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He always says he's sorry-and sometimes you believe him. But
then it happens again. He hits you because dinner wasn't ready
on time. Or, he rips the telephone from the wall and orders you
to stop calling your sister. He throws you to the floor. Maybe
he even threatens to kill you. Sometimes you wonder if the fighting
could be your fault; he insists you provoke him. But no matter
what you do or don't do, it always seems to happen again. You're
afraid. You want to leave him. Sometimes you even worry that if
you don't leave, he will kill you and your children. But if you
do leave, how will you make ends meet? What will happen to the
children? How will you keep him from tracking you down-or from
carrying out his many threats?
You have every reason to be afraid-even if your relationship
has only just begun to turn violent. Statistics suggest that you,
the victim-survivor, face the greatest risk of injury when you
leave an abusive spouse or boyfriend. But the data also suggests
that your situation will not get better-and will likely worsen
-if you don't take steps to change it. Your children, too, could
wind up wounded emotionally, if not physically. Your very lives
may be in danger. It is up to you to honestly assess your situation.
You do not, however, have to face this crisis alone. Help is
available-whether or not you decide to leave the relationship.
National and local domestic violence hotlines can refer you to
shelters, counseling, legal assistance and support in your area.
And while the law cannot protect you absolutely from domestic
violence, it can help you protect yourself. You can file for a
restraining order against your abuser free of charge. And, if
you do move out, you can keep your new address confidential on
official documents, such as court papers and your driver's license.
No one, including your spouse or boyfriend, has the right to
intimidate, harass or hurt you.
1. What is domestic violence?
The law defines domestic violence as certain kinds of abuse directed
toward a spouse or former spouse, cohabitant or former cohabitant,
or a person with whom the abuser has had a "dating or engagement
relationship," or with whom the abuser has had a child. It
is a type of violence that cuts across all cultures, ethnic backgrounds,
education levels, and income brackets. It impacts homosexuals
as often as heterosexuals. It occurs among teenagers as well as
Nor are women the only victims of domestic violence; between
1 and 5 percent are men.
Domestic violence is behavior driven by a need to control. It
can range from threats, annoying telephone calls and stalking
(such as following the victim to and from work, and threatening
the victim), to unwanted sexual touching and hitting. It also
can be defined as one spouse destroying the other's personal property.
2. How can the law help me if I'm battered?
If you are in immediate danger, call 911. If you have children,
they, too, could be at risk. When the police arrive, explain what
happened. The officers can contact an on-call judicial officer
and issue you an "Emergency Protective Order" (also
called an EPO) on the spot. This legally prohibits the batterer
from coming within a certain distance of you. It also may grant
you temporary custody of your children. To obtain an EPO, there
must be an "immediate and present" danger that you and/or
your child will suffer domestic violence, or that your child will
be abducted by a relative. The EPO will remain in effect for five
court days or seven calendar days.
To obtain a longer-term restraining order, you must file for
a "Temporary Restraining Order" (also called a TRO).
Go to your local family law or superior court and request an application
for a TRO. (See #6.) You also can request that a local law enforcement
agency officially notify-"serve" the order on-the batterer
free of charge. The TRO will go into effect as soon as it has
been signed by the judge and personally delivered to the batterer.
You, however, cannot be the one who officially serves the order;
a law enforcement officer or other adult (not named in the order)
must serve it.
After filing for the TRO, you must return to court (within three
weeks) for a scheduled hearing. At that hearing, you may request
that the TRO be made "permanent," which means that it
will be good for up to three years and can be renewed. Such restraining
orders usually require the batterer to stay at least 100 yards-the
length of a football field-away from you.
Can a restraining order protect my children?
Yes. You can request that the stay-away order also apply to your
children. The judge can order the restrained person or batterer
to stay away from the children's school as well as the family
home and any other location where you might be placed in danger.
In addition, the judge may give you temporary custody of the children
and set rules regarding visitation.
If, however, you are seeking custody, you will have to attend
court-ordered mediation after applying for the TRO. As a victim
of domestic violence, you can attend mediation sessions apart
from the restrained person. A support person can accompany you
to such sessions, though she or he cannot participate.
Can the order require the restrained person to pay child support?
