A domestic violence charge and conviction can have serious consequences on a person’s reputation, employment prospects, and overall well-being. If you’ve been charged with domestic violence you need to know exactly what options you have, and what is the process for getting the case resolved most effectively. This article will look at the elements of domestic violence in the State of Tennessee, where I practice law, and in particular look at how domestic violence cases are handled in Memphis-area courts. Memphis has its own rules and procedures on handling a case which will differ from other jurisdictions. If you live in Memphis and are charged with domestic assault, you can expect your case to proceed in one of the ways I outline below. This article does not cover procedures for jurisdictions outside of Memphis, but it should give you an overview of how these types of cases work and what to expect.
Domestic assault in Tennessee is defined as assault against a “domestic abuse victim." What constitutes a domestic abuse victim can be pretty broad, but it generally includes people who are related by blood or marriage, or people who have dated or had a sexual relationship. That can be a lot of different people in someone’s life. It could be an in-law, a distant relative, or an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend.
Under Tennessee law, where a police officer has probable cause to believe a person has committed domestic violence, the police may arrest that person. Generally, to make a warrantless arrest for a misdemeanor the offense must be committed in the officer’s presence; however there is an exception to this rule for domestic violence. As long as the police have probable cause, they may arrest the individual for domestic assault without a warrant and without having witnessed the offense. Often in domestic cases it may appear that two or more people were committing domestic violence towards each other. In these cases the officer must determine who is the primary aggressor, and may look at such factors as the history of domestic abuse between the parties, the severity of injuries inflicted on each person, evidence from the persons involved and witnesses, and whether anyone acted in self-defense.
For a person charged with domestic violence in Memphis, they will have different options on how to handle the case. They may always elect to have a trial; however, if there is a way to dispose of the case and keep it off the client’s record without a trial I usually recommend that approach. One common way is to enroll in anger management classes.
The State’s attorney will usually allow the accused, if they do not have a prior record, to take anger management classes in lieu of further prosecution. The classes meet once a week for eight weeks and the client gets a certificate at the end. The client then brings the certificate to court and the case is dismissed. The client will have to pay court costs as well. Following the dismissal and payment of costs, the client can have the complete record of the case expunged.
Another option might be to do what is often done in Collierville, a suburb of Memphis. In Collierville the prosecution will often dismiss a domestic violence case if the victim agrees to sign an affidavit stating they do not wish to press charges. As a domestic assault lawyer for the Memphis area, I can assist in drafting the affidavit and having the victim sign it at my office. I would then submit it to the prosecutor, who would announce to the judge that the case is being dismissed, and then assist the client in the process of expunging the matter from their record.
The cost of a domestic violence conviction can be high. Not only does it leave a lasting stigma, the individual may be facing up to 11 months and 29 days in jail. Furthermore, under federal law they would not be allowed to ever again purchase or possess a firearm. Because of these consequences it is important that an individual charged with domestic assault in Tennessee take all necessary steps to insure that it does not become a permanent conviction on their record.
Patrick Stegall is a Memphis domestic assault lawyer. He represents men and women charged with the crime of domestic violence, and specializes in helping first-time offenders stay out of jail and avoid a criminal conviction on their record. To discuss your case, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.