Best Practices for Handling an Accusation in an Unprecedented Time
A domestic violence accusation is a serious matter in any situation. COVID-19 has reportedly elevated the number of charges filed as a result of shelter-in-place orders in effect throughout the country. With household members largely confined to a single space for a long period of time in stressful conditions, tension can run high.
Even in a situation as uncertain and restrictive as COVID-19-related shutdowns, however, you must be vigilant and careful if you are accused of domestic violence. Below, we run down the steps you should take if you are facing an accusation, including tips on how to handle COVID-19 complications.
Step #1: Proactively Protect Yourself
If you are under the impression someone is about to make an accusation or has already done so and is preparing to inform the authorities, you should take immediate steps to protect your private information. If you are facing a false accusation, do not underestimate the lengths someone will go to satisfy a vendetta. Make sure all of your personal devices are password protected and your logins remain secret. If the person making the accusation has a shared account with you, take steps to sever it, and change any passwords they may be privy to. Note that you should notdelete any conversations or data, an act that could be considered tampering or destruction of evidence. Simply make sure the involved party cannot access your accounts.
If your partner begins behaving bizarrely or is giving off signals that they are going to falsely accuse you, try and get ahead of the problem by speaking to close friends and other loved ones about the erratic behavior and any tacit threats of a false accusation. Having one or more witnesses able to testify that you acknowledged something was amiss before a false accusation is levied can be extremely helpful in fighting your case.
Step #2: Do Not Speak Until You Hire an Attorney
If you are arrested as a result of a domestic violence accusation, exercise your civil right to remain silent. No matter what a police officer says to you, continue to assert your right to remain silent and request your right to an attorney. Do not answer any questions.
You will then want to hire an experienced domestic violence lawyer as soon as possible. They can review the details of your situation, represent you in court, and advise you on your legal options.
Step #3: Gather Available Evidence
While your lawyer handles the legal proceedings, you should, at their direction, begin collecting evidence that can help build your defense. This should start with your complete written recollection of the events surrounding the alleged domestic violence incident. Your account should be as detailed as possible, and you should be acutely aware of where your report will conflict with your accuser’s and consider if there is any supporting evidence to validate your version of the events.
Beyond your account, you should also collect supplementary material. This can include text message conversations, emails, comments on social media posts, and phone records. No matter how small, any piece of evidence that can support your case should be preserved and logged. Especially look for items that point to a supportive, healthy relationship immediately before and after the incident, if possible, along with any conversations surrounding the incident you had with friends or other family members. Your attorney can help review your findings to determine what may be relevant.
Finally, collect contact information of relevant witnesses. Avoid contacting them directly to discuss the situation, which can look bad in court. Explain to your legal representation what information each of your witnesses is likely able to offer.
Step #4: Comply with Any Court Order
Even if an accusation is baseless, domestic violence charges will often include some form of injunctive relief, including mandates that you keep distance from your accuser and not contact them. This is where the COVID-19 shutdowns can become problematic. While courts are aware of the challenges inherent to these injunctions as shelter-in-place orders continue throughout the country, they are still being issued, and you still must comply.
Not complying with an injunctive order – such as remaining in a home with your accuser – can not only weaken your defense in your domestic violence case, it can also lead to additional criminal charges. If you are accused of domestic violence and expect an injunction as the case develops, it is wise to begin exploring alternate living options. Hotels are now able to operate in California under modified operating procedures and can be a stopgap measure until the case is resolved. You might also consider reaching out to friends who can let you crash on their couch or in a spare bedroom, so long as you pledge to respect any COVID-19 safety rules of their household.
Step #5: Get a Head Start on Rehabilitation Programs
If you know there is credibility to a domestic violence accusation and you are hoping to limit the consequences, it may be a good idea to explore counseling and rehabilitation programs. Specific courses exist for anger management and alcohol or drug abuse, for example. Courts will often require the accused party to take these courses regardless, but proactively seeking out these programs can reflect favorably in your defense. Many of these courses are still available during COVID-19 and can be completed virtually.
If You Need Help with a Domestic Violence Accusation, Contact Us
The most important thing to do when facing a domestic violence accusation is to follow the advice of an experienced domestic violence attorney. Our team at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP has over 50 combined years of legal experience and can help defend you against the worst consequences of a domestic violence conviction. We have helped thousands of California clients and are prepared to help you in these unprecedented times.
Do not wait to get the legal representation you deserve. Call (800) 462-7160 or contact us online to request a consultation.