NOTICE: The information presented below is not legal advice. Specific legal questions should be addressed to your local law enforcement agency, local prosecuting attorney, or victim service provider.

 

 


 

Domestic Violence And The Law

No one has the right to abuse you. The following is a brief overview of the law in Ohio and how it can protect you and your children from being hurt.

The law says that just about anything an abuser does to hurt or threaten to hurt you or your children is illegal and must be stopped. This includes everything from hitting, slapping, or kicking you to coming at you with a weapon or threatening to hurt or kill you or your children. The law specifically defines domestic violence as one of three things:

  1. Physical abuse;
  2. Threats that put you in fear of immediate and serious harm (this means that you were fearful that the harm would occur right now—not tonight, tomorrow, or next week);
  3. Any act with respect to a child that would result in that child being abused.

Domestic violence is not a means of obtaining temporary custody unless there is some actual violence or threat of immediate violence to you or the children. A threat to "take the kids," name-calling, arguing that involves no violence or threat of violence are not sufficient grounds for temporary custody due to domestic violence. Furthermore, domestic violence is not a means of obtaining a quick cheap divorce.

You don't have to be married to the abuser to obtain legal protection. The law applies to any household or family member. Household or family member is defined as: a spouse, an ex-spouse, a parent or child, a step-parent or step-child, other persons related to the abuser who reside in the home or have resided in the home with the abuser in the last 5 years including: boyfriends, girlfriends, or their children who are living together in the last 5 years, and those who have children in common even when they have never lived together or paternity has not been established. In Ohio, the law also protects same-sex partners.

Danger often increases once a marriage or relationship ends. This is often the time when legal protection is most needed for your safety. You have basically two legal options when domestic violence has occurred: criminal charges and/or civil remedies.

The Criminal Option

Potential benefits of criminal charges include: a temporary protection order mandating that the abuser stay away from you and your children throughout the criminal proceedings, possible fine and/or jail time for the abuser, court-ordered treatment/counseling for the abuser, and possible probation for the abuser.

If you choose to file a criminal charge, you will need to contact the prosecutor's office in your county—a local domestic violence hotline can give you this number. You do not need an attorney to file criminal charges. A criminal charge is the STATE-vs.-the abuser, not you-vs.-the abuser, but you will be the key witness for the state. This means that the state is holding the abuser accountable for the violence.

Once you file a criminal charge and the prosecutor accepts it, the case belongs to the state. Therefore, only the state can make the decision to drop the case at any point. Even if you later want to drop the criminal charge, the state may not allow you to do this because it is the state's case and the state's decision.

Prosecutor's offices around the state vary greatly: some have "no-drop policies," and some will drop charges at the victim's request. A trained advocate in your area should know the philosophy of your prosecutor and may be available to help you through this process and to provide moral support. Contact your local domestic violence hotline for assistance.

Procedures in criminal case may be very slow as prosecutors and police officers gather evidence for the case. An advocate can offer invaluable support at this time.

Remember that the criminal protection order lasts only until the case is resolved. This means that you could lose your protection and not know it (if the case is settled in a plea bargain, for example). Your advocate can be a valuable resource and may be able to keep you informed about the case. Still, to ensure your protection, it is often wise to consider civil action as well.

The Civil Option

If you choose to pursue civil action as a victim of domestic violence, you can receive a protection order mandating the abuser to stay away from you and your children for up to five years. Through this protection order (if granted), you may receive: use of the residence (the abuser may be evicted even if the home is in the abuser's name), temporary custody of the child(ren) with visitation arrangements, court-ordered treatment or counseling for the abuser, alimony/child support, division of household items, and/or use of a car.

Unlike criminal charges, you may dismiss a civil petition at any time for personal reasons. A domestic violence advocate may be available to help you understand your local civil court and offer moral support.

No matter what you choose to do, remember that a protection order obtained either through criminal or civil court is a piece of paper. It does give you back some control because the abuser may go to jail if the protection order is violated. Keep in mind, though, that some abusers feel challenged by such an order. You know better than anyone does how your abuser will react to legal action. If you think it will put you in more danger, you may choose not to pursue legal action. Either way, remember to talk with a domestic violence advocate about devising a safety plan for you and your children.

