Domestic Violence: Background

Domestic violence is the attack, abuse, or control of another person in a family relationship. It is used to gain control or power over an intimate partner or a family or household member. 

Despite the drop in domestic abuse cases over the years, domestic violence remains a severe problem in the United States. It is one of the most underreported violent crimes in the country.

In this article, you will learn about the definition of domestic violence. It will also discuss the landmark cases in domestic violence and how they have affected police response and state and federal law. Finally, you can also learn about the potential consequences of a domestic violence charge.

Domestic Violence: Definition

Domestic violence cases affect people of various ages, races, genders, and sexual orientations. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, domestic violence is the pattern of abuse in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. The power dynamic usually involves one person asserting control over another. A person uses this abuse pattern to force or maintain control over another. This can happen in many ways. The following are examples of various forms of domestic violence:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Economic abuse

Some offenders even use pets, children, or other family members as leverage to force the victim to do what they want.

Domestic Violence Conviction: History of Police Responses

In 1980 and earlier, police responses to domestic violence crimes rarely treated them seriously. First, the societal norm affected the way officers treated the crime. Back then, couples resolved private matters within the household. Thus, police officers gave low priority to reports of domestic abuse. At worst, cases were not labeled as "real work" by the police force. And felony convictions for domestic violence were almost nonexistent.

Ruth Bunnell Case

Things changed after the highly publicized 1972 Ruth Bunnell case. Bunnell's husband killed her after the police failed to intervene in her domestic violence case. The case stirred a public outcry. The city of San Jose, California, faced a lawsuit over Bunnell's wrongful death. An appellate court dismissed the case. Despite the unfavorable ruling by the court, the issue gained much-needed publicity.

'Thurman Law'

In 1985, the landmark case of Tracy Thurman built on that momentum. Thurman had been subjected to repeated beatings by her abusive spouse. Yet law enforcement officers ignored her reports of domestic abuse.

Thurman suffered serious physical injuries from the abuse. She sued the police department of Torrington, Connecticut, for damages. The case inspired the state's Family Violence Prevention and Response Act of 1986, otherwise known as the Thurman Law. The act requires law enforcement officers to conduct an arrest when they encounter domestic violence cases.

Maria Macias' Case: The Touchstone of VAWA

In 2000, another disturbing case out of Sonoma County, California, shined a light on the problem of domestic violence. Maria Macias was killed by her former spouse. Before the incident, Macias made at least 22 calls to the sheriff's department. She begged for protection against her abusive husband.

For years, Macias sought a restraining order against her abuser. She reported the threats, beatings, sexual assault, and stalking to police. Despite the abusive husband's criminal record, he was never arrested or cited. Macias' murder became a landmark case in implementing the Violence Against Women Act. That federal law, passed in 1994, prioritized prosecution of sexual violence and domestic abuse. Among other things, it also created the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Consequences of Domestic Violence Conviction

Domestic violence charges or convictions are more likely in the aftermath of these and other landmark cases. A domestic assault conviction can have a huge impact on your life. Your career, among other aspects of your life, could take a big hit. Most employers run a criminal background check when you apply for a job, and expungement is almost impossible.

The legal consequences that come with a criminal conviction for domestic violence may be significant. If domestic violence is considered a misdemeanor conviction in your state, the penalty can be jail time of up to one year. The fine ranges from $2,500 to $5,000, depending on the state. Meanwhile, if the offense is considered a felony, you could face 5-10 years in prison and a fine of $10,000 to $50,000. Some states also prohibit people convicted of certain domestic violence offenses from owning firearms.

Note that the penalties may vary depending on your state law. In addition, various factors come into play when assessing domestic violence cases. Thus, it is best to talk to a criminal defense attorney in your area to understand the matter better.

How to Find Help

Authorities take domestic violence charges more seriously than they once did. Yet a protection order or domestic violence charge is only possible when police officers receive reports or the victim of the abuse requests the issuance of a protective order.

In many cases, domestic violence victims are afraid to file criminal charges because of fear about how a criminal history will affect the offender — on whose income the victim may rely. They may also have concerns about their reputation or relationship and how the court proceedings will affect them.

The good news is that there are alternatives to involving police officers. Among these is talking to a family law attorney. A conversation with a lawyer is entirely confidential. It can be held somewhere the victim feels at ease, rather than a police station. Many attorneys offer consultations by phone or video in addition to in-person meetings in their offices.

Law enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations that address this issue are also available. In addition, government organizations and social services providers may offer health care and shelter to victims of domestic abuse.

You Don't Have to Go Through This Alone

Most people are unaware of the state laws that apply to this criminal offense or the services that may be provided to victims and their family members. That can impede their access to criminal justice. However, you do not have to compromise your safety, mental health, or well-being to seek help from the court. Meeting an attorney will help you understand state and federal laws that apply to your case.

An attorney can provide options for your situation. For instance, you can seek a domestic violence conviction or other misdemeanor charges against the perpetrator. A family law attorney will also help you better understand your rights.

You don't have to go through this alone. You do not have to suffer in silence. Speak with a family law attorney today.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Victims of domestic violence can press charges against their abuser
  • The ability or requirements to press charges varies in each state
  • Contacting a family law attorney or advocacy groups for advice is essential

Some attorneys represent victims of domestic violence. Others defend the rights of those accused of domestic abuse or other related crimes. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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