How a Lawyer Can Help You Make Domestic Violence Charges Go Away

When the police receive a domestic violence (DV) call, they go to the location and investigate the situation by speaking to the individuals involved.  Based on that investigation, they usually arrest whomever they determine to be the perpetrator. This is for safety purposes; they want to be sure that once they leave the situation the conflict isn’t going to flare up again. Most people call law enforcement in the hope that they can calm the situation, but someone usually gets arrested. 

Yet being arrested for a crime is not the same thing as being charged for one. In many cases, a good lawyer can help prevent you from being charged.  Unless you are unable to post bail or get released on your own recognizance, you’ll generally have about a month between your arrest and your first court date. If you contact an attorney immediately, that gives them time to start prepping your case and start working on convincing the district attorney to decline to charge.  

This post will help you understand how to make domestic violence charges go away before charges are filed. We’ll also cover how charges can be dismissed after the district attorney (DA) has decided to move forward with filing charges if it is not possible to convince the DA to decline to charge in the first place. 

Many people use “dropped,” “dismissed,” and “decline to charge” interchangeably, but it is important to understand that “decline to charge” is by far the best outcome for your case.

What happens after a domestic violence arrest?

Once law enforcement officers arrest you, they write a report. This report gets turned over to the district attorney (DA). The district attorney then makes a decision on whether to file charges, what the charges will be, and whether they will be charged as felonies and/or misdemeanors. 

In some cases, the district attorney may decline to charge. 

When the DA gets the police report, that is the only information they have to make their decision to file changes.  In many cases, they don’t know the other side of the story, usually your side of the story. They only know your criminal background. They do not know truly who you are or what you do.   The attorney you hire to represent you during the pre-charging phase of your case can help the DA see you as the person you truly are and not just the person you are getting made out to be in the police reports.  We can point out the fact that you’ve never been in trouble before (if this happens to be true) or offer other mitigating factors such as your employment, schooling, family life, counseling, etc. We might also provide character reference letters that show the type of person you are, that you have a great support system, and that you have no history of violent behavior (again, if this happens to be true for you).  We also can have a private investigator interview witnesses and provide reports of witness statements that may better explain the situation that occurred.   All this vastly increases the likelihood that the DA will decline to file formal charges.

The specific actions we can take and will take, of course, depend on the specifics of your case and your current situation. 

If the DA does decide to proceed with charges, we then try to convince them to file charges of a lesser crime than what you may have been arrested for. No matter their decision, The DA will generally inform us of their decision before the first court date.

Can a domestic violence case be dropped or dismissed?

Yes, at the district attorney’s (DA’s) discretion. However, a good lawyer can help you before the charges are filed to see if the DA won’t file them in the first place. This is called pre-charge representation. And if charges are filed, a good lawyer can attempt to get the DA to drop them.

What is the difference between dismissed and dropped charges?

There isn’t a difference between dismissed and dropped charges. Both happen after a case has been filed. A case can be dismissed or dropped when there are constitutional violations, procedural issues, or insufficient evidence (to name a few situations). Charges can also be dismissed or dropped as part of negotiations of the case or after certain hearings.

Although getting your charges dismissed is a great outcome, it’s best to avoid charges in the first place (decline to charge). That’s why you need an attorney at the early stages of your case to provide you with pre-charge representation.

On what grounds can a domestic violence case be dismissed or dropped?

There are many factors. I can’t cover all of them, but I’m happy to give some examples:

• A domestic violence case might be dismissed if the defendant shows good conduct after the incident, such as immediately seeking anger management treatment on their own, or putting themselves into an alcohol treatment program if alcohol was involved.  Even getting individual counseling or couples counseling can be helpful.

• A domestic violence case might be dismissed if character letters from family, friends, and co-workers talk about your positive characteristics and the type of person you are.  Even a letter from the alleged victim can be provided to the district attorney (DA).

• The DA might dismiss the case if there is any evidence, including witness statements, that persuades the DA that it is impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that domestic violence occurred. This is based both on the proof police have gathered and the proof the defense brings to the table.

• A domestic violence case might get dismissed if information is provided on how formally charging the client and/or a conviction might impact their current and future employment. For example, a nurse stands to lose licensing after a domestic violence arrest. A DA is less likely to charge if they are going to ruin a productive citizen’s career with no record, but it does depend on the specifics of each case. 

Who can drop a domestic violence charge?

Only the district attorney (DA) will decide whether to drop or dismiss charges.

Can the victim drop domestic violence charges?

No. Whether someone is formally charged is up to the discretion of the district attorney (DA). However, the victim’s input is taken into consideration when the district attorney is making a charging decision.

In pre-charge representation, we find it valuable to talk to the alleged victim if they are willing to discuss the case. Our investigator gathers statements from alleged victims to find out what happened and what outcome they want out of the case.  An alleged victim’s statement may clarify what truly happened at the time of the incident which could be relevant to the district attorney when making their decision on whether to file charges or not.

In most incidents, the DA will usually talk to the alleged victim too. The alleged victim’s input does matter, but it will not be the only factor in whether or not the DA decides to file charges. An alleged victim can’t, on their own, make a case go away.

In truth, most domestic violence cases include a recanting victim in some way. The district attorney’s job is to protect the victim from themselves and from the alleged abuse and that is why the DA does not let the alleged victim be the one to make the decision of whether or not charges should be filed.  If there is a recanting alleged victim, the district attorney will consider other aspects of the situation such as whether the suspect has a long history of abuse or criminal record or whether there are other credible witnesses corroborating the allegation of abuse.  If they have that additional information, it is possible the DA will file charges.

