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Last Updated on: 15th October 2023, 09:11 am
Domestic violence is a huge problem in Westchester County and across New York State. As a domestic violence victim myself, I know how scary and overwhelming it can be to escape an abusive relationship and seek justice. That’s why having an experienced domestic violence lawyer on your side is so important.In this article, I want to walk you through the basics of domestic violence law in Westchester and how a knowledgeable lawyer can help protect your rights. I’ll also share some of my own story to show you that there is hope after abuse.
Let’s start with the basics – what exactly is domestic violence? It’s when someone uses physical, sexual, emotional, or financial abuse to control their partner in an intimate relationship. This can happen between spouses, partners, boyfriends/girlfriends, or even family members.Some common examples of domestic violence include:
Domestic violence is always about power and control. It’s a pattern of abusive behavior, not just a one-time incident. I lived with constant threats and intimidation for years before I found the courage to leave.
There are a few main criminal charges that domestic abusers often face in Westchester County courts:
This covers any kind of physical attack meant to cause injury or fear of injury. Different degrees of assault depend on how serious the injuries are. For example, strangling someone is often charged as felony assault because it shows intent to seriously harm.
If the abuse involves threats, stalking, or intimidation that causes fear or emotional harm, harassment charges may apply. There are also cyber harassment laws for online threats.
Forcing any sexual contact or activity without consent is considered rape or sexual assault. Marital rape is illegal in New York.
If there’s already a restraining order in place, violating it leads to additional criminal contempt charges. This includes contacting the victim when prohibited.
If domestic violence happens in front of children, the abuser can face child endangerment charges on top of other crimes.The specific charges depend on the details of each case. An experienced domestic violence lawyer will know how to build the strongest case.
Getting an order of protection should always be a top priority. This is a court order that legally requires the abuser to stay away and stop the harassment.Orders of protection can:
The order can also cover your workplace, children’s school, or any other places you frequent. Violating the restraining order leads to arrest and criminal charges.Some key steps in the protection order process:
Having an attorney guide you through the legal process is extremely helpful. The forms and procedures can be confusing, but a lawyer will handle all of that smoothly.I’ll always remember sitting in court with my lawyer when the judge announced my abuser would have to move out and stay away. I finally felt safe for the first time in years!
Building a strong case requires gathering solid evidence of the abuse. Some examples of powerful evidence include:
Experienced domestic violence lawyers know how to properly gather and present this kind of evidence in court. They will take photos of injuries, obtain medical records, interview witnesses, and subpoena phone and financial records if needed.I was so relieved when my lawyer helped me safely collect the proof I needed. My testimony alone was not enough – the other evidence proved the truth beyond a doubt.
Abusers often resort to certain defenses when facing domestic violence charges. Some common ones include:Denying the abuse: The abuser claims the victim is lying or exaggerating about the violence and threats. A skilled lawyer can counter this with the evidence.Mutual fighting: The abuser says it was just a mutually aggressive argument, not one-sided abuse. But the controlling pattern proves otherwise.Self-defense: Abusers may claim they were just defending themselves. The lawyer can show this is not consistent with the nature of the injuries.Mental illness: Pleading insanity or diminished mental capacity is another defense tactic. But abuse is usually deliberate control, not illness.Retaliation: The abuser may argue they were provoked and retaliating, rather than initiating abuse. The lawyer can establish the truth.False allegations: Abusers accuse victims of making up false claims to gain advantage in divorce or custody cases. But evidence proves the truth.A good domestic violence lawyer anticipates these defenses and develops counter-arguments supported by the evidence. It’s frustrating how abusers avoid taking responsibility – but strong legal advocacy prevents them from succeeding with these defenses.
Here’s a quick overview of the legal process in a domestic violence criminal case:Arrest: Police respond to an incident and make an arrest if there is probable cause the abuser committed a crime.Charges filed: The district attorney reviews the evidence and files formal charges.Release or bail: The abuser is either released or required to post bail money to stay out of jail pre-trial.Plea bargaining: Many cases end with a negotiated plea bargain instead of trial.Trial: If no plea deal, the case proceeds to trial with witnesses testifying before a judge or jury.Sentencing: If found guilty, the judge determines the penalty, ranging from probation to years in prison.Having an advocate guiding you through the complex legal system makes a huge difference. My lawyer helped prepare me for what to expect in court and speak up for my rights at every stage.
If you are suffering abuse, it’s important to find an experienced domestic violence attorney you feel comfortable with. Look for these important qualities:
Don’t stay silent – you deserve justice and there are people ready to help. I found my voice with my lawyer’s support.The Westchester County District Attorney’s office has a domestic violence team that partners closely with local support organizations. They can help even if you are not ready to leave the relationship.The Pace Women’s Justice Center also provides free legal help for domestic violence victims in Westchester.And feel free to reach out to me anytime! I’m always happy to talk and listen. No one should feel alone in this.
Let me share a little of my own story, in the hopes it helps others suffering in silence feel less alone.The verbal threats began early in our relationship – he would lash out in anger and then apologize sweetly. But over time, the physical violence escalated from slaps to punches to choking.I told myself it was my fault – I should try harder not to make him angry. He isolated me from friends and monitored my every move. I was terrified to leave, certain he would kill me.The day he put his hands around my neck and squeezed, something clicked. I knew I had to get out to survive. I confided in a friend who helped me get in touch with my lawyer.With my lawyer’s counsel, I obtained an order of protection and filed charges. The evidence of abuse was overwhelming. My testimony was difficult, but freeing.The day my abuser pled guilty, I cried tears of relief. And when the judge announced his prison sentence, I felt like I could finally breathe again.That was a few years ago. I still have hard days – trauma leaves scars. But my life is so much better now. Free from fear and filled with joy.There is hope after domestic violence. With the right help, you can regain your strength and create a new future. You deserve to feel safe, respected, and loved. Don’t give up.
Domestic violence causes so much secret suffering. But change is possible when victims speak up and get support. Westchester has good laws and resources in place. Reach out and take the first step today – you don’t have to face this alone.I hope this article helps spread awareness and gives courage to others trapped in abuse. Please share your story and be a voice for change. Together, we can make a difference!
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