What you need to know if you have been charged with a domestic violence crime.
If you are arrested by the police for a domestic violence crime, you will have to appear in court the next day (if you are arrested on a weekend or on a holiday, you will be required to appear in court the next business day). Regardless of whether you are taken into police custody or issued a summons, you should not discuss your case with law enforcement.
You may be released on a Promise to Appear (“PTA”). You may be released without having to post any bond, on a PTA, if law enforcement determines that you do not pose an immediate threat to the protected party or the public and you do not pose a risk of flight. A PTA means that the person being released promises to appear in court at his or her assigned date and time. If you receive and sign a notice that you received a PTA and do not show up for your designated court date, you may be charged with a Failure to Appear (often referred to as a “FTA”). Failure to Appear in court is a crime and you can face incarceration for this offense, separate and apart from the underlying offense that necessitated your appearance in court.
You may have to post bond prior to being released from custody
If the police decide not to issue a PTA, you may have to post what is known as a bond. A bond is an amount of money (or in some cases property or other assets) that a person deposits with the court as a guarantee/collateral that he or she will appear for his or her court date. If you are unable to post the bond, you can hire the services of a bondsman. A bondsman will charge a certain percentage of the bond as a fee for posting the bond on your behalf. The bondsman charges this service fee for assuming the risk that you do not appear in court, in which case they will be legally obligated to pay the bond.
If you need to post bond and can pay the full amount, those funds will be returned to you upon resolution of your criminal matter. If you cannot post bond, either by payment of the full amount yourself or through the services of a bondsman, you will be brought before a judge the next business day that court is in session.
Your first court appearance
At your first court appearance, you will appear before a judge – this first court appearance when you are presented in front of a judge is called an arraignment. At your arraignment, the judge will review your bond and if you are incarcerated. At that hearing, an attorney can argue to reduce your bond and propose non-financial conditions of release that will ensure your appearance in court and that there is no safety risk to the community.
The judge will then set another court date. The prosecutor will give your attorney a copy of your police report and the judge may require that you participate in certain programs or fulfill other obligations between the date of your arraignment and next court date. Often, these requirements are imposed as conditions of your release and if you do not comply with these orders, your bond could get raised and/or you can be charged with additional crimes (for example, Criminal Trespass). Some conditions that the court can impose include that you participate in are:
- drug screening or counseling
- alcohol screening or counseling
- mental health screening or counseling
- anger management classes
- parenting classes
Family Services will be involved in your domestic violence case
On your first court date, you will be required to meet with Family Services (often referred to as Court Support Services Family Division or Family Relations) where a representative will ask you questions about your background and history, and your relationship to the individual who has been identified as the victim of the crime. The Family Services representative will then review your case and make recommendations to the judge as to whether a Protective Order should be issued and if so, what kind. Family Services will also indicate any other concerns or recommendations based on the circumstances surrounding your case.
You will also be asked to give “your side of the story.” Throughout this process you should not discuss anything about the incident or circumstances surrounding your arrest without an attorney present. While domestic violence crimes are handled on a separate docket in criminal court called the Domestic Violence Docket it is still considered a criminal docket and you are still being prosecuted. You have an absolute right to remain silent and you should exercise that constitutional right until and unless it is in your interests to waive it.
Often, the judge looks to the Family Violence Victim Advocate or Family Services representative to represent the victim’s position and make a recommendation. However, it is important to understand that even though the victim has a right to be notified of the court date and to have his or her position taken into consideration, the prosecutor’s job is ultimately to prosecute you on the charges brought against you.
In criminal cases involving domestic violence, a Family Violence Victim Advocate participates in the process by reaching out to the victim and providing them with information regarding:
- the case
- the court process
- the availability of victim-related services (such as counseling)
The victim is not required to talk to the Family Violence Victim Advocate or any other court personnel about the incident, and should not be pressured by anyone to do so. It is often a good idea for the victim to consult with or obtain counsel to ensure that his or her position is accurately conveyed to the court and his or her voice is heard when the matter is being resolved (to learn more about victim’s rights in domestic violence cases, visit Information for Victims of Domestic Violence).
You may be subject to a Protective Order
On the initial court date, the judge will determine whether or not to issue a Protective Order. There are three types of Protective Orders that can be imposed. The judge can issue the following Protective Orders:
- Residential Stay-Away requiring you to stay away from the home of the protected party.
- Full Protective Order prohibiting you from having any contact with the protected party.
- Partial Protective Order prohibiting you from threatening or harassing the protected party.
If the court decides to issue a Protective Order, it will be entered into a computer database and law enforcement will have access to it. Once a Protective Order is in place, you cannot violate any of the conditions or you will be charged with Violation of a Protective Order. Violation of a Protective Order is a class D Felony, and if convicted of this offense, you could face up to five years in prison. You can be charged with this crime whether or not the victim initiated or welcomed the contact. The offense is that you violated the Court’s order and does not have anything to do with the victim’s position. It is important to understand that the purpose behind Protective Orders is to ensure the safety of the victim but even if the protected party is not afraid of you and wants to contact you, you cannot contact the victim in violation of the Protective Order.
