Domestic violence cases are highly emotional and sensitive cases.
Because domestic violence cases involving children have criminal and CPS implications, they require the most intelligent, experienced, and discerning defense attorneys to handle them successfully.
How does the law define Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence occurs when someone assaults another person they have been in a relationship with or a resident or former resident of their household. Children fall under the domestic violence law as members or former members of the defendant’s household. Therefore, accusations of violence by a child can have severe direct and indirect consequences. An attorney must defend against these allegations aggressively, expertly, and without limitation.
Can a child testify in court?
Some believe it is unwise to rely on the testimony or statements from children because children are mentally impressionable and vulnerable to adults who may have a motive to influence their testimony. While this is undoubtedly true on occasion, the 6th Amendment of the Constitution requires that defendants be allowed to confront their accusers, child or not. A judge can compel a child to testify if certain reliability requirements exist. Courts have found children as young as 3 years old competent to testify in court in criminal cases and child protective proceedings initiated by Child Protection Services (CPS).
Defending domestic violence accusations and charges with a child victim is complex because the defense attorney will not want a jury to perceive them as “beating up” a child on the witness stand. Attacking a child can be fatal to a defense, as the jury will want to punish the attorney, and the client gets caught in the crossfire. An extremely astute, experienced, and talented trial attorney must have the skill to avoid this pitfall. The maximum penalty is the same if the victim is a child. The outcome in these cases can depend on the skill with which the domestic violence defense attorney handles the alleged victim.
Penalties for Domestic Violence
There are several levels of domestic violence, with ramped-up penalties depending on the particular circumstances. The penalties do not depend on whether the alleged victim is a child or an adult. The potential penalties are as follows:
- 1st Offense Domestic Violence – 93 days in jail, 2 years supervised probation, $500.00 fine.
- 2nd Offense Domestic Violence – 1 year in jail, 2 years supervised probation, $1,000.00 fine.
- 3rd (or more) Offense Domestic Violence – 5 years in prison, 5 years court-supervised probation, $5,000.00 fine.
- Aggravated Domestic Violence – 1 year in jail, 2 years of court-supervised probation, $1,000.00 fine.
- Aggravated Domestic Violence, with a Prior Domestic Violence Conviction – 5 years in prison, 5 years of court-supervised probation, $5,000.00 fine.
Rest assured, the terms of probation are severe in any domestic violence case, but they are especially so where a child is allegedly the victim. Typical probationary terms include extensive counseling, high fines and costs, extensive community service, abstinence from alcohol, reporting probation, drug and alcohol testing, and potential jail. Again, this is because judges want to send a stern anti-domestic violence message to the community in all domestic violence cases, and much more so where a child is a complainant. Many judges become emotionally invested when there are violence accusations by a child, thereby rendering them biased against the accused even though they are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Approaching and Crafting a Defense to Domestic Violence Accusations by a Child
In many cases where a child makes domestic violence accusations against a parent, the incident involved physical discipline, like spanking or grabbing. However, not all physical discipline qualifies as domestic violence. In Michigan, corporal punishment is legal, and it is a defense against domestic violence charges. Corporal punishment means the deliberate infliction of physical pain by hitting, paddling, spanking, slapping, or any other physical force used as a means of discipline. It is not a crime to discipline a child using corporal punishment; however, the force used on the child must be reasonable.
If a child assaults a parent or another household member, the person assaulted can defend themselves. A parent or another household member may also physically defend someone else from a child’s assault. Self-Defense and Defense of Others are valid defenses to domestic violence charges. However, the force used in self-defense or defense of others must be reasonable. If a defense lawyer can prove that domestic violence accusations by a child were lawful self-defense, the government might agree to drop all charges.
Defending domestic violence charges based on an alleged assault on a child depends on the circumstances. The unique circumstances in each case will dictate the best defense to domestic violence charges. Some of the important considerations are:
- How old is the child?
- Is there a documented or legitimate logical reason to believe the child does not like the defendant and would want to harm them by making false allegations?
- What were the injuries, if any?
- How does the child present themselves (strong, confident, shy, frail, weepy, traumatized)?
- Does anyone have the motive and/or opportunity to attempt to manipulate the child’s statements?
- Does the child have any obvious or documented mental impairments?
- Has the child made any inconsistent statements during the case’s development?
- Has the child made similar accusations before which were either proven or disproven?
- Does the child have a motive to lie or manipulate? Like to get out of trouble or to facilitate moving in with a different parent or family member.
Based on the answers to these questions, an attorney will know how to frame and pose questions in the most legitimately artful and compassionate manner. Any misstep will draw the wrath of the judge and jury. Being respectful and aggressive at the same time is a fine line to walk, and frankly, most attorneys are not up to the task.
Domestic Violence and Child Abuse
In Michigan, Child Abuse can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor depending on various circumstances, including the parent’s intent and the extent of any injuries. In addition, a prosecutor can charge domestic violence and child abuse simultaneously.
Defense Attorneys Handling Domestic Violence Allegations by a Child
The highly reputable, compassionate, and astute attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have decades of experience defending domestic violence cases, including where there are violence accusations by a child. We are aware of the high sensitivity these cases demand so that our clients will benefit from a vigorous defense and, at the same time, not suffer from being punished by a judge and jury for mishandling these sensitive issues. These charges can be dismissed and thrown out of court only if defended intelligently, aggressively, and appropriately.
We have a well-earned reputation for providing the highest quality defense and aggressive representation while showing empathy and individualized care for each client.
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.