Many victims feel that the safest thing for them to do is to pursue both criminal and civil action. It is a good idea to consider the civil protection order regardless of whether or not you have a criminal protection order because the civil protection order lasts longer and offers more relief.

The United States Constitution provides what is called "Full Faith and Credit," which means that once you have a criminal or a civil protection order, it follows you wherever you go—even if you cross county or state lines. If you do travel, it is a good idea to contact the local police where you are staying to inform them that you have a protection order and that you may need them to enforce it. This may make the police more responsive should you need their assistance.

The services of a legal domestic violence advocate can be invaluable whether or not you choose to pursue legal action. The legal advocate can walk you through the process involved, go to court with you, provide additional resources to you, and explain in detail your options and the philosophies of the courts in your area.

For example, although the remedies available are the same in every county in the state, some counties will always make an abuser spend time in jail on a criminal charge, while some counties will always award probation. Similarly, in civil cases, some courts tend to issue five-year protection orders, and some courts issue only six-month protection orders. Your advocate can tell you what your local courts do, and this can help you plan future action to stay safe.

Studies have shown that obtaining a protection order may bolster a victim's self- esteem and feelings of security. A 1994 study found that nearly 75% of victim's had increased feelings of well being soon after an order was issued. Thousands and thousands of women have used the law to help increase their safety. You can too.

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Criminal Law At A Glance

No one has the right to abuse you. The law in the state of Ohio was designed to stop abusers from abusing family or household members. When a crime of domestic violence is committed, it is appropriate for the criminal justice system to take action to hold the abuser responsible for committing the crime and to help you. The following is information about Ohio's criminal law on domestic violence.

The Crime of Domestic Violence:

  • When a domestic violence crime occurs, local law enforcement may be dispatched to the scene, or a victim may seek out help.
  • In the state of Ohio either the victim or the police officer may sign a complaint charging the crime of domestic violence. The police officer can charge the offender with a crime on the basis of the victim's statements about the crime, or the officer can charge an offender if one or more of the following are found:
    1. The offender did knowingly cause or attempt to cause physical harm to a family or household member;
    2. The offender did recklessly cause serious physical harm to a family or household member;
    3. The offender did threaten, by use of force, to cause imminent physical harm to a family or household member.
  • "Family or Household member" includes: spouse, an ex-spouse, a parent or child, step-parent, or step-child, other persons related to the abuser who reside in the home or have resided in the home with the abuser in the last 5 years (boyfriends, girlfriends, or their children who have lived together in the last 5 years). This law also includes same-sex couples or those who have children in common even when they have never lived together or established paternity.

Police Investigations:

