Many people who have been accused of domestic violence in Maine have important questions about the process but don't know whether it is worth seeing a lawyer to get answers.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that we get about the offense and the process.
What is a Crime of Domestic Violence?
Technically, domestic violence isn't a crime. It's an element of another offense when that other offense is done to a specific class of people: Notably, “family or household members.”
Therefore, the following offenses can become domestic violence offenses…
…When those offenses are allegedly committed against the following people:
- Current or former spouses or domestic partners
- Parents of the same child
- Blood relatives over the age of 18
- People who are, or who were, sexual partners
- People who live together, or who used to live together
- Children living in the same house as the person being accused
Are the Penalties of a Conviction More Severe for a Crime of Domestic Violence?
In many cases, yes. Eligible offenses that are committed against the protected class of “family or household members” can come with heightened penalties, if the charge leads to a conviction.
For example, assault is usually treated as a Class D crime, which carries up to 364 days in jail and up to $2,000 in fines for a conviction. However, if an assault is a crime of domestic violence, it becomes a Class C crime – which can carry up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines – if the defendant has a prior offense for a domestic violence crime.
Are There Other Repercussions of a Domestic Violence Crime?
Yes. A conviction for a crime of domestic violence comes with a variety of collateral consequences, including:
- Mandatory enrollment in rehab
- Mandatory enrollment in a state certified batter intervention program
- A high likelihood of a protective order, which can come with prohibitive terms and steep penalties for violating them
- Removal from the home, if the defendant lives with the alleged victim
- Second Amendment restrictions, i.e., no firearms for life
- Child custody complications
A conviction for domestic violence also comes with harsh social stigmatization.
Can a Domestic Violence Charge Impact My Ongoing Divorce?
Yes. Domestic violence allegations are made during divorce proceedings at a disturbingly high level in order to taint the reputation of the other spouse. In some of these cases, the alleged victim might be reporting the same kind of conduct that had happened earlier during the marriage because they are not invested in the relationship's future any longer. In many cases, though, they are falsely reporting domestic violence or abuse in order to gain an upper hand in an upcoming child custody dispute or to get better alimony terms.
Defending these domestic violence accusations is especially important. Proving that they are false prosecutions can make them backfire on your accuser.
Can a Domestic Violence Charge Impact My Child Custody Rights?
Yes, even if the allegations come from or involve someone other than the child. An allegation of domestic violence or abuse from your child's other parent, for example, can be used against you during a custody hearing even if the victim of the alleged abuse was the other parent, not the child.
Does Maine Use a Mandatory Arrest Law?
Yes, and while it only applies to certain situations, many police departments have policies that require their officers to make an arrest when domestic violence is suspected.
Maine's mandatory arrest law for domestic violence situations is fairly narrow: Arrests only have to be made when the police officer finds probable cause to believe that a protection or restraining order has been violated.
However, this mandatory arrest law serves as the minimum police protocol. Individual police departments are free to create their own policies for how to respond to domestic violence situations. Most departments have elected to use policies that require arrests in a far broader set of circumstances. The general rule in Maine has become that, if a police officer suspects that a crime of domestic violence has happened, someone will be arrested.
What is the Best Way to Respond When the Police Are Called On Me?
If someone has called the police after a domestic altercation with you, the worst thing that you can do is get more confrontational. The calmer you are and the less you fight – physically or verbally – when the police arrive, the better your case will be when it comes time to figure out what really happened.
Importantly, it is also best to say nothing to the police when they arrive, even if your accuser gets to tell their side of the story without your input. Odds are that your side of the story is not going to change the minds of the responding officers or change how they handle the situation. All that talking will do is provide police with more evidence against you.
What's the Difference Between a Protection Order and a Restraining Order?
There is none. A Protection Order – also called a Protection from Abuse Order – is just what the state of Maine calls a court order that requires one person to stay away from someone else. In other states, this is called a restraining order.
What are the Consequences of Violating a Protection Order?
Violating the terms of a Protection Order is a criminal offense. First-time offenses are Class D misdemeanors and can come with up to 364 days in jail and up to $2,000 in fines. Second-time offenses are Class C felonies that come with up to five years in jail, three years of probation, and $5,000 in fines if they lead to a conviction.
What If the Protection Order Was Violated After the Accuser Initiated the Contact?
It doesn't matter that the person who is protected by the Protection Order initiated the contact, all that matters is that the subject of the Protection Order violated the Order's terms. This is often incredibly harsh, especially when accusers coerce the subject of their own Protection Order into violating it.
It is important to remember that only the court can end a Protection Order or alter its terms. The accusers who are protected by the Order cannot do that on their own, no matter what they might tell you.
If you are being contacted by the person who has gotten a Protection Order against you, you need to stop the contact immediately. Consider talking to a domestic violence lawyer if you have clear evidence that they initiated the contact and that you immediately put a stop to it: Reporting the incident with the help of an attorney might be beneficial.
How Can a Domestic Violence Conviction Impact My Gun Ownership?
A conviction for assault or criminal threatening that involves an element of domestic violence in Maine will trigger a federal law that forbids you from owning, using, or possessing a firearm or ammunition, ever again.
Violating this law is a federal offense. A conviction for possession of a firearm by a prohibited person can lead to up to a decade in federal prison.
How Can I Defend Against a Charge of Domestic Violence?
Just like any other crime, there are numerous legal defenses that can be raised.
Many domestic violence circumstances come down to conflicting narratives between the accuser and the accused. Each side has their own side of the story, with important differences in what happened. Poking holes in your accuser's story is one of the most common ways to defend against an allegation of domestic violence because it shows a lack of credibility in the accusation. In some cases, inconsistencies in the allegations can grow into the defense of false prosecution, which claims that the entire case against you is all an attempt to use the justice system for ulterior motives, like gaining the upper hand in a custody dispute or divorce.
Each case is different, though. What could work in one case would not be feasible in another. Talking to a domestic violence lawyer about your circumstances is the best way to invoke your rights and protect your interests.
Does Hiring a Domestic Violence Lawyer Suggest That I'm Guilty?
Absolutely not. It shows that you care about your future and that you are going to vigorously challenge the allegations that have been made against you. Anyone who says that hiring a lawyer insinuates guilt has never been accused of a crime and does not understand the feeling of being wrongly accused of something that you did not do.
Contact the Attorneys of WTB LAW, Maine's Domestic Violence Defense Law Firm
If you have been accused of a crime of domestic violence in Maine, hiring a domestic violence defense lawyer quickly can be the wisest move you can make. Getting a lawyer involved quickly is even more important in domestic violence cases than other criminal issues because of how quickly Protection Orders get filed, and how drastically those Orders can impact your life.
Reach out to the lawyers at WTB LAW by calling them at (207) 571-8146 or by contacting them online.