Do most domestic violence cases get dismissed or dropped?

No. Once a case is charged, there is generally a negotiated resolution that takes place if it does not go to trial.  This is why it is so important to get pre-trial representation so that you can get a chance of avoiding charges altogether. If charges are filed, we will continue to fight for you to convince the district attorney (DA) to drop the charges in some way or argue to the judge to dismiss the charges during a procedural hearing.  However, the best outcome is if charges are never filed in the first place, and we can help with that.

Is declining to charge the same as getting a domestic violence case dismissed or dropped?

No. When the district attorney decides to decline a case, that means the district attorney has reviewed the police reports and any other information provided to them by the defendant’s attorney and has decided that, due to there being a lack of evidence or in the interest of justice, they will not file charges against the accused.  Hiring an attorney to represent you during the pre-charging phase of your case provides you an opportunity, through your attorney, to persuade the district attorney to not file any charges by providing them additional information about the incident itself and about you prior to them making a decision about filing formal charges. The benefit of having a case declined is that you never are officially charged with a crime. Getting a case dismissed means that you were charged with some kind of offense but the case was eventually dismissed prior to an actual conviction. A decline can also benefit you by saving your reputation, your job, your housing, and many other aspects of your life.

How do most domestic violence cases end?

It depends. Keep in mind that a small push or a light slap is more than enough to get you arrested in California. A district attorney (DA) can usually be convinced to decline to charge in such a case. On the flip side, if the police arrived to discover a severe beating in progress, then there’s a good chance the DA will want to charge and that the case will have to proceed to a plea bargain or trial.

If the DA chooses to file, they can choose whether to file the case as a misdemeanor or as a felony. If charges are filed, there will be a court date. The initial court date is the arraignment date. We can certainly represent you at the arraignment if we are not able to convince the DA to decline the charges. At the arraignment, you can plead “not guilty,” or “no contest” or “guilty.”  Usually, the judge will issue a restraining order that will either require you to have “no contact” with the alleged victim, or which will allow “peaceful contact” with the victim. That restraining order will include that you not possess any firearms or ammunition.  Therefore, if you own firearms, getting the potential case declined is far superior to getting charges dropped or dismissed as you avoid the potential loss of your 2nd Amendment rights. Read here about getting your gun rights back in California.

After the arraignment, negotiations with the district attorney occur. Once offers are made, our attorneys will provide you, as the client, with all the information necessary so you can make an informed decision on whether to resolve the case or proceed to trial.  If you get convicted of domestic violence charges, whether from a plea or trial, you could be placed on probation with all kinds of probation terms including a potential jail sentence, and, if a felony, you could face prison time. Your attorney should explain all this information to you so you can make an informed decision and understand the consequences.

Decline to charge is the best outcome for your domestic violence case

Although most people are more familiar with the terms “dismissed” and “dropped”, “decline to charge” is your best outcome to protect your reputation. It means you avoid being charged in the first place, so there are no charges to dismiss or drop.

Here are just a couple of examples where I was able to work with the district attorney early in the process and they declined to charge clients who hired me for pre-charge representation.

It’s important to get a lawyer before you are charged. Don’t wait!

Domestic violence case examples

Example one — restaurant dispute in Roseville

A couple got into a physical dispute at a restaurant in Roseville. There was a surveillance video, but it only captured part of the incident. 

The alleged victim told law enforcement that his girlfriend was the aggressor, and he was injured.

Our client (the girlfriend) was arrested. She contacted our office immediately upon her release. She met with me and indicated she was acting in self-defense. 

We sent our investigator out to interview the staff members at the restaurant. We were also able to locate additional surveillance video, and we were able to both locate and interview other patrons who were present. 

The client also provided us with proof of employment, character reference letters, and proof that she had been attending counseling. 

We provided all of this information to the district attorney before any charges were filed. The DA reviewed all the information, got the whole story, and, based upon this information, declined to file any charges. 

Example two — doctor accused of a slap

Another client, a doctor, was arrested when her significant other accused her of slapping him. 

The client contacted us immediately. She had years of being employed as a physician and had no prior record of any criminal trouble.

The district attorney declined to file charges against this client.

We were then able to refer her out to a firm that helped to ensure that the arrest did not threaten her ability to retain her medical license. 

She was very grateful for how quickly things moved, and simply talking to us relieved a lot of her stress and anxiety.

Pre-charge domestic violence representation in Auburn, CA and Roseville, CA

If you’ve been arrested on a domestic violence call it is vital for you to reach out to a lawyer as quickly as possible. We offer a free consultation, during which we will review the facts of your specific case and come up with a plan. We will also gather relevant evidence such as proof of employment, character reference letters, proof of school enrollment, proof of volunteer work, proof of mental health treatment, and other documents which can help the district attorney see that you should not be charged. 

If you’ve been arrested for domestic violence, you need a lawyer right away, regardless of whether you are in the pre-charge stage or whether you have already been charged. Contact our office in Roseville at 916-596-2700 or Auburn at 530-823-7700 to get help today. 

About Amber Zehrung

Amber Zehrung HeadshotAmber Zehrung has been a criminal defense attorney for 20 years in Placer County. She has handled a variety of cases ranging from all types of misdemeanors to a variety of serious and violent felonies. She has had great success in convincing the district attorney to not file charges in cases, to dismiss cases after charges have been filed, and to agree to creative negotiated terms of probation.