the only way they know to deal with their relationships. Before the pattern of violence in your relationship can be stopped, your abuser must understand the behavior. This is why the Domestic Violence Unit insists that abusers complete a certified batterer’s treatment program. Alcohol and drugs are frequently present during violence, but the reason the person is abusing you is separate from the reason they drink and abuse drugs. The abuse will continue even though sober unless the abuser deals with the reasons for the violence. If your abuser resists the counseling available, chances are the behavior is not going to change. If this abusive behavior does not change, you are in danger!
Violence in the home also causes a great deal of turmoil for children who feel emotional pain such as guilt, shame, and fear even if they themselves are not physically abused.
Children who witness domestic violence are at risk for serious and long-range effects, including depression and low self esteem, which may affect school performance and success in other areas later in life. Tragically, without a great deal of support and without a stop to the violence they witness, these children are likely to repeat the cycle of violence in their relationships as adults, either as batterers or as victims.
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What Other Help Is Available?