  • When local law enforcement responds to the crime, under Ohio law, it is the preferred course of action for the police officer to make an arrest of the primary physical aggressor when there is reason to believe the crime of domestic violence was committed. The law says that the police officer shall consider the following relevant circumstances in determining who is the primary physical aggressor when it appears that the violence may have been committed by more than one person in a domestic violence incident:
    1. Any history of domestic violence or any other violent acts by either person involved in the alleged offense that the officer can reasonably ascertain;
    2. Whether the alleged violence was caused by a person acting in self-defense;
    3. Each person's fear of physical harm, if any, resulting from the other person's threats of force against any person resulting from the other person, and the reasonableness of fear; and
    4. The comparative severity of any injuries suffered by the persons involved in the alleged offense.
  • The police officer(s) must investigate and collect evidence when a crime has been committed. They will make a report detailing what has happened. They will take photos of any visible injuries and/or the crime scene. Some law enforcement agencies may need to take follow up photos the next day. They will also take statements from you or any other witnesses.
  • Once a crime of domestic violence has been charged, it will be categorized as either a misdemeanor or felony level crime. A domestic violence charge is usually charged as a misdemeanor crime. The charge may be filed at the felony level if the abuser has a previous conviction of domestic violence, the offender used a deadly weapon while committing the crime or caused serious physical injury as a result of the crime, or the offender has committed a prior violent crime.
  • Information is to be provided to you by the arresting police officer that explains the court system with which the complaint will be filed. A domestic violence program in your area can provide you with additional information. One of the services domestic violence advocates may provide is an explanation of the court systems in your area. (An overview of the Ohio judicial structure follows this piece.)
  • Misdemeanor charges are filed and usually processed through your local Municipal Court or County Court.
  • A case that involves one or more felony level charges may begin in Municipal Court in some counties. Once it has been determined, at a preliminary hearing and/or by a Grand Jury, that there is enough evidence to proceed with a felony level charge, the case will be processed in your local Common Pleas Court.
  • If it is determined that no charges will be filed based on the evidence established from the police investigation or due to a lack of probable cause, it does not mean that charges may not be filed should another incident occur. Please consult an advocate if this occurs in your case. Your advocate can advise you of your options.
  • After a formal charge has been filed, victims and witnesses may need to appear in court only once or a number of times. If you are required to appear before the court as witness to the crime, you may receive a subpoena. This is the court's order for you or any additional witnesses to appear before the court at the stated date and time. You must show up. If you do not, you risk being found in contempt of court and you can be fined or jailed. If you are subpoenaed, bring your subpoena with you to court. Once you have testified, you will need to take your subpoena to the clerk's office so you can receive a witness fee for honoring the subpoena issued by the court. The clerk's office will explain the procedure for collecting the witness fee.
  • The following are the types of hearings which can occur in criminal cases at the misdemeanor or felony level: a motion hearing to establish a temporary protection order, a preliminary hearing, a grand jury hearing, an initial appearance hearing, an arraignment hearing, a pre-trial hearing, a trial, and a sentencing hearing.

Temporary Protection Orders:

  • Upon the filing of criminal domestic violence charges you or the arresting officer may file a motion requesting the court to issue a temporary protection order. The temporary protection order will contain terms designed to ensure the safety and protection of you and your children. It will order your abuser to stay away from you and your children. Protection can include keeping your abuser from entering your residence, school, business or place of employment (or those of your children). This criminal order is only effective while criminal charges are pending.
  • You may be able to sign this motion at the police department, but some counties require that it be signed at the prosecutor's office or the clerk's office. The court will hear the motion within 24 hours after the filing date of the motion to determine if one should be granted. If you have signed the motion, then you will be required to be present at the hearing for the motion to be granted. Only when a victim is unable to attend due to injuries from the crime may someone else with the knowledge of the facts and circumstances appear on the victim's behalf. If the officer signed the motion, then he or she will need to be present.
  • At the motion hearing, the judge will hear evidence that violence or threat of violence may have happened and that there is fear of possible harm if the temporary protection order in not granted. If a temporary protection order is granted and the offender violates it (does not comply with the terms of the order), this can result in the filing of additional criminal charges, and/or the revoking of a bail that has been granted by the court.

Municipal Court/County Court

  • Misdemeanor charges will proceed once an arrest has been made. Municipal Court can proceed very quickly. A motion hearing for temporary protection, an initial appearance hearing, an arraignment hearing and a sentencing hearing may all happen at the same time. It is important that you get the information about court date(s) and time(s) from the police officer that made the arrest.

Initial Appearance Hearing

  • At the initial appearance hearing, the court will do the following:
    1. Advise the defendant of the charges pending against him/her;
    2. Inform the defendant of his/her right to have a lawyer's representation;
    3. Set Bail.

The bail is designed to ensure that the defendant returns to the court to face the charge and does not break the law if released from jail while the case is pending. It is a good idea to share with the prosecutor and/or your legal advocate any concerns that need to be taken into consideration when bail is being set or reviewed for a possible reduction. It is also a good idea to make them aware of any problems since the arrest, such as a defendant calling you or your family members from the jail.

Arraignment Hearing

  • An arraignment hearing is held to formally notify the defendant of the charge(s) pending and to have the defendant enter a plea to the charge(s). The defendant can enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest (this means that the defendant is not contesting the facts of the case but is not admitting guilt). A plea of guilty or no contest usually will result in the finding of guilt by the judge. If a not guilty plea is entered, the case will be set for a pre-trial hearing date.

