Georgia Domestic Violence Law FAQs

What Are Some of The Common Domestic Violence Charges in Georgia That You’re Seeing Regularly?

The two most common are assault and battery. It’s usually, “He said something, and now I’m afraid for my life.” Or, “We were fighting, and then she hit me and escalated it.” Those are the two biggest ones with battery being the one that carries the worst. Usually, the police will be called, and they’ll see a bruise or something out of the ordinary. Then, they’ll take a statement, and all of a sudden someone’s being charged domestic violence battery. Sometimes, the judges look a lot harder on it, and they dismiss the domestic violence charges and do just the simple battery.

Is Domestic Violence Battery a Misdemeanor or a Felony?

Those are usually misdemeanors, but they can rise to what they call high aggravated misdemeanors, which can carry additional time on it. Usually, high and aggravated misdemeanors will carry under a thousand dollar fines, and they can carry 24 months in jail instead of 12 with the majority of that can actually be served in prison or at the jail. So, it depends on the severity of it. Obviously, if it’s a really bad domestic violence case, it can jump to a felony if it’s something like a domestic aggravated assault or a gun or significant injury is involved.

What Are the Steps in a Domestic Violence Case?

So, the first thing we always do is get the reports. We have to start with that and find out exactly what they said happened and when it happened. We also try to figure out if it’s even factually possible and just take it apart. We try to determine if the words match the evidence gathered. We’ll pick every step of it apart and go from there to try to figure out if this person has a history of this.

We had a case where the victim had called in numerous complaints about this kind of stuff in the past against several different guys, and it was something that led to her not being a credible witness, which helped us. But the bottom line is, we want keep the client separate from it if we can. We keep the client separate so that something doesn’t happen again, and if they feel like they would benefit from anger management, for example, then we’ll do that. But we don’t ever recommend just doing that right off the bat. If it’s something they decide they want, they do. And if they don’t, we don’t try to do that for them, because our goal is to try to get rid of the case.

What Happens to First Time Offenders for Domestic Violence?

The court system looks very hard on domestic violence incidents. They really try to discourage violence, especially when it involves the family unit. So, depending on the severity of the injuries, a first offense would usually be 12 months of probation, a thousand dollar fine, and possibly substance abuse or anger management classes, depending on what it is. And for whatever reason it’s higher than that or a felony, sometimes they’ll do 30 days in jail. I’ve seen people that had first time offenses that were really bad that were facing two or three years in prison. So, it depends on the severity of the situation. But domestic violence cases are treated a lot worse than just regular simple battery, simple assault cases.

What Happens to Repeat Domestic Violence Offenders?

In Georgia, every time you repeat it, it gets worse. If you have a past domestic violence on your record and get charged with it again, then you might be at risk of receiving mandatory jail time. And a repeat can still be a misdemeanor. They don’t necessarily bump it to felony grade. However, if it is the second time in 12 months of probation, then you might be at risk of going to jail for six months, sitting through 500 hours of anger management, or being forced to stay away from your family completely until this is done, which they have the ability to do. So, every time something like that happens and the offender gets a worse record, it looks a lot worse and they’re treated a lot harsher.

How Long Do Domestic Violence Charges Stay on Your Record?

Unless there’s some kind of pretrial diversion agreement, where a deal is made, it’s on your record for good. An example of this type of agreement is, “if you let us do classes, then you’ll drop the charges.”

If it’s left on your record, people will look at it. Schools look at it, and employers look at it. It can affect your benefits, and it can affect your custodial rights if you have children. It can absolutely affect all of that.

Can You Be Removed from Your Home for a Domestic Violence?

Yes, you can. You can absolutely be told to stay away or stay within so many feet of the person if it’s someone that you’re married to or have a relationship with. Also, you can be prevented from going home. We can’t tell you that you can’t ever go there again, but for the next 12 months, you’ve got to stay away.

What Types of Evidence Are Required to Take a Domestic Violence Case to Trial?

Usually, it’s someone’s word. Someone said that it happened, whether it was a 911 call or a statement to the police after the fact. That’s usually what it is that gets it started, and that’s usually what the prosecutor is going to focus on. From the defense side, because you want to see inconsistencies, where the victim said that he hit her in the face, but then the police get there and there’s no bruising, there’s no cut or anything like that, and actually the client has marks on him where she actually scratched him or something or vice versa. And something just doesn’t add up correctly. That’s what you want to see. And if you’re going to beat that at trial, your best bet is to try to show that there’s no plausible way that that could have happened. Whatever the victim said, there’s no plausible way that he could have been hurt in that way or that could have happened. The timing doesn’t add up, the injuries don’t add up for whatever reason or something in that regard.

Sometimes, people will say, “Well, we’re just married and when you’re married you get into fights and I got a little physical. And I shouldn’t have done that. Is that a crime? What’s the big deal on that?” It is, it is absolutely is. You don’t want to have a jury and try to explain to them, “You know what? My client did this and he hit her but at the same time they’re married and you should just look the other way.” It just doesn’t happen and that type of thing. The prosecutor’s not going to let that happen, and they’re going to make you look worse. It’s not something you want to take to trial unless you have good solid evidence and know what you’re doing.

Does A Victim Have to Testify During a Domestic Violence Case?

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred they will want the victim to testify. If the victim, for whatever reason, decides that they do not want to testify, if they want to drop the charges or something like that, they will try to proceed regardless. They will usually tell the victim to tell what they said to the police, and even if they don’t want to, they can threaten them with perjury charges or obstruction charges if they don’t want to tell the story, or if they get up there to testify and their story changes and they try to minimize it. That’s all stuff they can do. So, they’re going to require the victim to testify. Even if the victim doesn’t want to, they’re going to find ways to get the victim up there and have the story be told.

