Understanding Domestic Violence and the Criminal Justice System
Some of the most common types of cases in New York City’s criminal courts are those involving domestic violence. The criminal courts classify as “domestic violence” those crimes allegedly committed against family members, spouses, and/or current or former romantic partners. Those crimes can include actual violent acts like assault and/or rape, threatening behavior like menacing or harassment, and violations of orders of protection (criminal contempt), among other things. Typical charges might include Assault in the Third Degree (Penal Law 120.00, a class A misdemeanor), Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree (Penal Law 240.30, a class A misdemeanor), Strangulation in the Second Degree (Penal Law 121.12, a class D felony), and Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree (Penal Law 215.50) (a class A misdemeanor).
Many victims of domestic violence are surprised to learn that they cannot simply “drop the charges” against a defendant, or voluntarily and immediately terminate the criminal case they helped initiate. Quite frequently, a dispute between family members or spouses leads to someone calling the police, and when the police arrive, one of the participants in the argument (or the victim) reports that they have been assaulted or threatened. That report alone provides probable cause for the police to make an arrest, and, generally, police are in fact required to make an arrest under such circumstances. The complainants frequently regret having made the reports leading to the arrests, but after the arrests, the decision about whether the case proceeds or not is not the complainant’s decision to make.