Yes, but only if the child is a product of your marriage to the
batterer or if the restrained person has been legally established
as the child's father (through, for example, a paternity court
action). You then can request that child support be included in
the restraining order. Fill out an "Income and Expense Declaration"
and attach it to the TRO application if you want the judge to
consider your circumstances in making such a decision.
The judge also can assign you sole temporary possession of the
family home-regardless of who owns it or whose name is on the
lease. And the order can grant you exclusive use of other property,
such as a car. The law even allows the judge to require that certain
debts be paid while the order is in effect, that property not
be transferred or sold, and that the restrained person reimburse
you for losses caused by his or her abuse.
What if you already have a divorce action pending against your
abuser? You can still seek a separate restraining order and include
any of the specific requests listed above. However, the court
will probably merge the two cases into one eventually.
5. Will a restraining order keep me safe?
Not necessarily. Studies suggest that restraining orders lower,
but do not eliminate, the risk of ongoing violence. Some batterers
respect such orders; some do not. In some instances, seeking a
restraining order may put you in greater danger of significant
bodily injury or death. The data suggests that most serious injuries
and fatalities occur after the victim leaves his or her abuser.
You may want to consider moving to a domestic violence shelter
or the far-off home of a friend unknown to the batterer. In addition,
not leaving an abusive partner could be extremely dangerous in
the long run. Domestic abuse often escalates. In a 1997 study,
88 percent of the victims in domestic violence fatalities had
a documented history of physical abuse (The Florida Governor's
Task Force on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Florida Mortality
Trust your instincts and do everything you can to keep yourself
out of harm's way. A restraining order can help protect you, but
it is still just a piece of paper. Don't harbor a false sense
6. Can I get help filling out court papers?
Yes. Most civil courts (this includes family court) have domestic
violence programs and information on additional local resources.
Ask someone in the court clerk's office for more information.
Some programs provide family law facilitators who can review your
completed application before you file it; others help you fill
out forms and prepare for court, and then provide a "support
person" who can accompany you to hearings. Most of these
programs offer such services free of charge.
7. Do I have to put my address on court papers?
No. You may write "address confidential due to domestic
violence" on your forms. Additionally, recent legislation
allows survivors of domestic violence to keep their home addresses
confidential through the Safe At Home program, which is run by
the Secretary of State's office. If you meet certain criteria,
the Safe At Home program will give you a substitute mailing address
to use on official documents, including court papers and your
In addition, your voter's registration records will be kept confidential;
as a registered voter in the Safe At Home program, you automatically
receive absent voter status. Also, if you decide to get married
while in the program, your address will remain confidential on
those documents as well.
Here's how the Safe At Home program works: You apply through
one of the many designated local domestic violence services programs.
To qualify, you must meet criteria establishing you as a victim-survivor
of domestic violence. Then you will be issued a Safe At Home identification
card with the substitute address. Any first-class or government
mail sent to you at that address will be forwarded within 48 hours.
Any service of process delivered to the address also will be passed
on to you. If you follow the rules, you can use the address for
up to four years. For more information on enrolling, call the
program toll-free at 1-877-322-5227.
Keep in mind, however, that the Safe At Home program is simply
one more protective measure. It is not a guarantee of safety.
While it may provide vital assistance, no such program is fail-safe.
Use all measures possible to keep yourself and your children safe.
8. Do I have to go to court to keep a TRO in effect?
Yes. If you don't show up for the court hearing scheduled within
three weeks of filing, your TRO will simply expire. On the notice
delivered to the restrained person, it also warns that if he or
she fails to show up for court, the judge may grant the requested
order for up to three years without further notice. The "permanent"
restraining order must be served on the abuser by an adult other
than you to go into effect.
9. What does it cost to get a restraining order?
Nothing. Unlike other court applications, there is no filing
fee for domestic violence restraining orders. In addition, you
can request that local police deliver the order free of charge
to the abuser. You may be required to file a declaration showing
financial need to have the order served for free.
10. If I seek a TRO, will the abuser go to jail?
No. A restraining order is a civil-not criminal -action. It legally
bars the abuser from coming near you. Its aim is to help prevent
future domestic violence, to help keep you and your children from
getting hurt. As long as your abuser does not violate the order
or face any criminal charges, he or she will not be arrested.
