What Happens in a Domestic Violence Case
If you face domestic violence charges, understanding the judicial process is crucial in preparing for your defense and evaluating the options the prosecutor or your domestic violence lawyer may present. Defending yourself against a domestic violence charge requires being prepared, starting with understanding the reason for your arrest on charges of domestic violence.
Under Arizona law, domestic violence is determined by the victim’s relationship to the accused, not by the action itself. Therefore, many felony or misdemeanor acts can be considered domestic violence if there is – or was – a legal or familial relationship between the accused and the victim(s). For example, if someone steals a wallet, then they can be arrested for petty theft. However, if they steal their spouse’s wallet, then a domestic violence charge could be added, resulting in stricter penalties.
Steps in a Domestic Violence Case
- Arrest – When police are called to a domestic conflict, they may use the Arizona intimate Partner Risk Assessment Instrument System (APRAIS) to screen for indications that the victim is at risk for further injury or death. This assessment is attached to the police report and can be later used as evidence in the courtroom. The case is sent to the Tucson City Court Domestic Violence Court (TCC Domestic Violence Court), which reviews all cases and determines which cases to try in DV court and which ones to transfer to another court.
- Initial appearance – This generally occurs within 24 hours after an arrest. The defendant is advised of the reason for their arrest and of their rights as a defendant. The court also makes certain that the defendant has legal counsel and understands the charge(s). The judge determines release conditions and whether probable cause exists to continue detaining the defendant.
- Arraignment – This hearing may occur with the initial appearance or within ten to twenty days. If the DV court decides against hearing the case, then it will be transferred to another court at this time. However, if the court decides to hear the case, then the charges are formally read to the defendant, who is then asked to enter a plea, and the judge again determines any conditions for release.
- Plea – The defendant’s plea determines the next step of the process. If the defendant pleads guilty or no contest (that is, they accept the consequences of a guilty verdict without admitting guilt), then the judge will schedule a sentencing hearing. If the defendant pleads not guilty, then the judge will schedule pre-trial conferences and set a trial date.
- Pre-Trial Conference – The defense and the prosecution meet with the judge to determine how the trial will proceed, and to resolve any areas of disagreement regarding the trial process. Some areas discussed may include witnesses for both sides, deadlines for certain documentation, and exhibits that may be presented as part of either side’s arguments. The defense and prosecution may also discuss the possibility of a plea bargain for the defendant.
- Trial – Domestic violence cases are tried by a judge, not a jury. Both prosecution and defense submit arguments, evidence, and witness testimonies, and both sides are permitted to cross-examine witnesses from the other side. Once all evidence has been presented and cross-examined, the judge renders a verdict – “not guilty” means the defendant is cleared of the charge and released. If the verdict is “guilty,” then the judge schedules a sentencing hearing.
- Sentencing – Based on the nature of the offense and how often the defendant was charged with domestic violence over a period of time, the sentencing may involve probation, counseling, jail time, and fines. First-time offenders may be able to avoid jail time through court-approved counseling.
- Probation Reviews – If you are given probation, the court will order periodic reviews to evaluate your improvement through counseling and your adherence to the terms of your probation. Suppose you violate the conditions of your probation. In that case, you must fill the other terms of your sentence, in addition to further penalties which the judge may impose for the violation itself.
A domestic violence conviction is a life-altering event. Individuals convicted of domestic violence may be denied custody of their children, their right to carry a firearm, and job or housing opportunities. Therefore, if you are arrested on charges of domestic violence, you need to take those charges seriously. An experienced domestic violence attorney in Tucson can guide you through the court process, making sure that you have a full understanding of your options and ensuring that your rights in court are upheld.