When a Victim Recants: Why You Can Still Be Charged with Domestic Violence

When a Victim Recants: Why You Can Still Be Charged with Domestic ViolenceDomestic violence charges can have many severe consequences for the person accused, and a conviction could affect their lives in numerous ways: their options for employment, ability to rent an apartment or buy a home, right to own a firearm, and opportunity to care for and visit their children.

Sometimes, domestic violence charges result from a spouse or intimate partner contacting the police or filing a request for a protection order with sufficient evidence to prompt the state to act against the perpetrator. Other times, a third party uninvolved in the situation calls the police to report suspected domestic violence. Based on the circumstances, the officer believes that a crime occurred and charges one of those present with domestic violence, even though the spouses insist that it did not happen. Can the alleged victim ask the state not to prosecute?

Many people charged with domestic violence incorrectly believe that the matter will resolve if their accuser recants the allegations. However, this is not the case in Texas. While accusers are free to state that they do not want the case to proceed, the state’s no-drop policy requires that only prosecutors can decide whether the matter will be dismissed.

What is the Texas “No-Drop” policy?

In Texas, the no-drop policy shifts the power over domestic violence charges away from the alleged victims into the hands of state prosecutors. Research indicates that even those who suffer significant domestic abuse often recant statements about their injuries or attempt to downplay the severity of their abuse to help their spouse or partner avoid a criminal conviction. However, under the state’s no-drop policy, since the state (not the alleged abuse victim) issues the charges, only the prosecutor can decide whether to move forward with the case or drop the charges.

Abusive relationships often gradually escalate until a violent episode occurs, followed by a period of calm. During this cooling-off period, the abuser often attempts to apologize and make amends with their partner. As a result, some victims are inclined to request that domestic violence charges be dropped, even though further incidents might occur in the future.

What is the rationale for no-drop policies?

During the late 1980s and 1990s, the law enforcement response to domestic violence changed dramatically. Until then, many prosecutors and judges were inclined to dismiss domestic cases in which the victim was unwilling to come to court or to testify against the defendant. Accordingly, because many victims refused to cooperate with prosecutors for various reasons, domestic violence cases had higher dismissal rates than those in connection to other crimes.

However, in the late 1990s, legal obstructions were removed for police officers making warrantless arrests for misdemeanor crimes they did not witness. These former barriers were replaced with presumptive arrest statutes, under which police were encouraged to make arrests, or arrests were obligatory if probable cause was apparent. Many victim advocates supported these changes, arguing that taking the decision to arrest away from victims protected them from possible retaliation by abusers.

Advocates argue that no-drop policies are victim-friendly because they take the burden of continuing a prosecution away from the victim and decrease the abuser’s power to force the victim to drop charges. However, when domestic violence charges arise from a misunderstanding, false accusation, or an argument that gets out of hand, the results can worsen an already difficult situation.

What is considered domestic violence?

In Texas, there is no specific crime called domestic violence. Instead, domestic violence is part of a series of criminal charges known as “family violence,” which includes offenses such as:

  • Threats of or actual physical violence
  • Sexual assault
  • Emotional abuse
  • Harassing behavior toward a household member like a spouse, child, boyfriend, girlfriend, or some other individual who resides in the home

A domestic violence conviction can lead to the loss of much more than your reputation and relationships, even if no one was hurt and it was a first-time charge. In many cases, the judge will enter an emergency protective order or a “no-contact” order that prevents the accused from contacting or approaching the accuser. In addition, a first-time domestic violence conviction can result in a fine of up to $4,000 and up to 12 months in jail. The penalties are more severe for subsequent convictions or incidents that cause serious injury.

Defenses to a Killeen domestic violence charge

It is critical to remember that a domestic violence charge does not necessarily result in a criminal conviction. Some reasons why domestic violence charges might be reduced or eliminated include:

  • Unavailability of a material witness. If the victim refuses to testify or does not show up at trial, this could lead to a dismissal of charges. However, domestic violence prosecutions do not necessarily require the live testimony of a victim – statements made to a 911 operator, or the police may provide the necessary evidence instead.
  • False allegations. When spouses want alleged offenders to be arrested, false allegations can be widespread. When responding to a call, law enforcement officers sometimes take a suspect into custody even if there is no evidence to support the allegations.
  • Accidental harm. Under Texas law, family violence is “intended to,” as a person cannot accidentally cause family violence. There must be some intent to harm another person, so a person who accidentally harms family or household member should not be guilty of any criminal offense.
  • Self-defense. A person may be justified in using force to defend themselves against another person when they believe it is necessary to protect them against the unlawful force of another.

An experienced criminal defense attorney in Killeen or Copperas Cove can build defenses and strategies for mitigating the consequences of a domestic violence charge and potentially get the allegations dropped or reduced.

At Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, our skilled attorneys have decades of combined experience representing those who stand accused of domestic violence throughout Central Texas. Our  lawyers in Killeen and Copperas Cove will provide you with an aggressive defense and work hard to help you avoid the harsh penalties and consequences of a criminal conviction. Fill out our contact form or call 254-680-4655 to schedule a personal consultation today. We represent clients in Killeen, Copperas Cove, Temple, and Belmont.