Pre-Trial Hearing

  • A Pre-Trial hearing will automatically be scheduled by the court if a not guilty plea is entered at the arraignment hearing. This is a conference between the prosecutor, the defendant's attorney and the judge. They will discuss any evidence in the case and any case law that applies. If the defendant is still unwilling to plead guilty or no contest to the charges after one or more pre-trial conferences, the judge will schedule a trial.
  • It is important to keep in contact with your advocate or prosecutor at the time of the pre-trial because this is the time when plea negotiations can be made. A plea negotiation is an agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant. The defendant agrees to plead guilty to an amended (lesser) charge that the prosecutor has offered. You have the right under the law to be made aware of any offers of plea negotiations the prosecutor makes to the defendant, and you have the right to give input as to your feelings about the plea that will be offered. But the prosecutor has the authority to offer the plea and to enter into a plea agreement with the defendant even though you may disagree with him or her about that plea agreement.
  • Again, it is important for you to locate and to work with your advocate. The advocate will inform you of your rights and give you information about how your local court process works, for each will vary throughout the state.

Trial

  • The defendant has the right to choose between a jury trial and a trial to the court. At a trial all the evidence relevant to the defendant's guilt of innocence is presented. You do have the right to have an advocate accompany you to the trial.
  • If it is a jury trial, the first step is to pick a jury. This is done by the judge and the attorneys by asking general and specific questions of the possible jurors.
  • After the selection of jurors is complete, the attorneys will make opening statements, which will give an overview of what they plan to present. The prosecution will then call witnesses and present evidence. Once the prosecution has completed its case, the defendant's attorney will proceed in the same way. The defendant will have an opportunity at this time to speak on his/her own behalf but does not have to. The attorneys will end with closing arguments, which will summarize what each claims the evidence has proven. Finally, the judge or jury will decide if the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sentencing

  • When a defendant enters a plea of guilty or is found guilty by a trial, the court will schedule a sentencing hearing. A judge can only sentence your abuser if that person has been found guilty of the charges. The judge may sentence the defendant immediately after a finding of guilt, or a sentencing hearing may be scheduled for another day.
  • At this hearing the judge will consider all of the relevant facts of the case, any previous criminal convictions the defendant may have, and the parameters of the sentencing statute designated for the crime by the Ohio Revised Code.
  • Sometimes, before a sentencing hearing, the judge will order a Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI), which is usually conducted by the probation office. In a PSI, the probation office will gather information about the defendant and the case from you, the defendant, the defendant's family, and anyone else involved who can comment on the case. Based upon the information gathered, the probation officer will make a recommendation to the judge as to what kind of sentence the defendant should receive.
  • The victim does have the right to make a Victim Impact Statement to the court at the time of sentencing or during a pre-sentence investigation. A victim impact statement is a statement to the judge from the victim about how the crime has affected you or your family and what you think the sentence should be within the parameters of the sentencing law. An advocate may assist you with preparing a victim impact statement.

Penalties

  • The penalties for Misdemeanor crimes are assessed by the degree to which the crime is committed. A conviction of domestic violence charged as a misdemeanor of the first degree (which means that actual physical abuse occurred) carries a maximum penalty of six (6) months in a local jail and a thousand dollar fine ($1,000). A conviction of domestic violence charged as a misdemeanor of the fourth degree (which means that threats of physical harm were made) carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in a local jail and a $250 fine.
  • Again, each court's sentencing philosophy will vary throughout the state, so contact your local prosecutor and/or advocate for an explanation of the misdemeanor penalties for domestic violence.

Common Pleas Court

  • The crime of domestic violence may become a felony level crime if one or more of the following are found:
    1. A defendant has a prior conviction of a misdemeanor domestic violence; or
    2. The offender used a weapon while committing the crime; or
    3. The crime resulted in serious physical injury; or
    4. The defendant has been convicted of a prior violent crime.

The prosecutor will review each case and, based on the evidence and circumstances may charge the crime at the felony level.

