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A victim of domestic violence should generally try to involve law enforcement at the earliest possible time after an incident, assuming police didn't arrive during the incident. The sooner a victim can file a police report, the higher the likelihood that police will investigate, which increases the chances of a city, or state, district attorney prosecuting the matter criminally.
Most states provide that criminal offenses of varying severity can only be prosecuted within a certain window of time, known as a statute of limitations. Although, in some states, certain serious offenses like rape or muder will not be subject to a statute of limitations. In New York, for example, a domestic violence case could have a statute of limitations ranging from one to three years (depending on the severity of the charges).
While individuals often mimic television and the big screen and insist on "pressing charges," this is a misnomer. Individuals do not file or press charges. Only the state, or government, that is prosecuting the case has the authority to file, or press, criminal charges against a person.
However, in the domestic violence context, and when filing a police report against an individual, officers will sometimes ask a victim if they want to "press charges." While it may sound like the victim holds the power, the actual decision to bring a criminal case is not held by the victim. Officers tend to ask this question in order to find out if the victim will be cooperative with a district attorney. In many situations, even if a victim asks the prosecutor to drop the charges, or even recants their statement, it may not impact a prosecutor's decision to proceed.
In contrast to criminal charges, which a person cannot control whether or not those get filed beyond filing a report with law enforcement, an individual holds the decision on whether to bring a civil suit against an abuser.
Domestic violence victims can sue their abusers for monetary damages, as well as seek out civil restraining orders to keep their abusers away from them.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.