DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASES: IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK

Most people who get charged with crimes in Queens Criminal Court have a reasonably good idea of how much trouble they’re in and try to get the best Queens criminal lawyer they can find — except in domestic violence cases, particularly where there is no serious injury. After all, nobody got seriously hurt, my domestic partner wants to drop the case (she even told this to the arresting officer), she wants me back home with her and the kids, and she’s refusing to sign a complaint against me. I’ll just go see the detective and tell him my side of the story, just like he suggested. If I actually wind up arrested, we’ll get it cleared up as soon as I get to court. If I really have to, I’ll get Joe, my real estate lawyer, to come to court.

Wrong, wrong, really wrong! These cases are not simple to handle and they are not easily settled, except under the district attorney’s strict and often unreasonable terms, which you are likely to regret. Defendants are often separated from their families for lengthy periods of time, forced to endure attending expensive so-called “batterers” programs for 30 or more sessions, and even getting a criminal record that can never be removed. Significant jail sentences are common, especially for repeat offenders. Some attorneys who are not experienced handling domestic violence cases in Queens Criminal Court are surprised to find that their common sense approach does not lead to a satisfactory disposition. Worse still, they often walk out of court with no idea that the disposition they accepted is unnecessarily harsh.

The bottom line is that you should retain the best, most experienced, Queens domestic violence lawyer you can find. It’s also vitally important that you have that lawyer working for you as soon as you even suspect there is a problem. Here are some of the issues that you (and many lawyers) may not be aware of:

QUESTION: I had an argument with my wife that got a little nasty and I left for a short time. Two days later, I got a call from a detective who wants me to come to the precinct tomorrow to straighten things out. He just wants to hear my side of the story. What should I do?

ANSWER: Do not go to the precinct before you consult with your lawyer. The detective does not want to “straighten things out.” He wants to ARREST you and this is the easiest way to get you to the precinct. He does want to hear “your side of the story,” but only for the purpose of getting evidence against you. For instance, “She came home drunk and all I did was push her away when she tried to hit me.” Congratulations. You’ve just admitted you were present and that you pushed her. Your wife may not be available or willing to testify at trial, but you just gave the DA the evidence needed to go forward with the case.

A good lawyer will explain to you why you should never discuss the facts with the police. He will make sure the police do not even question you. The lawyer cannot keep the police from arresting you (see below), but he can arrange for you to surrender at a time and date that will most likely keep you from being kept overnight before seeing the judge.

QUESTION: My wife feels terrible about getting me into trouble. She called the detective and said she wants to drop the charges. I spoke to a lawyer who said he could speak to the detective and get the charges thrown out before I even went to court. Is he correct?

ANSWER: He is definitely not correct. In fact, in my experience, many, if not most, domestic violence complainants regret having their spouse arrested and try to withdraw the charges. The police operate under strict guidelines that give them no room to exercise their own judgment and good common sense, even if they want to. If the victim has the slightest bruise or mark (even though you didn’t cause it), the police have no discretion. They must arrest you. That’s not what they tell you when they ask you to come down, but your experienced Queens criminal lawyer will (or should) know this. Often, the spouse will call the police and tell them she wants to drop the charges. It won’t help. They’ll arrest you anyway. If your spouse speaks to the district attorney representatives before arraignment, they will listen sympathetically and try to draw out statements that will harm you. They will not drop or dismiss the case!

QUESTION: As you predicted, I’ve been arrested and I’m sitting in Central Booking waiting to see the judge. Is it really necessary to get an experienced Queens criminal lawyer to come down for the arraignment? Can’t I just wait and see what happens and then get a lawyer?

ANSWER: If you have no prior criminal record and there are no serious injuries, you’ll probably get released without bail even without a good criminal defense lawyer. You’ll probably have to wait a few extra hours before you see the judge, but that’s not critical. If you don’t care when, if ever, you can go home to your family, you really don’t need an experienced Queens domestic violence attorney at the initial arraignment. However, for most domestic violence cases in Queens, it’s vitally important that you have the best Queens criminal lawyer you can find with you at the arraignment. Here’s why:

1) If you have been arrested on felony charges, the district attorney’s office will attempt to question you while you’re waiting to be arraigned. They’ll even delay your arraignment to try to talk to you, even if you’ve refused to talk to the police. The first thing a good Queens defense attorney experienced in felony domestic violence cases will do is contact the district attorney and direct them not to speak to you. This will keep you from inadvertently damaging your case and will get you before the judge faster. Would your real estate lawyer know to do this?

2) Frequently, the complaining spouse does not want the case to go forward and wants her husband home. She may have been tricked into signing an untrue or distorted statement. Often, the DA’s office will be trying to contact her to sign that statement “for his own good. We just want to help him.” She may want to speak to your attorney if you have one. Your attorney may ask her to come to the arraignment to present the real situation. The DA certainly won’t.

3) Your most immediate concern is that you want to be out of custody NOW and you want to go home to your family. If you are a first-time offender and there are no serious injuries, most defendants are released without bail routinely. For more serious charges and repeat offenders, you need the best, most experienced Queens domestic violence lawyer you can find right now to argue for low bail or release without bail. If bail is set beyond your means at arraignment, it is extremely difficult to get another judge to lower the bail later. You’ll just stay in jail until the case is over.

4) In every domestic violence case in Queens County, the district attorney will request an Order of Protection that will keep you from going home to your family or even talking to your spouse on the telephone. That’s every case, no exceptions, no matter how trivial the case. They will try to keep you from going home at least until the case is settled (on their terms) and often for a year or more after the case is completed. A good Queens domestic violence attorney will fight to convince the judge not to issue a stay-away order, particularly if the spouse is in court and wants you home. This is extremely important. If you can go home, the DA loses the ability to bludgeon you into an unfavorable plea disposition in order to ever get to go home.

5) In most cases, unfortunately, the arraigning judge will go along with the DA and issue an order keeping you away from your family. The judge doesn’t know that much about you or the case, so he plays it safe by issuing the full Order of Protection. All your attorney can do is arrange for you to pick up your personal property with a police officer. At this point, most attorneys who are not experienced domestic violence attorneys in Queens Criminal Court cases make an outrageous mistake. Time after time, new clients come into my office after they have been arraigned and tell me they are not allowed to go home and that their case is next on the calendar in five weeks. FIVE WEEKS! That’s how long before we can even try to get them home. At the arraignment, the DA asked for a court date in five weeks and the court agreed without any argument from the lawyer standing up for the defendant. Please. If you use another lawyer for arraignment, make sure he fights for the earliest court date possible. Most don’t.

The information presented here covers only the very beginning of a Queens domestic violence case. The stakes are very high and you should get the very best, most experienced Queens domestic violence lawyer you can find. You want a lawyer who has handled a large number of Queens domestic violence cases over many years and fights hard for his clients. If you’d like to talk to me about your case without obligation, give me a call. Our fees are fair and reasonable and you’ll be given an exact fee for our representation. We will go to court as many times as necessary to obtain the best possible result in your case and there are never extra fees for “additional appearances.” Whatever you decide to do, make sure you get the very best Queens domestic violence lawyer you can find.

Discover more about domestic violence by contacting The Law Office of Martin D. Kane at (718) 793-5700 .