  • A case that involves one or more felony level charges may begin in Municipal Court. A judge or a grand jury must make a finding of probable cause that the crime was committed by the defendant before the case can be prosecuted. If the defendant was arrested and placed in jail, the Municipal judge may hold an initial appearance hearing before a probable cause hearing happens. At that time the judge will hear any motions for a temporary protection order, along with recommendations from the prosecutor and the defendant's attorney about the amount at which bail should be set.
  • Once a judge (at a preliminary hearing) or a jury (at a grand jury hearing) has found probable cause that the defendant committed the crime, then the prosecutor may proceed with felony charges in Common Pleas Court.

Preliminary Hearing

  • When a felony charge(s) is filed in Municipal Court, the court will set a date for a preliminary hearing (also known as a probable cause hearing). This hearing must be held fifteen days from the date of arrest if the offender is not in jail and ten days from the date of arrest if the offender is in jail. The offender may waive the right to have this hearing.
  • Witnesses (including the victim) may be required by subpoena to testify at this hearing. At the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor will present evidence and testimony by witnesses to the court that will establish the basis for filing a felony level charge(s) against the defendant. The defendant will be present at this hearing and will be represented by an attorney. The defense attorney can ask witnesses questions about the crime. The witnesses are required to answer those questions truthfully.
  • If the judge finds that the prosecution has established probable cause that the defendant committed the crime, the case will then be "bound over" from Municipal Court to Common Pleas Court. At this time the prosecutor will make a decision whether or not to present the case at a second probable cause hearing called Grand Jury.

Grand Jury

  • There are times when a domestic violence case can be presented directly to the grand jury and not taken first to Municipal Court for a preliminary hearing. This will depend on the area in which you live and how often the grand jury convenes to decide cases. The grand jury is a secretive process and is composed of nine jurors.
  • The prosecutor will present evidence and testimony by witnesses to the jurors. Only the prosecuting attorney will be questioning the witnesses testifying at grand jury. Again, witnesses may be required by subpoena to testify to the grand jury.
  • Your abuser most likely will not be present during the grand jury proceedings. Unlike a preliminary hearing, neither the defendant nor the defense attorney can be present during this hearing. There are some occasions when the defendant can be called as a witness. If called to testify, the defendant will be scheduled at a separate time from the other witnesses.
  • The grand jury will consider all evidence that is presented about the crime and then will determine if the evidence supports a finding of probable cause for the charge or if it supports an amended charge. If the grand jury finds that probable cause has been established by the prosecution that the defendant committed a crime, an indictment will be issued .
  • The indictment is formal notification by the Common Pleas Court to the defendant that probable cause has been found. An indictment may be issued by the court in one of two ways:
    • By way of a warrant for the defendants arrest; or
    • By summons, which is served by a police officer to the defendant. The summons contains information about the indictment charges and the date and time that the defendant will be required to appear before the Common Pleas Court for the Initial Appearance hearing.

Initial Appearance Hearing

  • At the initial appearance hearing, the court will do the following:
    1. Advise the defendant of the charges pending against him/her;
    2. Inform the defendant of his/her right to have a lawyer's representation;
    3. Set bail. The bail is designed to ensure that the defendant returns to the court to face the charge and does not break the law if released from jail while the case is pending. It is a good idea to share with the prosecutor and/or your legal advocate any concerns that need to be taken into consideration when bail is being set or reviewed for a possible reduction. It is also a good idea to make them aware of any problems since the arrest, such as a defendant calling you or your family members from jail.

Arraignment Hearing

  • An arraignment hearing is held to formally notify the defendant of the charge(s) pending and to have the defendant enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest (this means that the defendant is not contesting the facts of the case but is not admitting guilt). A plea of guilty or no contest usually will result in finding of guilt by the judge. If a not guilty plea is entered, the case will be set for a pre-trial hearing date.