However, the judge may order the abuser to attend counseling
sessions or anger management classes. In granting the restraining
order, the judge also could-if he or she feels it would help the
situation-require you to get counseling as well. For example,
the judge may decide that "empowerment" classes, such
as those offered in Orange County, may help boost your self-esteem.
11. Will I be reported to the INS if I seek a restraining order?
Anyone, including an angry spouse, could report you to the Immigration
and Naturalization Service (INS) at any time. It is not, however,
an automatic step in the court process to make such a report.
This does not mean, of course, that it could never happen. But
you need not be afraid that the INS will be notified, as a matter
of course, if you file for a restraining order.
You also should be aware of a special provision in the laws governing
immigration and naturalization that may apply to you. If your
immigration status is dependent on your spouse and you are a victim
of domestic violence, you may be able to "self-petition"
for legal status under the federal Violence Against Women Act.
12. What should I do if the abuser violates the restraining order?
Call 911 immediately if you believe that you might be in danger.
At the very minimum, you should notify the police. Remember to
carry a copy of your EPO, TRO, or permanent restraining order
with you at all times. Show it to the police when reporting the
violation. Restraining orders are valid nationwide. In California,
they are input into California's Law Enforcement Telecommunications
System (CLETS); this means that a record of the order should be
retrievable by every law enforcement agency in the state. But
keep a copy of the order with you as an added precaution-even
in California. The law states that the court must provide you
with five stamped, certified, endorsed copies at no charge.
What happens to the abuser will depend on the specific situation.
He could be arrested and, if found in contempt (a misdemeanor),
he could be jailed for up to a year and/or fined $1,000. Or, he
might even face a felony charge. If he takes or conceals a child
in violation of the order, he could be charged with a felony,
which is punishable by a state prison sentence and/or a fine.
Don't be caught off-guard. Establish a safety plan that includes
teaching your children what to do if the batterer shows up. Alert
your children's daycare provider or school officials, and give
them a copy of the restraining order. Make sure that your home
is as secure as possible. Consider installing an alarm system.
Most importantly, refrain from contact with the batterer. Let
your telephone answer machine pick up calls before you do. Confide
in a trusted neighbor, and ask him or her to call police if the
abuser comes near your home.
13. Should I tell my boss about the order?
Only you can assess your particular situation. But there are
compelling reasons for alerting your employer. For example, an
unknowing co-worker could give the batterer your personal information,
which you don't want him to know. Or, a co-worker could wind up
caught in the middle of a violent scene in or near your workplace.
Perhaps you are worried that you will lose your job if you reveal
Employers, however, cannot fire or demote you simply because
you are a survivor of domestic violence. Recent state legislation
prohibits such discrimination. And if your supervisors are aware
of the potential danger, they will be better equipped to help
protect you and your co-workers. For example, they, too, could
seek a restraining order if the situation warrants it. And company
security could be warned to be on the lookout for your abuser-and
to alert you and your supervisors if he approaches the building.
14. Is there only one type of restraining order?
No. A domestic violence restraining order-instituted by the Domestic
Violence Protection Act-applies only to certain kinds of relationships.
Its specific purpose is to prevent the recurrence of domestic
violence and to separate those involved so that they can "seek
a resolution of the causes of the violence." In contrast,
a "civil harassment restraining order," for example,
usually applies to a variety of irritating, non-life-threatening
kinds of harassment (such as a neighbor's dog that barks all night).
Both types of restraining orders prohibit contact. A domestic
violence restraining order, however, also prohibits the restrained
person from possessing or buying a firearm-or even trying to acquire
one. By law, anyone violating this restriction is subject to a
$1,000 fine and imprisonment. Such a violation is a separate federal
crime as well.
15. Can anyone obtain a domestic violence TRO?
Even if your problem involves domestic violence, you must meet
certain criteria to qualify for this type of restraining order
yourself. You must have dated, been engaged to, lived with or
been married to the abusive person. You also would qualify if
the two of you have a child together. What if, however, your daughter's
husband will not stop calling you in search of your daughter?
