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If you are criminally charged with domestic violence, or if someone is filing a civil request for a restraining order against you, you must get representation. Do not try to defend yourself without help, and do understand that the consequences are extremely serious.
While the two situations are different -- the criminal case and the civil request for restraint -- they can become intertwined. Let's look at how domestic violence is defined and what to do if you find yourself accused.
Domestic Violence Defined
The US Surgeon General has called domestic violence a primary health concern in this country. It is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another partner.
Most of us know when one person throws a punch at another that it is violence, but we are not necessarily in touch with other aspects of abuse. Domestic violence does not always manifest in physical fights but it can be as dangerous when the abuse is persistent mental or sexual domination that leaves another feeling powerless.
Criminal or Civil Context
If you are criminally accused of domestic violence, you will need an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, you will be appointed a public defender because if you are convicted you could go to jail or prison, depending on the severity of the charge.
Whether you are working with private counsel of your own choosing or an appointed attorney, you must help your attorney prepare for any hearings by being available in advance to discuss the facts of the case, whether you have any witnesses that you might call, and more. You may choose not to testify, but if you and counsel decide that you will, that too takes much preparation.
Similarly, if you are being accused of abuse in a civil context -- that is, not by the state but by another person who is seeking the court's help in keeping you away -- and expected to appear in court, you must prepare. A lawyer can help you by going over the opposition's filings and reviewing the facts with you. Counsel will get you in the right mindset and prepare you in advance of any hearing so that you know what to expect and how to keep cool.
Consulting With Counsel
Whatever the context, it is critical to talk to an attorney when you are accused of abuse. The consequences of a criminal conviction are severe, and civil restraining order violations can turn into criminal domestic violence cases when the terms of the order are not respected. As such, it is absolutely in your best interest to consult with counsel before you attend any abuse hearing and to have representation when you attend.