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DV Court Process

Domestic Violence Court Process in Los Angeles

Most people who are arrested and charged with domestic violence (DV) in Los Angeles are first-time offenders who have never been arrested for any crime.

This means they have no experience with the criminal justice system, are unfamiliar with how the court process works, and don't know what to expect.

The criminal court process after a domestic violence arrest is often stressful and has the potential to divide a family. First, it's important to note that Los Angeles police, prosecutors, and the court consider domestic violence a serious issue.

In some domestic violence cases where the victim suffered a serious injury, you could be facing felony charges under California Penal Code 273.5 PC corporal injury to a spouse. Still, most cases are filed as misdemeanors under California Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC domestic battery.

A typical domestic violence case begins with a 911 call for the police to respond to the scene during or after verbal arguments between spouses, people dating, or a cohabitating couple.

Once police arrive, they will separate the couple and question them. Their main goal is to eliminate the risk of further conflict. They will ask about any history of abuse and details of the incident. They will also determine if a crime was committed by looking for visible marks or a claimed injury.

They will also try to elicit incriminating statements. If probable cause exists to believe that domestic violence occurred, then they will make an arrest, which is when the domestic violence criminal court process begins.

If you were arrested for domestic violence, you need to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who is familiar with practical strategies, including prefiling intervention, to avoid the potential filing of charges.

Before a DV Court Arraignment

All domestic violence cases start with an arrest of one or both parties after an incident. Most people must post a bond to get released from custody. For the next steps in the DV process, consider the following quick facts:

  • The case will typically be assigned to a detective from a domestic violence unit, who will review the police arrest report and follow up with an investigation.
  • Police detectives assigned to domestic violence cases will contact the people involved to obtain details of the incident. Any comments you make to the detective can be used to build a strong case against you.
  • After completing their investigation, the detective will make a filing recommendation and send the case to the prosecutor's office to formally file charges.
  • The prosecutor, whether it's the Los Angeles County City Attorney for misdemeanor cases or the Los Angeles District Attorney for felony cases, plays a critical role in determining the severity of the charges and the potential outcomes of the case.

To defend yourself against a domestic violence case, it is crucial to retain a criminal defense lawyer early in the case who might be able to intervene before the case is submitted for filing consideration, called "prefiling intervention."

This means avoiding the formal filing of criminal charges might be possible. It doesn't matter if the alleged victim wants to drop the case. Early intervention can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.

Arraignment for Domestic Violence

In a domestic case, the first court appearance is called the "arraignment." This is where you will be told of the charges against you and will have to enter a plea, which usually means "not guilty." Consider the following:

  • If your domestic violence case is filed as a misdemeanor, the judge will require your initial appearance at arraignment to serve you personally with a protective order.
  • If charged with felony domestic violence, you are required to appear at the arraignment and all future court dates personally.

Your criminal defense lawyer will be provided a copy of the complaint and the police incident report, giving you a clear understanding of the legal process and what to expect.

In California, most domestic violence crimes are "wobblers" that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. If you are charged with a misdemeanor case, the judge will, as noted, typically require you to appear at the arraignment so you can be served with a protective order.

Protective and Restraining Orders

In most domestic violence cases, the prosecutor typically considers the safety of the alleged victim. This means they will frequently request a protective or restraining order that prohibits you from making any contact with the victim while the domestic violence charges are pending. Consider the following quick facts:

  • Even when the victim informs the court they don't want an emergency protective order, the judge will usually issue one at the time of arraignment.
  • The judge might allow a "level one" protective order permitting peaceful contact between couples, but they often order a complete protective order prohibiting contact.

Notably, the judge could amend the protective order allowing contact if the victim tells the court they wish to have contact with you.

Pretrial for Domestic Violence

If you enter a plea of not guilty at the arraignment, the judge will set a later date for a pretrial. Notably, there is often more than one pretrial during your domestic violence case. Consider the following:

  • At pretrial, the district attorney and your criminal defense lawyer will typically exchange discovery and attempt to negotiate and settle the case.
  • If the prosecutor believes the case is weak or the victim doesn't want to cooperate, they will generally consider reducing or dismissing the charges.

If your criminal defense lawyer and prosecutor can't agree on resolving the case, it will be set for a trial date.

Trial for a Domestic Violence

At your trial, the district attorney must be able to prove the domestic violence charges beyond a reasonable doubt. If the alleged victim is uncooperative, they can still proceed with the trial.

Los Angeles Domestic Violence Court Process

They might be able to use the victim's prior statements, but there are limitations. Once the DA and criminal defense lawyer have had the opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses, the jury will deliberate to determine whether you are guilty or not guilty.

Suppose you or a family member has been arrested for a domestic violence offense. In that case, you need to consult with our Los Angeles domestic violence defense lawyers to review the case details.

We have decades of experience defending clients against all types of DV cases, and our early intervention has resulted in charges being reduced or dismissed entirely. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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