Stages of a Domestic Violence Case in San Diego

We think it is important to explain each step of a domestic violence case so that you can better understand the process and know that you are not alone.

The Stages

  1. The 911 Call
  2. The Initial Investigation
  3. Before The Case is Filed
  4. When The Case is Filed
  5. The Trial

First Stage – The 911 Call

The 911 Call is important for the following reasons:

  • It is the first complaint,
  • It is the first piece of evidence,
  • It is the first thing the police hear, and
  • It is one of the most important pieces of evidence that will be used throughout the case.

Not every domestic violence case has a 911 call but when they do it usually happens like this:

Generally two parties have been either drinking alcohol or arguing. One party decides to make a call. They make allegations that are sometimes true and sometimes false. According to the law, the police need to respond, and if there is a complaining witness at the scene, the police must make an arrest.

In our experience at Ozols Law Firm, the complaining witness often will embellish the situation or make claims that are not true to get back at their significant other. It is even quite common for the caller to call back after a period of time, say that they do not need help and even sometimes say that what they said was a lie. This call back has little impact and the police will still make an arrest.

The 911 tape comes into play at trial if the alleged victim is unavailable for trial. (See California Evidence Code § 240.) Often the domestic violence cases we deal with are ones in which after the incident the couple has reconciled. The alleged victim will tell the D.A. they do not want to testify against their spouse.

The 911 tapes would be inadmissible because playing the tapes would violate the defendant’s right to confront the witness. (See Confrontation Clause, Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.) The problem is, under certain circumstances pursuant to the Crawford case, those tapes may be admitted without violating the defendant’s right to confront witnesses against him. Having that tape used against our client can be very damaging if that is the only thing the jury hears.

Dissecting and investigating the 911 call is an important part of the process and you need to hire someone with experience in these types of cases to handle this job.

Second Stage – The Initial Investigation

The initial investigation starts with talking to our client, getting their side of the story and starting to build a defense. Often the alleged victim wants to talk to our legal team and discuss the scenario and we can do that, as long as it is within ethical boundaries. Having the alleged victim write a declaration can also be done. This can show the police or the district attorney that they do not intent to cooperate and also let the district attorney know that the parties intends to fight the case.

Other things can come into play early on in the investigation as well. This can include:

  • Analyzing any text messages between the two parties,
  • Looking at times that certain things happened,
  • Pictures of each of the parties,
  • Pictures of any injuries, and
  • Hearing how the police officers treated our client

Third Stage – Before The Case Is Filed

A lot of people will call our firm and say stuff like “well I know now there is nothing I can do after I have been arrested.” After hearing this we always tell them that there is actually a lot that can be done.

An arrest alone does not mean that charges are going to be filed against you. Often in San Diego what happens is the case goes from the investigating police officer who was at the scene to a Detective. The Detective then reviews the case and makes a decision whether or not to send the case over to the DA’s office for prosecution.

In certain cases it may be necessary to get a hold of the detective and present to them any exculpatory evidence, or in general terms any evidence that can help our case that was not in the police report and that they do not already know of.

If the case does get sent to the District Attorney’s office then that is another spot where we can use our skills to talk with them about the case.

These types of cases will likely go to the Family Protection Unit and it will go to someone who is called an “issuing deputy.” The issuing deputy is the one who makes the decision on whether or not the case is filed.

If one has not hired an attorney, then all the issuing deputy has to go on is the police report. They don’t know anything about our client, about their work history, their life, their possible military background or any other factors that could come into play. They also have never heard our client’s side of the story. Here, we can talk to the issuing deputy and give them all of the information, all sides of the story so that they can make a fair and thorough decision.

Fourth Stage – When the Case is Filed

When a case is filed, contrary to popular belief, it is not the end of the world. All that this means is that it gives us a chance to start reading over the police report, poking holes in the investigation and doing everything we can to settle a case.

The goal of a solid criminal defense attorney in San Diego is to always get an offer to work with first. This is something that our client can think about, and something that they can now know would be the worst-case scenario. After that is established, then it is time to evaluate the case, evaluate the evidence and think about the best possible strategy for a trial.

When the case is pending, this is time for another round of investigation. A review of the 911 call, a possible trip to the scene, a conversation with all necessary witnesses and a much deeper look into the evidence against us.

Ozols Law Firm recently dealt with a case where the alleged victim fell well getting out of the shower, she hit her eye on the sink and was bleeding. She called for her boyfriend to help and yelled “help – I am bleeding”. The neighbors called the police and they showed up. When they got there, they saw the scene, saw the blood and told the boyfriend to get down on the ground, he was under arrest for domestic violence. When we first got this case, we were apprehensive just like everyone else. It sounded like a “story” that they had came up with.

We did what we could but the case was still filed. During the later investigation we went back to the apartment and looked at where the blood was. We listened to the 911 tape, we looked at texts between each other, looked at where their coffee was, how she could have hit her head. We looked at all of this and presented it to the prosecutor in the case. After long talks, the case was finally dismissed.

An intense investigation after the case was filed was what won our client his freedom.

Fifth Stage – The Trial

Some cases just cannot get resolved. Sometimes our firm and the prosecutor’s office just do not see eye to eye. At that point, we need to go to trial so one way or another our client can prove their innocence. A domestic violence trial is one that is more about facts and creditability and less about science. There are no real calculations or statistics; it is more about who the jury believes.

At Ozols Law Firm we do everything we can at trial to discredit the prosecution witnesses and bolster our witnesses’ trial testimony so that our side of the story is the only one that the jury is hearing. Domestic violence cases in San Diego have a reputation of being very hard to prove. It is a classic “he said, she said” where the jury hears two sides of the story and has to really think about who to believe. Remember, cases in criminal court need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. When you hear two sides of the story and each person is saying something different, it is very hard for a jury to be sure and therefore it is tough for them to always render a guilty verdict.

The Myth

We get calls of people all the time calling us saying, “well my significant other doesn’t want to “press charges””. They will not cooperate with the DA – that means the case is dismissed right?

No, that is not the case. In California the prosecutor is the only one who can file charges. The police can’t, the victim can’t, no one else can. So just because the alleged victim is now saying this did not happen or is now saying they do not want to cooperate does not mean that your case is over. The prosecutors are seasoned prosecutors that have dealt with thousands of cases and they have seen it all. They will file these cases and pursue them no matter what the victims are saying. Just because someone is not going to cooperate or is now going back on what they said to police earlier does not mean that the case will be over.