What Is a Protection Order?

So, a protection order is something that can be given out. It’s on an application. There are two basic types of protection orders. There’s a TPO, which is a temporary 12 month version, and there’s something that lasts a little bit longer, which usually used as a result of a divorce proceeding or a higher criminal action. A protective order is to say to somebody, “You’re supposed to stay away from this person. You can’t come within a thousand yards or 1500 feet of them. You can’t have any kind of violent contact.” They certainly can lay out the parameters of who gets what car or house, exactly how that person’s supposed to behave, and other things.

Can a Protection Order Be Dropped?

Someone can drop a protection order. So, a protection order is basically brought on behalf of one person against another. If they decide that they don’t want to do that, or if they work things out and the person’s not afraid or something changes between the two of them, they can drop them. As long as it’s not something that’s a result of a criminal conviction, where it’s more of a court order than a protective order, people can drop that.

What Happens If Somebody Violates a Protective Order?

If you violate a protective order, then you’re more than likely going to jail. The courts telling you to stay away or not do this, and if you do it, then you’re at least liable for a contempt charge, which is a 20-day jail sentence and a warning not to do it again. But if you keep doing it, then it can become something more aggravated, and it becomes a greater crime. It can lead to greater jail time or a huge fine—a thousand dollars, two thousand dollars—that’s really going to hurt.

If You’re Convicted of Domestic Violence, Do You Automatically Lose Custody of Your Children?

You can. Everything is different depending on what DFCS says. DFCS is absolutely going to get involved if you have a domestic violence situation, and if they see that you’re convicted of it, they’ll usually have some negative repercussions on that. However, it depends on who’s looking at it and what the exact outcome is. If you’re charged with it but you’re not convicted of it, then sometimes they’ll still pop you with something and say, “Well, we’re not going to take custody but what we’re going to do is limit your ability to see them by yourself. You’ll have to have supervision or something. Or you’ll limit the hours that you’ll have it done.” So, the ramifications of being convicted are high, but you have to be charged with it to really affect your custody rights with your kids.

Do All Domestic Violence Cases Go to Trial?

Not all of them go to trial. In fact, the overall majority of them will not go to trial. Unlike many other lawyers, I love trial. Other lawyers don’t want to go to trial because a lot of people don’t want their fate being decided that way, but I think most of the time, when you have a jury assembled, they’ll come to the right conclusion. But it is a scary thing for a lot of people, so it’s always best to beat something before you get close to that.

Are There Any Sort of Family Violence Intervention Programs?

Yes, there are. Chatham County runs a victim witness program that will require someone charged with any kind of family violence to go to counseling, even if they’re out on bond. They’ll require them to stay away from the person or have no violent contact or anything like that. So, Chatham County and some of the other nearby counties do have a family violence intervention program to try to keep the family together and try to make sure that what happened doesn’t happen again.

Do You Have Any Example Case Wins of These Types of Cases for Domestic Violence?

I had one in particular that was a shouting match between a couple, where the wife called the police. When the police got there, she had actually tried to injure herself to make it look worse than what it was. With that case, the facts just didn’t match up. We met with the DA and talked with them about the facts, and I just laid out, “Look, if we go any forward with this, this is what it’s going to show. And what you’ve got here is a victim who was obviously agitated and tried to make it worse, but it’s just not factually correct.” And that got the charges dropped.

In another case, there was a couple vacationing here in Savannah that went out, had a few drinks, got a little upset, and were walking down the road, fighting. They were yelling back and forth at each other, and one person hit the other. Then, the fight continued, and the police were called. That was one where the police were called, and they got it wrong. They interviewed them both, but they didn’t believe my client, so they charged him with family violence battery. They got it wrong as to who started it and how bad it was, because they had these preconceived notions of who starts it and who actually commits family violence. We were able to show that, that just wasn’t the case. We had some witnesses on the street that saw the facts happen differently. One of the bars had a video of it, which we were able to get. That’s something we wouldn’t be able to do unless my client informed me of it. Without that video and this witness, it would have been a whole different story.

What Are Some Other Types of Evidence That You Can Help Fight Against a Domestic Violence Charge?

Any time somebody is charged with a crime, the first thing that you want to try to do is try to establish some sort of objective evidence, especially when there’s a victim involved. Because at that point, all you have is a whole bunch of stories. The beauty of the world we live in is that everyone is walking around with a camera, and they have social media, where they’ll post something quickly. And if you get a lawyer involved, and they’re thorough, then there’s so much they can do. Almost every business and a lot of the residences has to carry cameras, as well. The problem is these cameras don’t stay around forever. Usually after 10-30 days, those tapes will automatically delete, so it’s important to take action early on.

If it’s something we had known about from the start, we could have pulled it and it would have been a whole different story because you have objective evidence. And that’s vital because, at the end of the day, if you have two people, one is saying this didn’t happen and the other is saying it absolutely happened, but you have physical footage of something that shows exactly what happened, then that rules the day. And that’s not something that you can easily get waiting six months down the road or a year down the road. We’ve had clients come in saying, “This happened a year ago, and I didn’t think to call you because I didn’t have a court date.” And it’s like, “Gosh, if you had, then we could have gotten this, especially downtown Savannah, we could have gotten a tape. But now it’s all gone.” So, there’s so much value in getting someone that’s thorough and getting someone early on so that they can investigate your case and start defending you.

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