Domestic violence is as big a problem in Arizona as it is everywhere else. It's a problem that became the focus of law enforcement years ago and has led to the proliferation of special "domestic violence courts" across the country, including in Arizona. A spat of recent high-profile domestic violence cases involving athletes and celebrities has resulted in even more attention being paid to this problem. One of the reasons domestic violence courts were created was to deal with issues that arise when the victim doesn't want to press charges.
The thing that makes domestic violence cases unique is the relationship between the victim and the defendant. This relationship often results in alleged victims who do not want to cooperate with the prosecution. Domestic violence courts and the prosecutors assigned to these courts, are trained that this is simply part of the "cycle of domestic violence." Thus, when a victim doesn't want to press charges, the State will almost always pursue the charges anyway. The assumption is that the defendant is threatening or intimidating the victim or that the victim just feels like he or she has too much to lose if the defendant is convicted. It's also assumed that the defendant will escalate his or her behavior in the future if not prosecuted.
The truth is that many of the domestic violence cases in Tucson City Court and Pima County Justice Court have nothing to do with the cycle of domestic violence. Some of these cases involve people who are actually innocent. Many others involve people who were engaged in relatively innocuous behavior -- verbal arguments, slamming doors, or throwing things around the house.... Even many cases that involve some element of actual physical violence, like two siblings fighting, do not really fit within this cycle. No matter what their conduct, however, anyone charged with a domestic violence offense is treated similarly in domestic violence court.
When The Victim Doesn't Want To Press Charges
Arizona prosecutors almost never dismiss a domestic violence case just because the victim doesn't want to press charges. It is rare that they will even offer a non-domestic violence plea agreement. That's why so many of these cases end of going to trial. So what happens when the victim is uncooperative? It depends.
If the victim's testimony is different than what they initially told police, the prosecutor will cross-examine the victim with the statements he or she made to the police or on the 911 call (these are always recorded). If the victim doesn't want to come to court at all, the prosecutor will still subpoena the victim. A subpoena is a court order to appear. If the victim still does not appear for trial, the prosecutor may move to continue the trial or try to prove the charges based on the defendant's admissions.
This is one reason why it is so important to invoke your right to remain silent when dealing with police. If you speak with the police, they can and will use your statements against you at trial. Even statements about your relationship with the alleged victim, which may seem obvious to you, can be used later at trial to establish the domestic relationship if the victim is not there to establish this element of the offense. In fact, I have seen a number of domestic violence cases in which the defendant's own statements ended up being the only evidence against him at trial.
It can certainly be helpful to the defense if an alleged victim doesn't want to press charges, but it is also something that prosecutors have come to expect. If you're charged with a domestic violence offense in Arizona, it's important to find good legal representation no matter what the victim thinks about the prosecution. The consequences are just too severe.
* This blog is published by Tucson criminal defense lawyer Nathan D. Leonardo. Nothing on this website is intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided herein does not constitute legal advice, but is for general information purposes only. If you have a legal question, you can contact us online or call (520) 314-4125.