Pre-Trial Hearing

  • A Pre-Trial hearing will automatically be scheduled by the court if a not guilty plea is entered at the arraignment hearing. This is a conference between the prosecutor, the defendant's attorney and the judge. They will discuss any evidence in the case and any case law that applies. If the defendant is still unwilling to plead guilty or no contest to the charges after one or more pre-trial conference, the judge will schedule a trial.
  • It is important to keep in contact with your advocate or prosecutor at the time of the pre-trial because this is the time when plea negotiations can be made. A plea negotiation is an agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant. The defendant agrees to plead guilty to an amended (lesser) charge that the prosecutor has offered. You have the right under the law to be made aware of any offers of plea negotiations the prosecutor makes to the defendant, and you have the right to give input as to your feelings about the plea that will be offered. But the prosecutor has the authority to offer the plea and to enter into a plea agreement with the defendant even though you may disagree with him or her about that plea agreement.
  • Again, it is important for you to locate and to work with your advocate. The advocate will inform you of your rights and give you information about how your local court process works, for each will vary throughout the state.

Trial

  • The defendant has the right to choose between a jury trial and a trial to the court. At a trial all the evidence relevant to the defendant's guilt or innocence is presented. You do have the right to have an advocate accompany you to the trial.
  • If it is a jury trial, the first step is to pick a jury. This is done by the judge and the attorneys by asking general and specific questions of the possible jurors.
  • After the selection of jurors is complete, the attorneys will make opening statements, which will give an overview of what they plan to present. The prosecution will then call witnesses and present evidence. Once the prosecution has completed its case, the defendant's attorney will proceed in the same way. The defendant will have an opportunity at this time to speak on his/her own behalf but does not have to. The attorneys will end with closing arguments, which will summarize what each claims the evidence has proven. Finally, the judge or jury will decide if the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sentencing

  • When a defendant enters a plea of guilty or is found guilty by a trial, the court will schedule a sentencing hearing. A judge can only sentence your abuser if that person has been found guilty of the charges. The judge may sentence the defendant immediately after a finding of guilt, or a sentencing hearing may be scheduled for another day.
  • At this hearing the judge will consider all of the relevant facts of the case, any previous criminal convictions the defendant may have, and the parameters of the sentencing statute designated for the crime by the Ohio Revised Code.
  • Sometimes, the judge will order a Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI), which is usually conducted by the probation office. In a PSI, the probation office will gather information about the defendant and the case from you, the defendant, the defendant's family, and anyone else involved who can comment on the case. Based upon the information gathered, the probation office will make a recommendation to the judge as to what kind of sentence the defendant should receive.
  • The victim does have the right to make a Victim Impact Statement to the court at the time of sentencing or during a pre-sentence investigation. A victim impact statement is a statement to the judge from the victim about how the crime has affected you or your family and what you think the sentence should be within the parameters of the sentencing law. An advocate may assist you with preparing a victim impact statement.

Penalties

  • The penalties for felony level crimes are assessed by the degree to which the crime was committed. Most felony level domestic violence crimes are charged as a felony of the fifth degree. A conviction of a fifth degree felony may result in a maximum prison term of twelve (12) months.
  • Fifth degree felonies under the new sentencing law carry what is called "a presumption of community sanctions" meaning that if jail time is to be imposed, it will happen at a local facility unless the defendant's criminal history warrants prison. In every case, the judge must consider the seriousness of the offence and how likely it is that the defendant will commit more crimes (recidivism).
  • The new sentencing law in Ohio can be complicated when several factors apply, and again, sentencing philosophy will vary throughout the state. Please consult your prosecutor or advocate for an explanation of the felony level penalties in your area.

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The Role Of The Victim/witness
In Criminal Cases


Victim's Role

Once the criminal charges are filed, you are a witness in the case. It is the city and state prosecuting the abuser, not you. Because of this, you do not need an attorney to represent you. Instead, you will be a witness for the prosecutor who handles the case on behalf of the city, county and state. You have the right to have an advocate come to court with you.

If you receive a subpoena, you must appear in court. If you are subpoenaed and do not show up in court, the judge may issue a warrant for your arrest, and you could receive a fine or even jail time. You also will need to bring your children if they are subpoenaed. Make sure you bring the subpoena(s) with you as you may receive a small amount of money to help with the cost of transportation or parking. When you arrive, check in with the clerk's office or the bailiff, and show them the subpoena. They can tell you what to do from there.

Working with the Prosecutor

Make sure the Prosecutor's Office has an accurate address and phone number for you. Notify them of any changes if you move. You can also call the Clerk of Courts to give them this information and to request information about the case, such as when court hearings are scheduled. Be sure to keep the case number so you can tell them which case you are calling about.

