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Can You Recant Your Domestic Violence Statement?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Jun 17, 2024

To recant, meaning "take back," your domestic violence (DV) statement will not always result in the case being dropped. This is especially true when the district attorney has other evidence of guilt, such as pictures of significant injuries.

Another issue to consider before recanting a domestic violence statement is the possibility of getting charged with giving false statements to police, obstruction of justice, perjury, or contempt of court if you fail to show up at trial to testify.

A better approach for retracting your domestic violence statement to avoid possible prosecution is to convey that you reasonably thought you were telling the truth when you stated to the police.

However, since your emotions have calmed down, you realize that what happened was an accidental injury or that you misinterpreted the situation.

Suppose you decide to tell the district attorney you were lying. In that case, you might be held criminally liable, and they will probably not believe you and decide still to pursue a criminal domestic violence case against your abuser.

You must understand that a prosecutor will typically assume that domestic violence victims recant their initial statements only because the abuser or family is pressuring them. They don't want to suffer the long-term consequences of a conviction. The most common domestic violence charges in California are the following:

Will Charges Be Dropped If You Recant?

One of the most common questions in a California domestic violence case is If an alleged victim recants their statement, will the charges be dropped?

The simple answer is no, not at first. When prosecutors file domestic violence charges, they usually depend on more than just your 911 call, police report, or affidavit you gave them at the scene. In many cases, the DA will have other independent evidence of domestic abuse, such as the following:

  • Pictures or video of your injuries.
  • Pictures of property damages related to the incident.
  • Video surveillance footage
  • Threatening messages via text message, social media, email, etc.
  • Witness statements.
  • Medical records.
  • Medical expert testimony that your injuries were not accidental.

Simply put, suppose you decide not to be a cooperative witness and retract your original domestic violence statement.

In that case, the district attorney might still have a valid, strong case to pursue a domestic violence conviction. However, prosecutors might find it challenging to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury if you contradict your initial story.

Can You Recant Your Domestic Violence Statement?
Recanting your initial domestic violence statement will not always cause the case to be dropped.

Sometimes, just before trial, the prosecutor might be forced to ask the judge to dismiss the DV charge because the victim failed to show up to testify against the defendant.

Also, in cases where the victim's word is against the defendant's (he said, she said) and there is no independent evidence corroborating the victim's accusations, the DA is more likely to drop the case. If your purpose in retracting a statement is to get the charges dropped, you must understand that you might fail.

Prosecutors can determine there is enough independent evidence to proceed with criminal charges, even without a recanting victim's cooperation. Also, you need to know that prosecutors typically expect domestic violence victims to recant their statements.

For example, in a typical case, a domestic violence victim initially cooperates and even gets a restraining or protective order against the abuser. Later, after the abuser contacts the victim, violating a no-contact order, they ask to drop the domestic violence case.

Thus, the victim will contact the prosecutor and provide a new statement. Victims do not have the legal authority to drop charges, but their noncooperation could force the DA to drop the case.

Recanting Domestic Violence Statement - Quick Facts

  • California takes a strong stance against domestic violence (DV).
  • When a victim decides to change their story or retract their statement, it's called "recanting."
  • This can occur at any point in the case and often occurs after the incident in an attempt to get the charges dropped.
  • It's common for those who have reported domestic violence to consider retracting their statements later.
  • Victims sometimes recant their original statements about the incident or significantly change their story.
  • Recanting a statement doesn't always result in dropped charges.
  • It could open alleged victims up to be criminally charged themselves.
  • Prosecuting domestic violence crimes is often complex due to the nature of the relationship between the two parties.
  • Victims are often reluctant to see a loved one arrested and punished.
  • Victims often stop cooperating with police officers at the scene or with prosecutors later in court.
  • The district attorney will use a victim's statements to the police about domestic violence to charge the alleged abuser with a crime.
  • The victim's statements are evidence for the prosecution.
  • If you have reported someone for domestic violence, your statement becomes evidence against the accused.

Why Does DV Victims Recant or Change Their Statement?

Domestic violence victims might attempt to withdraw or change their initial statements for different reasons, such as the following:

  • The victim may fear further abuse or violent acts from the perpetrator if they continue with their statement (retaliation).
  • A close emotional bond between the abuser and the victim can often be a deciding factor.
  • Concerns about the impact on children or the disruption of family life.
  • The victim might still love the abuser and hope they can change, and there is a hope of reconciliation.
  • If the victim is financially reliant on the abuser, they might fear the financial hardship related to legal action.
  • The victim may feel alone, isolated, or unsupported in their decision to pursue domestic violence charges.
  • If the victim distrusts the justice system or fears it may not adequately protect them, they might withdraw their statement.
  • A domestic violence conviction often results in serious penalties for the accused, and they want their partner to avoid these penalties.
  • Sometimes, a partner regrets filing the report afterward when they realize what their partner might be facing.
  • Sometimes, a partner might sign a police statement because they believe the police manipulated them into doing so, and they regret it afterward.

When Is Retracting a Statement Beneficial?

Notably, allegations of domestic violence are taken so seriously. If you recently recanted a domestic violence statement, you will be opening yourself up to scrutiny or suspicion. Generally, the explanation for recanting will be more likely accepted by prosecutors or a judge under the following circumstances:

  • It can be proven you made the allegations by mistake.
  • You were angry and scared and misinterpreted your partner's actions as a threat when that was not their intent.
  • Your injury was an accident, but you believed your partner hurt you on purpose when the incident occurred.
  • You were highly intoxicated, under duress, or otherwise impaired and did not remember the incident clearly.
  • Your partner is indeed innocent of domestic violence, and your statements were made erroneously.

Suppose you can convince the district attorney that your statement was a mistake. In that case, retracting your statement might restore your relationship and save your partner from challenging legal consequences.

What Are the Risks of Retracting a DV Statement?

Suppose you make an allegation of domestic violence only to retract or change it later. In that case, you could be facing significant legal risks. Unless you convince the district attorney that your statement was a legitimate mistake, they will likely believe you're only changing it because you are coerced or lying. In either case, recanting comes with specific risks, such as the following:

  • If domestic violence truly happened, retracting your statement might expose you to continued abuse if the charges are dropped.
  • If your retraction suggests to the DA that you falsely accused your partner, you might face criminal charges of making false statements to the police defined under Vehicle Code 31 VC).
  • If you signed a sworn affidavit or gave testimony under oath, you might face perjury charges (Penal Code 118 PC).
  • If the prosecutor believes you're just trying to get the charges dropped, you might also face obstruction of justice (Penal Code 148 PC).
  • If you are subpoenaed for trial and fail to appear, the court can also hold you in contempt (Penal Code 166 PC), a misdemeanor that carries jail time and a fine.
  • A retracted statement might undermine your credibility in any future domestic violence allegations.
  • If you retract your statement, you could lose protective orders or other legal safeguards that were put in place to ensure your safety.

If police coerced you into confessing to domestic violence, you should seek the officer's body cam footage and any other recordings of the interactions with you.

Since changing or retracting a domestic violence statement involves legal and personal risks, you should consult with a California criminal defense lawyer who can offer guidance and help you create a strategy that is least likely to expose you legally. We can prepare the best domestic violence defenses to give you the chance of a favorable outcome. Contact us for more information. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.