Can I be charged with domestic violence if I acted in self-defense?

A husband calls the police because his wife is hitting him. He pushes her away in self-defense. The police arrive and arrest the husband for domestic assault. The system is broken.

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney Team

Police officers start with the presumption that a man assaulted the woman.

Men make up about 95% of domestic violence or spousal abuse defendants. This percentage does not accurately reflect the rate of violence perpetrated between men versus women. The fact is that when police officers respond to a domestic violence dispatch, they have in their minds on the way to the location that they are going to leave with the male under arrest. Even truthful claims of self-defense to domestic violence charges are ignored and disregarded by biased police officers who care more about arrests than finding the truth.

Preconceived Notions and Confirmation Bias

When police are dispatched and head to the location of an alleged domestic violence incident, they assume a male assaulted a female. A psychological principle called “confirmation bias” causes the officers to seek evidence to show the man is at fault. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or strengthens one’s prior personal beliefs or values. Because officers have a preconceived notion that the man is guilty, they will interpret any statements, injuries, and physical evidence as if it shows the male is guilty. These presumptions occur even if the man was lawfully defending himself from an assault. In many cases, the police officers will not even ask the man what happened because they’ve decided he is guilty before getting out of their police car. In other words, law enforcement doesn’t even consider lawful, valid self-defense claims.

Unintentionally Manufactured Evidence

The psychological need to interpret the world around us in a way that confirms the validity of our beliefs is so strong that officers will only see and hear things in a way that confirms their beliefs and biases. For example, if the police arrive at the location of a domestic assault and the woman says that she was hitting her husband, and he grabbed her arms in response, they will hear that he grabbed her and she tried to fight to get free. They will not hear that he was defending himself against domestic violence by his wife. In a second example, imagine an argument between two people who are heavily intoxicated. During the argument, the woman trips, falls, and is injured. When the police respond, they will assume the man intentionally caused the injury and interpret any statements made by the woman to confirm that assumption.

Coaching and Leading the “Victim”

Because certain assumptions are made before the police even arrive at the scene of a dispute, they will ask questions to prompt answers that confirm their preconceived belief that the man is guilty. They will ask questions like, “how many times did he hit you?” instead of “did he hit you?” Or, “how did he cause that scratch on your arm?” instead of “how did you get that scratch?” If the police believe the man assaulted the woman, even though she truthfully denies it, they will make statements in their report like “she was scared,” “she appeared reluctant to tell the whole story,” or “she was acting like the victim of an assault.” In extreme cases, the officers will use the “ends justify the means” philosophy to falsely write in the police report that the woman stated she was hit, shoved, or kicked. In the worst-case scenario, they may falsely write in their report that the man admitted to the assault, even though it never happened. Though leading questions, the officers intentionally or unintentionally discourage a woman from acknowledging that her husband or boyfriend was engaged in self-defense against domestic violence.

Self-Defense is a Legitimate Defense to Domestic Violence Charges

In Michigan, people may use reasonable physical force to protect themselves from assault, battery, or domestic violence. Using reasonable force to defend oneself is called self-defense. The person who uses self-defense must have honestly and reasonably believed that he had to use force to defend himself from the imminent unlawful use of force by another. If his belief was honest and reasonable, he could act at once to defend himself, even if it turns out later that he was wrong about how much danger existed. A person can legally use the degree of force that seems necessary at the time to protect himself from danger. The self-defense law in Michigan applies to both males and females. The defendant does not have to prove that he lawfully defended himself. In court, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not engage in lawful self-defense.

“What if the women tell the truth later, can she drop the charges?”

It is a myth that one person “presses charges” against another person in Michigan. The government presses charges, and only the government, usually a prosecutor, can decide to dismiss a case. Statistically, 80-90% of domestic violence complainants recant. Many women recant even though someone assaulted them. There are many reasons why domestic violence victims falsely recant. In some cases, a man acted in lawful self-defense against domestic violence, and the woman later admits that her initial report was untruthful.

In some cases, the defendant in a domestic violence case may be the breadwinner, and the victim depends on his income. In other situations, the victim recants because she is threatened and afraid. When resident aliens and visa holders live in Michigan, a victim may recant because she doesn’t want her partner deported. The fear of immigration consequences is especially justified when the women’s lawful status in the United States is dependent on her husband or male relative’s work or school visa.

The trouble with a “recanting complainant” is that the prosecutor doesn’t know if she is being truthful or recanted because of financial dependence, psychological pressure, or fear. As with officers responding to the scene of a domestic violence incident, confirmation bias also influences prosecutors. Because they believe that all males are guilty and all victims who recant are lying, they hear and see what confirms their beliefs. Because of this, they usually take the recanting complainant’s statements and use them against her at trial to show she is lying, even if she truthfully recanted or admitted the assault did not occur.

Penalty for Domestic Violence

1st Offense Misdemeanor
  • 93 days in jail
  • up to 2 years of probation
2nd Offense Misdemeanor
  • 1 year in jail
  • up to 2 years of probation
  • and a fine up to $1,000.00
3rd Offense Felony Domestic Violence
  • 5 years in prison
  • up to 5 years on probation
  • and a fine up to $5,000.00
Domestic Assault with a dangerous weapon
  • 4 years in prison
  • and up to 5 years on probation
Domestic Assault with intent to do great bodily harm
  • 10 years in prison
  • and up to 5 years on probation
Assault by strangulation or suffocation
  • 10 years in prison
  • and up to 5 years on probation
Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

“Is there any hope of being found not guilty if I was defending myself?”

Although defending a client charged with domestic violence is challenging, the Defense Team with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. has an unparalleled track record of successfully defending clients accused of a misdemeanor and felony domestic violence charges. We know that innocent clients need a lawyer who is truthfully, faithfully, and fearlessly going to fight for the dismissal of the charges. In situations where our client made a mistake and some assault occurred, our mission is to convince the judge to focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment. Sometimes terrible mistakes happen and are never made again. We can help show the prosecutor and judge that an allegation was a misunderstanding, or it was untruthful, or merely reflects a one-time occurrence.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete a Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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