You will be given a copy of the Protective Order in court and you should review it carefully and make sure if you have any questions that you discuss them with your attorney. You should keep a copy of the Protective Order with you at all times and make sure your attorney has a copy of the Protective Order for your file.
Can I do anything to modify the Protective Order once a Court issues it?
The Protective Order will remain in effect until your criminal case has been resolved, unless you modify it during the pendency of your case. Your attorney can file a motion to modify the Protective Order and you can have a hearing on the motion. Sometimes the court will decide to modify the Order by agreement, but sometimes a hearing will need to take place – especially if the protected party objects to the granting of your motion.
What if I need to contact the victim about something important while the Protective Order is in effect?
Sometimes, counsel for the victim and defendant can communicate with each other. This is especially important in situations where there is a Protective Order in place and the parties are not permitted to speak to each other. In these situations, your attorney can get permission to contact the victim’s attorney regarding important issues such as childcare. Attorneys often work together to ensure that the parties can address their family’s needs, especially involving minor children and finances, while the criminal case is pending in court.
Standing Criminal Protective Orders
Even though a Protective Order terminates upon the resolution of a criminal case, the judge can impose a Standing Criminal Protective Order in some cases. Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-40c, if you are convicted of any of the following offenses:
53a-59, 53a-59a, 53a-60, 53a-60a, 53a-60b, 53a-60c, 53a-70, 53a-70a, 53a-70b, 53a-71, 53a-72a, 53a-72b, 53a-181c, 53a-181d, 53a-181e, 53a-182b, 53a-183, 53a-223, 53a-223a or 53a-223b or attempt or conspiracy to violate 53a-54a against a family or household member, or any crime that the court determines constitutes a family violence crime, or attempt or conspiracy to commit any such crime,
the court can issue a Standing Criminal Protective Order. The court may also impose a Standing Criminal Protective Order if it finds that your history, character, and the underlying facts of the criminal case make it is necessary to protect the victim and the public. The Standing Criminal Protective Order can prohibit you from imposing any restraint upon, threatening, harassing, molesting, assaulting, sexually assaulting or attacking the victim or entering the victim’s home.
Criminal Violation of a Standing Criminal Restraining Order is a class D felony. Any violation of the Standing Criminal Protective Order that involves restraining, threatening, harassing, assaulting, molesting, sexually assaulting or attacking a person protected by the Order is a class C felony. As is the case when a Protective Order is issued, a Standing Criminal Protective Order can be modified or revoked upon motion of the parties while the criminal case is pending.
Resolving your Domestic Charges
You must make informed decisions. If you plead guilty to a crime, it will stay on your permanent record. Unless you are able to get a Pardon, you will have a criminal record for the rest of your life. It is important to understand that there are collateral consequences of criminal convictions. Some of those consequences include an inability to:
- get certain licenses and/or certifications
- work in certain professions
- obtain housing or financial assistance
- vote or hold public office
- possess firearms
- receive certain federal benefits
A conviction could also raise possible immigration concerns. Even misdemeanor convictions carry serious consequences, especially when the conviction involves a domestic violence offense. It is important to understand these possible consequences when resolving your case and to discuss any concerns you may have about how a conviction could affect you now or in the future. Once you plead guilty to an offense, that criminal record remains with you forever (unless you apply for a Pardon; for information about obtaining a Pardon, visit the State of CT Board of Pardons and Parole website).
There are many different ways to resolve your criminal case. Below are some programs that are frequently used by individuals charged with domestic violence crimes:
- Family Violence Education Program. One of the most common ways to resolve a domestic violence crime is through participation in the Family Violence Education Program, often referred to as “FVEP.” FVEP is a pretrial diversionary program that, if successfully completed, results in the dismissal of your charges. The FVEP is discretionary and you are only eligible for the program if you are charged with certain offenses. Your attorney will submit an application for the program on your behalf, and the court will schedule a hearing to determine whether you are an eligible and good candidate and whether it is in the interests of justice for the court to grant your admission into the program. As always, the victim has a right to object to the granting of the program, but the victim’s position is not the only factor the judge considers when ruling on the application. If the judge grants your application, you will be required to participate in a counseling program administered through the court.
- Other programs are available to individuals charged with domestic violence crimes, often as a condition of probation after a case is resolved. These programs include:
- Explore. Explore available to individuals charged with domestic violence crimes, often as a condition of probation after a case is resolved (as part of a disposition after trial or a guilty plea is entered). Explore is a 26 week counseling program for men who have been convicted of domestic violence crimes. You participate in a treatment group once a week for 90 minutes; this program is offered all over the state by agencies that have contracted with the Judicial Branch.
- Evolve. Evolve is an intensive, 26 week behavior modification program for male offenders convicted of domestic violence crimes. This program meets two times a week for a total of 52 sessions and is currently available in Bridgeport, New Haven, New London, Norwich, and Waterbury by agencies that have contracted with the Judicial Branch.
For more information about the Family Violence Education Program and other Family Violence Programs, visit the CT Judicial Website’s section for Domestic Violence Information.
When you are charged with a domestic violence crime, it is important to take immediate steps to protect yourself and understand your options. If you have any questions related to domestic violence crimes, you can contact Koffsky & Felsen, LLC or look online for other resources.