Defense Strategies for Virginia Assault and Domestic Violence Cases
Below is an excerpt from a transcript with Virginia assault and domestic violence lawyer Thomas Soldan.
Building a Defense For Assault and Domestic Violence Cases
Thomas Soldan : For assault cases, if there are allegations of physical injury to anyone, I try to gather pictures of everything possible. Usually injuries such as bruises, scratches, or cuts on both the accuser, the victim, as well as the person being charged are only fresh for a couple of days. The person may have defensive injuries or injuries that are characterized as aggressive injuries. For example, if there is an allegation that a punch was thrown, the injuries can’t be hidden in those first couple of days, so getting photographic evidence is very important. Statements are also very important. I always try to get names, numbers, and contact information for independent witnesses and people who happened to be on the scene such as friends and neighbors. Statements from people who might have heard or seen something can be very powerful in these types of cases. I want to talk to everyone, including law enforcement, about what they saw, what they heard, what they smelled, and every observation around the time of the incident.
Why It Is Important to Consult an Attorney Quickly
Thomas Soldan: In some cases, the person can shop around and wait to see how the case develops, but in assault or domestic violence cases, a lot of that key evidence can expire and needs to be preserved. That preservation of evidence is key for an experienced attorney. If the case goes to court it can be very helpful for the attorney to meet with the person as soon as possible, gather key evidence, and preserve the evidence for trial just so that the person’s rights can be protected.
Evidence in Assault and Domestic Violence Cases
Thomas Soldan: The law enforcement officer that arrived to the scene first is going to present evidence of any statements they took, both from the accuser and from the defendant in the case. The person who is charged with the crime of domestic violence or assault still has the constitutional right to confront their accusers. They are still protected by the Confrontation Clause in the Constitution. The prosecution is going to have to put on evidence sufficient to prove their guilt. Typically that means they have to get down to the root of what caused the incident and present evidence as to what led to the incident and what actually happened. That’s where these cases get interesting because there may be two different stories and two different versions of the same set of facts. It’s important to break those down into very manageable pieces in order to present the best case possible.
Domestic Violence Accusations and Dropping the Charges
Thomas Soldan: Once the victim calls law enforcement and alerts them of the situation, law enforcement comes and begins their investigation. The ability to bring or drop charges is essentially out of the victim’s hands. The officer is going to do what they feel is best based upon their training and experience to protect the victim, even if the victim is not willing to protect themselves. After the officer writes the statement and signs off that there is probable cause to make the arrest, the victim can’t simply call the judge and say, “I want to drop the charges.” It doesn’t work that way. There are a lot of public policy reasons why it doesn’t work that way, especially in cases of domestic violence and spousal violence. It’s very common that one party wants to recant. However, the nightly news is full of stories telling us that this can lead to worst events down the road, especially if one party is influencing the other. Most jurisdictions have specially trained prosecutors that are trained as victim witness coordinators, or VWCs, to talk to victims and officers, and decide what the best course of action is. That may very well be dropping the charges or proceeding with an adjudication, but, in most circumstances, the victim of the case can’t simply make it go away.
Possible Penalties for Victims Who Retract Their Statement
Thomas Soldan: A victim could possibly be charged with making a false statement to law enforcement, or a more serious charge. If they go into court, testify, and are proven to be lying to the court, they can be charged with perjury. That is limited to extreme cases, but to come in and say, “Well, my statement from the other night is not true anymore,” can create a lot of problems in someone’s life. It is not as simple as just changing their story, and that could lead to a lot of problems for them.