You may want to take an active role in the case by providing the Prosecutor with addresses of any witnesses to the incident or other evidence such as medical reports, past police reports, and pictures of injuries.

Safety Issues

If you are concerned about your safety while arriving at or departing from court, there may be some things you can do to be safer.

You could share that concern with a police officer that may be able to arrange an escort or help you get an advocate. You could arrive earlier than the case is scheduled or leave before your abuser does. You may want to have someone come or walk from your car or the bus to the courthouse with you.

If your children are not required to be at court, it's best if you do not bring them unless you have to. Try to arrange childcare with someone who can be flexible because it's hard to know how long you may need to be at the court.

What to Wear

Dress the way you would if you were going to work in an office. Try to avoid very casual clothes, unless it is an emergency hearing and you have no choice. You will not be able to smoke or chew gum in the courtroom, and hats usually cannot be worn.

Being in Court

You have the right to be and feel safe in the courthouse and the courtroom. Your abuser may try to threaten you, scare you, or stop the case by manipulating you into feeling guilty about the charges. Even when you think you and your abuser might get back together; a criminal protection order may help increase your safety while the case is pending.

You do not have to sit with or talk with anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable, including your abuser, your abuser's family, or your abuser's attorney. If you feel pressured or unsafe in the courthouse, go immediately to a clerk, bailiff, or someone else who works there and ask for help.

Your Testimony

As a witness in the case, you may need to testify (tell the court what happened). It is very common to be nervous or even emotional, so if you experience those feelings, do not let them upset you. It is important to tell the truth because you will be under oath. Be careful not to minimize or exaggerate what happened. Here are some other things to remember when you testify:

  • You will be assisted in telling your story by questions from the prosecutor or the judge. This is called your direct examination testimony. Listen to the question and think before you speak.
  • You may also be asked questions by the defense attorney (or possibly by your abuser if self-represented). This is called cross-examination. Answer all questions directly, but do not volunteer information.
  • Because of the question and answer format of testimony, you may not be able to say everything you want to say. Although this can feel very frustrating, it is better to focus on the question being asked and answer it as honestly as possible. It is not helpful to try to second guess why the attorney is asking the question.
  • Don't let yourself become defensive or lose your temper. This is something an attorney or your abuser may try to get you to do by bringing up something that embarrasses you or that you think makes you look bad. Just answer the question honestly and remember that it may not even be important to the real issues of the case. When a judge or a jury sees that you tell the truth about something that is negative, they will probably be more likely to believe your testimony about what happened.
  • After you are asked a question, one of the attorneys may say "objection." When this happens you should wait to answer the question until the judge makes a decision about the objection. If may be "sustained," meaning you should not answer, or it may be "overruled," meaning you should answer. If you are not sure what to do, look at the judge who will tell you.
  • Be patient. Sometimes several cases are scheduled at the same time or there are discussions between the attorneys or with the judge that delays the proceedings. Take something with you to do or read while you wait.

Victim Impact Statement

You have the right to fill out a victim impact statement explaining to the judge the effect the violence has had on you and your family. The judge may use this statement when determining your abuser sentence, for it reflects the seriousness of the crime your abuser committed. A domestic violence advocate can help you get the necessary form and assist you as you fill out the statement.

Sentencing Options

Here is an overview of the maximum sentences for crimes at the misdemeanor level for jail time and fines:

  • 1st degree: 6 months, $1,000 fine
  • 2nd degree: 90 days, $750 fine
  • 3rd degree: 60 days, $500 fine
  • 4th degree: 30 days, $250 fine
  • Minor Misdemeanor: No jail time, $100 fine

Sentences for domestic violence vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It is important to note that while your abuser may be sentenced to jail time, some or all of this sentence may be suspended by the court. Your abuser does not have to serve the suspended portion of the sentence. As a result, your abuser may serve little to no jail time. Sentencing may instead include probation or batterer's intervention.

If you have any questions about charges pending against your abuser and the possible sentence, speak with the prosecutor, your domestic violence legal advocate, or call the clerk of courts.

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