Perhaps he is even leaving threatening messages on your answer
machine. In this case, your daughter may be able to seek a domestic
violence restraining order, depending on the circumstances. But
you, as the mother, would need to seek a civil harassment restraining
order to legally bar your son-in-law from contacting you.
16. What will happen if my spouse or partner is arrested for
What happens next will depend on the circumstances that led to
the arrest. How seriously were you injured? Was anyone else hurt?
Did he or she threaten you or anyone else? Has he or she ever
been arrested for anything like this before? Depending on the
case, your abuser could be placed on probation or spend time in
A police investigator will probably contact you after the arrest.
If not, you may want to call the police and request a follow-up
interview. Some law enforcement agencies have special domestic
violence response units. However, you should be aware that the
handling of domestic violence cases differs from county to county.
It is not uncommon for batterers to be put on probation for three
years and ordered to undergo one year of domestic violence counseling
in an approved program. Judges presiding over such cases also
frequently impose a criminal "stay-away order," which
is similar to a TRO. You can also request such an order of the
court. The criminal stay-away order usually will remain in effect
throughout the batterer's probation.
For assistance with your case, you could call California's Victims
of Crime Program at 1-800-777-9229 to find the nearest Victim/Witness
Assistance Center. A Victim/Witness Assistance advocate may be
able to provide you with some guidance. In some counties, advocates
can help you locate the investigator or prosecutor handling your
partner's case, advise you of what to expect, and even escort
you to court. They also should be able to tell you whether your
county has a victim-witness notification system that will contact
you when your partner is released from jail. (To receive notification,
you must register with the system.)
17. What if I decide to drop the charges?
That decision is not yours to make. Your forgiveness does not
excuse your partner from the consequences of committing a crime.
As the victim, your opinion and perspective are important. But
an act of domestic violence is, by law, a crime against the state-not
just a crime against you. If criminal charges are filed, it is
up to the judge and, in some cases, a jury to decide whether there
is enough evidence for a conviction.
If you have any questions about the information provided above,
please contact us.
If you would like to be referred to High Profile Domestic Violence
Lawyers and Domestic Violence Attorneys, please click
Learn more about Criminal Law
Criminal Law, branch of law that defines crimes, establishes
punishments, and regulates the investigation and prosecution of
people accused of committing crimes. Criminal law includes both
substantive law, which is addressed in this article, and criminal
procedure, which regulates the implementation and enforcement
of substantive criminal law.
Substantive criminal law defines crime and punishment-for example,
what act constitutes murder or what punishment a murderer should
receive. On the other hand, criminal procedure is concerned with
the legal rules followed and the steps taken to investigate, apprehend,
charge, prosecute, convict, and sentence to punishment individuals
who violate substantive criminal law. For example, criminal procedure
describes how a murder trial must be conducted.
This article discusses criminal law in the context of the common
law system, which is found in countries such as England, Canada,
and the United States. In the common law system, judges decide
cases by referring to principles set forth in previous judicial
decisions. Common law systems are typically contrasted with civil
law systems, which are found in most Western European countries,
much of Latin America and Africa, and parts of Asia. In civil
law systems, judges decide cases by referring to statutes, which
are enacted by legislatures and compiled in comprehensive books
In legal systems based on common law, criminal law is distinguished
from what is known as civil law. In this context, the term civil
law refers to the rules regulating private relationships, such
as marriage, contracts, and personal injuries. In contrast, criminal
law governs actions and relationships that are deemed to harm
society as a whole.
PURPOSE OF CRIMINAL LAW
Criminal law seeks to protect the public from harm by inflicting
punishment upon those who have already done harm and by threatening
with punishment those who are tempted to do harm. The harm that
criminal law aims to prevent varies. It may be physical harm,
death, or bodily injury to human beings; the loss of or damage
to property; sexual immorality; danger to the government; disturbance
of the public peace and order; or injury to the public health.
Conduct that threatens to cause, but has not yet caused, a harmful
result may be enough to constitute a crime. Thus, criminal law
often strives to avoid harm by forbidding conduct that may lead
to harmful results.
One purpose of both civil law and criminal law in the common
law system is to respond to harmful acts committed by individuals.
