Going to Court

Who's Who in Court

If you decide to sign a criminal complaint against your abuser for domestic battery, you will have to tell your story to many people. The police, the state's attorney, your legal advocate and your counselor will all focus on different aspects of your case. It is important to understand what each person's role is because each has their own perspective and agenda. Few will receive your complaint willingly because you are accusing an officer of a crime. It is important that you carefully choose whom to trust as they may not have your best interest or even your safety at heart.

Officer-involved domestics are much more difficult cases to pursue because police officers play such a huge part in the criminal justice system. They are frequently in court as part of their job. They know the prosecutor and the judge. They may know the attorneys and other professionals involved in your case. They know what tone and style of testifying will influence the judge or jury. The courtroom is their territory.

The verdict may have nothing to do with what really happened or about serving justice. If you are unfamiliar with the way the legal process actually works, you may believe that justice is served in court. Actually, the outcome is often based on which lawyer best presents their case. The abuser will be found guilty only if the State can prove he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A verdict of not guilty is not the same as being proven innocent. It means there was not enough evidence to prove guilt.

Naming the Players

Police administrators...
...main concern is the department's liability. They have a great deal of influence over many aspects of the criminal case and ultimately determine how much time and money the department is willing to invest in defending the abuser. Politics, publicity, the abuser's rank and reputation, and the chief's attitude toward domestic violence all come into play.
...represent the State and determine whether the State will pursue charges. They prefer cases that they can win and expect you to cooperate with them. The State's Attorney might be reluctant to pursue prosecution because many domestic violence victims recant or change their testimony out of fear. They may be reluctant to proceed on a case against an officer if the department does not want that individual prosecuted. Prosecutors rely heavily on police reports and testimony in all of their cases and know that officers have the power to jeopardize other cases.
Defense attorneys...
...are the abuser's attorneys. Their job is to prevent the State from proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer-defendant battered you. The defense attorney will attack your credibility to create doubt that you are a reliable witness telling the truth.
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...may be afraid to testify on your behalf or you may be afraid to allow them to testify. The abuser and his colleagues pose a threat to your witnesses' safety. Witnesses for the abuser are probably fellow officers. They know how to manipulate the facts of the case. They may claim no knowledge, memory, or witnessing of the incident.
Responding officers...
...may be required to give verbal testimony at the trial. They have a strong sense of loyalty to their fellow officer. They want to protect the abuser's and their own careers. How the officers choose to present their information is crucial. Your case in part depends on the accuracy of their reports, evidence they collected, photographs they took (or didn't take), and how they testify in court. There are ample opportunities throughout the process for your abuser and his fellow officers to influence the case.
...control the court and determine the outcome of the case unless it is a jury trial. They have the power to confiscate the abuser's firearms and other weapons if they believe possession puts you risk. Most women report that judges give great consideration to the impact a ruling may have on an officer's or firefighter's career.
Victim witness specialists...
...work for the prosecutor's office and/or the police department. Their job is to facilitate the prosecution by making you feel comfortable and giving you the emotional support you need to be willing and able to testify.
Domestic violence advocates...
...are there to give you information and support you whether or not you choose to testify. Advocates can assist you in communicating with the prosecutor and making the court aware of your concerns.
Supporters & family...
...may be afraid to appear in court with you. Some may not want to get involved because of the abuser's power in the community. Others may be afraid for their own personal safety. The abuser's family and fellow officers will be there in force and in uniform.
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...are there to impartially listen to and judge the evidence. They are instructed to reach a decision of not guilty unless they are convinced of the abuser's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Jurists are from the general public and may share society's misperceptions, myths and stereotypes about domestic violence, especially when the abuser is an officer of the law.

In addition to knowing who's who in the courtroom, it will help you to be familiar with some of the legal jargon they use. The American Bar Association provides definitions of legal terms frequently used in domestic violence cases. WomensLaw.org provides easy-to-understand legal information and resources to women living with or escaping domestic violence or sexual assault. Consider reviewing their section on preparing for court.

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