How Did This Happen?!!! Avoiding and Addressing Domestic Violence Charges
Disagreements are a normal part of intimate relationships. When we are in a good space with our partner, we are most likely to bring our best selves to the table to address areas of conflict. But even at our best, conversations can get heated. When not at our best, during times of stress, for myriad reasons, including financial stress, stress about the relationship itself, concerns about children or other family members--the list is endless--partners too often stray into behaviors that are considered domestic violence under the law.
If you have never known anyone who has had a brush with such charges and never experienced them yourself, it can come as a very frightening surprise to discover how easy it is to be charged with domestic violence and for you or your partner to end up in jail. Take for instance the following scenarios:
Your partner confronts you in your home office about an issue that has been a source of conflict for several days. You tell them that you are not prepared to talk about it just now, and share that tonight would be better. Your partner, standing with their arms across the doorway into your office raises their voice and states that, no, this needs to be addressed right this minute. Frustrated, you raise your voice in response and yell that you're leaving so you can both simmer down. Your partner doesn't move from the doorway, keeps demanding that you get this over with now, until a knock comes on your apartment door. A neighbor, hearing the argument, has called the cops. You describe the argument as no big deal and share what happened with one of the officers that comes to investigate. Your partner is arrested for false imprisonment with a domestic violence enhancement and is taken to jail.
The situation is the same, except that after the second or third time your partner demands you remain and get the argument over, you push past them where they had been blocking your office door. You go for a walk, return ready to perhaps address the disagreement, only to find the police are waiting for you. Again, the neighbors called the police, but in this scenario, your partner shared with an officer that you pushed them when you left. They assured the officer you didn't mean anything by it, but that it did hurt when you pushed past them. You are arrested for assault with a domestic violence enhancement and taken to jail.
In both these scenarios, you may find it appalling that you or your partner has been arrested. Yes you were arguing, but the last thing you wanted or expected was to be faced with a potential criminal record and even possible jail time because of your disagreement. Even the responding police officer may feel, personally, that an arrest is unwarranted; however, under Colorado law, “When a peace officer determines that there is probable cause to believe that a crime or offense involving domestic violence . . . has been committed, the officer shall, without undue delay, arrest the person suspected of its commission” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-6-803.6. The statute takes away the discretion of an officer to make, or not make an arrest.
Avoiding Charges of Domestic Violence
Knowing that the police have no discretion if they investigate and determine there is probable cause to believe domestic violence has occurred, a primary means of avoiding such charges and an arrest is don't call the police. Certainly if your safety feels at risk, calling the police is something you may need to do. But if you are not afraid for your safety and are hoping for an intervention that involves deescalation, the police shouldn't be your first, or even second call.
The above scenarios, however, are examples of police arriving because someone else called them after overhearing an argument. Understand that in such a situation, police will be asking questions to determine if they have probable cause and therefore must make an arrest for an act of domestic violence.
If the police do arrive, remember that you do not have to speak with them about your disagreement/argument. You do not have to let them in to your home, unless they have a warrant. If they believe someone is at risk of imminent harm, they may have a basis under exigent circumstance to enter your home without a warrant, so both you and your partner should inform them you are both safe, no-one is hurt or at risk of being hurt, but that you are not going to let them into your home. The safest thing to do is to have this conversation through your closed door. If the police demand to visually verify no-one is injured, speak to them through a window if possible.
A less preferable option is to step outside and speak with the officer(s). State clearly that you are going to step outside your home to talk to them and that you do not consent to them coming into your home.
Regardless of where the conversation takes place, you do not have to tell the officer more than your name and your address. No matter how understanding, empathetic, or kind an officer is in this situation, remember that he or she is performing an investigation that could end in criminal charges and an arrest. As uncomfortable as it is to do so, tell the officer(s) that you have no interest speaking to them. That's it. The questions and encouragement from an officer will no doubt encourage you to just speak with them so they can be on their way. You may even be arrested and feel as though you should have spoken up to defend yourself; however, by not speaking, you have provided no information that can incriminate you, and you therefore have the best odds of being found not guilty. If you are arrested or subjected to what feels like a custodial interrogation, invoke your right to remain silent (literally state that you are invoking the right to remain silent) and state that you want an attorney present for any questioning.
If you do get arrested, the consequences are swift. You will go to jail, and may stay for a day or several days until a bond hearing is held. If convicted of third degree assault with a domestic violence enhancement, you could face two years in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. A protection order will issue, requiring that you stay away from and don't communicate with your partner. This means you will not be allowed back into your home, except perhaps with a law enforcement escort to retrieve belongings.
I've Been Arrested--Now What?
First and foremost, do not contact your partner. You can be arrested for violating the protection order and face even more charges and negative consequences.
By now, you will understand the gravity of the charges. One of your first steps should be to find an attorney familiar with this area of law. If you can't afford an attorney, you should apply for a Colorado public defender as soon as possible. Should you not qualify for a public defender, or if you wish to have a private practice criminal defense attorney, begin contacting potential attorneys right away. You can begin searching at the Colorado Bar website at this link, or call Darren O'Connor, LLC, to get experienced legal representation to defend against your charges, at 720.961.3869.