In many domestic violence cases, there is not always direct evidence of which person involved was the initial abuser. This leads to a lot of arrests just based on the testimony of the alleged victim and circumstantial evidence. Unfortunately, without clear evidence of who was the aggressor, innocent people can be accused of domestic violence and even be convicted of domestic battery crimes in California.
Filing a False Police Report
If someone makes a false report of domestic violence, that person could be charged with filing a false police report. Under California Penal Code PC 148.5, reporting to a police officer "that a felony or misdemeanor has been committed, knowing the report to be false, is guilty of a misdemeanor."
Domestic Violence Calls and Mandatory Arrest in California
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, there were about 161,000 domestic violence hotline calls in California in 2020. In California, there is a mandatory arrest policy where the police have to make an arrest when the police believe domestic violence has occurred. It is not always clear which person should be charged with domestic violence, or if both or neither has committed a crime.
California's mandatory arrest policy can result in an innocent person under arrest, complete with handcuffs, a trip to the police station, booking into jail, and an arraignment before a judge. At this point, the innocent person has been treated like a criminal and may even believe that they have no other option but to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Pleading guilty to domestic violence, even for a reduced sentence, can still leave you with a permanent criminal record that could impact your future opportunities. Penalties for a domestic violence conviction can include:
- Jail time
- Batterer's treatment program
- Payment to a battered women's shelter
- Reimbursement of counseling costs
- Loss of gun rights
- Restraining order restrictions
Why Do Some People Falsely Accuse Someone of Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is an emotional topic and many people immediately react to allegations of domestic violence by condemning the accused. Even after the accused has their "day in court," and is cleared of any charges, the first impression is hard to change. A defendant found not guilty of domestic violence may still be considered guilty in the court of public opinion. This impression can be hard to change.
With so much at stake, why would someone falsely accuse another person of domestic violence? Domestic violence involves people who are currently or were formerly, in a close relationship. This could include:
- Spouse or former spouse
- Cohabitant or former cohabitant
- Someone in a current or former dating relationship
- Someone sharing a child
- Fiancé or fiancée
When these close relationships go sour, the relationship can be tense. Bad breakups, jealousy, infidelity, contentious divorce, and child custody disputes can be a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, people in emotionally charged situations can do things they would not have otherwise done, including commit violence or lie about violence.
For example, if there is a contested child custody dispute, the allegations can quickly escalate to claims that one parent drives drunk, uses drugs in the house, or has abused the children. These kinds of fights can lead to a phone call after a visit where one parent claims the other threatened violence. A conviction for domestic violence can make a difference in child custody and visitation, even if it is based on a lie.
In some cases, it is not even the alleged victim who makes up the story of abuse. A parent, friend, sibling, or new partner who is upset at the former partner may make up claims of abuse or violence, leading the police to make an unjustified arrest. Without any proof that you did not do something, it is hard to counter false claims of violence.
Who Has to Prove Domestic Violence?
The good news is that you do not have to prove you are innocent if accused of domestic violence. Under the criminal justice system, it is the prosecutor who has the burden of proof. The prosecutor has to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you are guilty of each element of the offense.
For a charge of simple domestic battery, the elements include proving that the defendant willfully and unlawfully touched the alleged victim in a harmful or offensive manner. At that point, it is up to the jury to determine if they believe the defendant battered the victim. Your attorney can bring up doubts about the witness's credibility, or show evidence that disputes the witness's version of what happened.
Any doubt about proving any of the elements of the offense should be enough to result in a not-guilty verdict. If you have questions about what the prosecutor needs to prove and the strength of their case, talk to your East Bay domestic violence defense attorney for legal advice.
Discrediting a Witness in a Domestic Violence Case
Depending on your case, your domestic violence defense attorney may want to focus on discrediting the witness who falsely accused you of a crime. According to the federal model criminal jury instructions, a jury may have to decide which testimony to believe and which testimony not to believe. Factors of witness credibility may include:
- "The witness's opportunity and ability to see or hear or know the things testified to;
- The witness's memory;
- The witness's manner while testifying;
- The witness's interest in the outcome of the case, if any;
- The witness's bias or prejudice, if any;
- Whether other evidence contradicted the witness's testimony;
- The reasonableness of the witness's testimony in light of all the evidence; and
- Any other factors that bear on believability."
Call a Domestic Violence Defense Attorney
Lynn Gorelick has more than 39 years of East Bay criminal experience and understands the challenges facing defendants falsely accused of abuse. Before you give up and plead guilty and have to face a permanent criminal record, get experienced legal advice. If you are facing DV charges anywhere in Oakland, Alameda County, or Contra Costa County, contact attorney Lynn Gorelick.