Domestic violence is an all too common occurrence in today’s society. Some studies indicate that as many as one in three women and one in four men in the United States will experience an act of domestic violence. The problem has become so widespread that many counties in Michigan have set up interagency domestic violence task forces with the sole purpose of preventing domestic violence and punishing those accused of committing domestic violence. It should come as no surprise then, that law enforcement, prosecutors and courts take every reported instance of domestic violence seriously and are under public pressure to punish those accused of domestic violence.
Domestic violence in Michigan occurs when an assault or an assault and battery occurs between two people who are married or were married, are in or were in a dating relationship, who have a child together, or residents or former residents of the same household. Domestic violence also now encompasses an assault or an assault and battery against someone who is pregnant and who the individual knows to be pregnant regardless of their relationship.
The immediate criminal consequences of a conviction for domestic violence are severe. A first-time offense carries with it the potential for 93 days in jail and a $500 fine. A second offense carries with it the potential for a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. After two or more prior convictions, the offense becomes a felony and has a maximum prison sentence of five years and a fine of $5,000.
Additionally, if the prosecutor has any reason to believe that you committed an act that inflicts “serious or aggravated injury” on the other person, even without a weapon and without the intent to commit murder or inflict great bodily harm less than murder, you could face the felony charge of aggravated domestic violence.
As serious as the immediate penalties for domestic violence are, the collateral consequences of these convictions are often unexpected and can be even worse. A conviction for any of the offenses described above can lead to loss of employment, loss of gun rights, loss of housing and more. Additionally, a conviction for domestic violence can adversely affect an individual’s parental rights and can have a drastic impact on divorce proceedings. As a result, we often see accusations of domestic violence being used as a weapon or tool where a divorce is imminent.
Because of the protections afforded under the Constitution and the fairness inherent in the American justice system, we would like to think that someone who has been accused of domestic violence stands on a level playing field with the alleged victim and law enforcement, and thus will have a fair shot at defending themselves. Unfortunately, as seen time and again, if you are accused of domestic violence, the deck is stacked against you.
Contrary to popular belief, even if the alleged victim changes their mind and refuses to testify or cooperate with law enforcement, the prosecutor can still move forward with charges. Changes in Michigan law allow prosecutors to bring evidence against you even when the accusing party refuses to show up or cooperate in court. Additionally, the rules of evidence in Michigan may allow the prosecutor to introduce instances of past alleged domestic violence that may or may not have occurred even where it was never reported and there is no record of it happening.
Thankfully, not all is lost, as the legislature has provided a mechanism that provides a first-time domestic violence offender with an opportunity to avoid the collateral consequences that follow a conviction. Typically referred to as deferral, the law allows an eligible person to plead guilty to domestic violence, and if the court agrees, that individual is placed on a period of probation. During that probationary period the court can impose a variety of conditions upon that person, including but not limited to: participation in therapy, completion of education programs, drug and alcohol testing, etc. If all of the requirements are successfully completed, the court may dismiss the charges against the individual, and there will not be any public record of the conviction.
It should be recognized that, while deferral is an option, a deferral is never guaranteed. Most prosecutors and courts require that someone who wants to be placed on a deferred sentence prove that they are a worthy candidate. Courts want to be reassured that someone placed on a deferred sentence will be successful in completing their term of probation and any requirements of that probation. Additionally, courts and prosecutors want to be assured that, given the opportunity, the accused is going to make use of the situation and better themselves.
Handling domestic violence charges requires a unique approach. While a deferred sentence may be a good option for some people, for others it can turn disastrous. An experienced attorney can help you to navigate the tricky waters of the court system and domestic violence charges.
To discuss your options when faced with a domestic violence charge, call McDonald Pierangeli Macfarlane, PLLC, at 616-426-9609, or fill out the contact form on this site. From our office in Grand Rapids, we represent clients throughout Michigan.