Holiday “Hot Water”?

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Ah, the holidays. Time for merriment, revelry, good food, good times, gratitude, gifts, and family brawls.

Wait, what?!

Most of us don’t consider ourselves vulnerable to episodes of domestic violence. We may have no criminal background and no history of messy fights. And yet, there’s something about the holidays that brings out more than just joy. It also tends to unearth family tensions as we all gather in close quarters.

Combine that with the toxic elements of: a) financial stress that frequently crops up this time of year; b) a few too many spiked egg nogs; or c) tense topics (politics, anyone?) and even the most ardent pacifists among us can find ourselves in a sticky situation.

Domestic violence is an extremely serious topic, and it’s devastating to all parties involved. Incidents of domestic violence tend to spike around the holidays. While, unfortunately, we still see our fair share of “typical” cases involving chronically violent, abusive domestic relationships this time of year, we also see a rise in cases that involve people with no prior history and few concurrent risk factors. In the latter cases, it’s often an argument that got out of hand between family members who get along under normal circumstances. Perhaps it involves a set of siblings, a parent and child, in-laws, or cousins. Talking turns into yelling, which turns into threats, which might turn into a shove or a thrown dinner plate. Fearful onlookers decide to call the police in hopes of breaking up the fight. The goal: Get everyone to cool off and clear their heads so you can all enjoy your pie in peace.

However, the law doesn’t mess around when it comes to domestic violence cases. If the police arrive and determine that a crime has taken place, they are obligated to place someone under arrest. Many people don’t know that the police can’t simply issue a citation or warning and let everyone go on their merry way, even if all parties involved insist that everyone’s fine and no one wants to press charges. There’s a good reason for this policy, because it protects victims who may be genuinely in danger but fearful of speaking up. However, it also lands a whole lot of (normally) law-abiding citizens in seriously hot water.

And what do we mean by “hot water”? Even if the victim doesn’t press charges, the city attorney or prosecutor may do so. Suddenly, you’ve gone from eating ham to facing a felony and a possible prison sentence. At a minimum, you’re probably facing a Domestic Abuse No Contact Order (DANCO). This is an order that prevents any type of contact between perpetrators and victims of domestic violence cases during the pendency of a criminal case. This includes calls, texts, social media, and even intermediaries. While hearings are typically scheduled 30 days apart, you’re likely to spend at least a month without any opportunity to communicate with your relative. If you live together, that means one person must move out. If you have children together, that can make things extraordinarily messy and difficult.

Criminal cases involving domestic violence can drag on for months. And that’s just the court proceedings. The consequences post-sentencing can be catastrophic. Even if you avoid prison time, you’ll face legal fees and the possibility of large fines. You may also face court-ordered stipulations of probation, including intensive anger management or chemical dependency courses — and the cost of those will come out of your pocket.

Many people facing domestic violence charges, especially first-time offenders, might choose self-representation in hopes that their lack of a record and upstanding position within the community will make things “easy.” The truth: Domestic violence cases are never easy. Not for the accused. Certainly not for the victim. These cases tear apart families and destroy lives. With so much at stake, it’s critical to follow proper steps, including a thorough investigation.

A good attorney can identify possible avenues to a favorable resolution. You want someone on your side who can negotiate with the city attorney or prosecutor, painting an accurate picture of you as a person as well as the specifics of the incident. For some people, this means getting a no-contact order lifted. For others, it means getting the charges dropped entirely, with the whole incident wiped from the individual’s record.

Every case is different, but one thing remains consistent: Individuals involved in domestic violence cases need support, and that usually means more than a qualified attorney. Johnson/Turner Legal offers numerous supportive resources within our network, including family therapists, emotional management training, chemical dependency treatment, and—in case the incident breaks open a wider issue—family law attorneys.

No one is immune to an argument getting out of hand. If you’re involved in a domestic violence case, you deserve fair representation. We wish you and your family a happy and safe holiday season.