However, each type of law provides different responses. A person
who is injured by the action of another may bring a civil lawsuit
against the person who caused the harm. If the victim prevails,
the civil law generally provides that the person who caused the
injury must pay money damages to compensate for the harm suffered.
A person who acts in a way that is considered harmful to society
in general may be prosecuted by the government in a criminal case.
If the individual is convicted (found guilty) of the crime, he
or she will be punished under criminal law by either a fine, imprisonment,
or death. In some cases, a person's wrongful and harmful act can
invoke both criminal and civil law responses.
THEORIES OF CRIMINAL PUNISHMENT
Various theories have been advanced to justify or explain the
goals of criminal punishment, including retribution, deterrence,
restraint (or incapacitation), rehabilitation, and restoration.
Sometimes punishment advances more than one of these goals. At
other times, a punishment may promote one goal and conflict with
Retribution: The theory of retribution holds that punishment
is imposed on the blameworthy party in order for society to vent
its anger toward and exact vengeance upon the criminal. Supporters
of this theory look upon punishment not as a tool to deter future
crime but as a device for ensuring that offenders pay for past
Deterrence: Those who support the deterrence theory believe that
if punishment is imposed upon a person who has committed a crime,
the pain inflicted will dissuade the offender (and others) from
repeating the crime. When the theory refers to the specific offender
who committed the crime, it is known as special deterrence. General
deterrence describes the effect that punishment has when it serves
as a public example or threat that deters people other than the
initial offender from committing similar crimes.
Restraint: Some believe that the goal of punishment is restraint.
If a criminal is confined, executed, or otherwise incapacitated,
such punishment will deny the criminal the ability or opportunity
to commit further crimes that harm society.
Rehabilitation: Another possible goal of criminal punishment
is rehabilitation of the offender. Supporters of rehabilitation
seek to prevent crime by providing offenders with the education
and treatment necessary to eliminate criminal tendencies, as well
as the skills to become productive members of society.
Restoration: The theory of restoration takes a victim-oriented
approach to crime that emphasizes restitution (compensation) for
victims. Rather than focus on the punishment of criminals, supporters
of this theory advocate restoring the victim and creating constructive
roles for victims in the criminal justice process. For example,
relatives of a murder victim may be encouraged to testify about
the impact of the death when the murderer is sentenced by the
court. Promoters of this theory believe that such victim involvement
in the process helps repair the harm caused by crime and facilitates
Conflicts Among Goals: The various justifications for criminal
punishment are not mutually exclusive. A particular punishment
may advance several goals at the same time. A term of imprisonment,
for example, may serve to incapacitate the offender, deter others
in society from committing similar acts, and, at the same time,
provide an opportunity for rehabilitative treatment for the offender.
On the other hand, the goals of punishment may at times conflict.
The retributive and deterrence theories call for the infliction
of unpleasant experiences upon the criminal, including harsh prison
treatment; but the prison environment may not be conducive to,
or may even defeat, rehabilitation.
No one theory of punishment addresses all the goals of criminal
law. A combination of theories and goals plays a part in the thinking
of the legislators who establish the ranges of punishment for
various crimes, the judges and jurors who sentence offenders within
these ranges, and the parole authorities who have the power to
release certain prisoners.
CLASSIFICATION OF CRIMES
Crimes are classified in many different ways: common law crimes
versus statutory crimes, and crimes that are mala in se (evil
in themselves) versus those that are mala prohibita (criminal
only because the law says so). An important classification is
the division of crimes into felonies or misdemeanors. This distinction
is based on the severity of the crime and is rooted in common
In many jurisdictions in the United States, felonies are crimes
punishable by death or imprisonment in a state prison or penitentiary
and misdemeanors are those punishable by fine or imprisonment
in a local jail. (The term jurisdiction refers to the authority
of a political entity, such as a state or a county, or the territory
over which that authority is exercised.) In other jurisdictions,
crimes punishable by imprisonment for one year or more are felonies,
and those punishable by fine or imprisonment for less than one
year are misdemeanors. Since each jurisdiction determines the
penalties for offenses it defines, a misdemeanor in one jurisdiction
may constitute a felony in another. Some jurisdictions have an
additional classification for petty offenses, also called infractions,
which are usually punishable by a small fine.
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