This is a very specialized area of the law. In many ways these cases can be the most difficult for both defence counsel and clients. Known also as Domestic Assault or Family Violence cases, they include any allegation of violence or threats of violence involving two people in an intimate relationship. It includes husband and wife, same-sex partners, or couples who are merely casually dating. Because of the sensitive nature of these cases, they are assigned to a special team of prosecutors who focus only on these files. Each Prosecutor’s office in Ontario has a Family Violence team, and some courthouses have set up special courts to deal with these cases. These cases typically break down into 4 different kinds of scenarios:
1. Strategic Complaints
One party has made an allegation which fits into a strategy of getting the upper hand in a divorce proceeding, or to exact jealous revenge. For example, I have had dozens of cases where a spouse is charged with uttering a threat (Shut your mouth or I’ll kill you! I hate your family. I am going to burn this house to the ground with all of you in it!). The allegation is brought to the attention of the police on the eve of an important Family Court hearing, and the “victim” uses this allegation of past violence as way of gaining exclusive access to the marital home and sole custody of the children. I’ve also had more than a few enraged spouses call the police upon discovering an affair or some other troublesome activity.
2. Escalating “consensual” violence / Race-to-call 911
Both parties argue frequently, with increasing intensity, and both persons are involved in small acts of violence. For example, one person throws a dish, the other pushes, one wants to leave, the other stops him/her and so on. Over time, things get really out of control and the police eventually get called. Who ever gets to the police first usually gets the upper hand, and the police will take their story at face value. Busy police officers often don’t have a time for much on an investigation, and the full comes out in the aftermath.
3. The drunken/stressed-out “first timer”
One of the spouses/individuals/partners is reaching the breaking point for some reason, and in a moment of out-of-character loss of control an act of violence takes place. The assaulter feels terrible and recognizes a need for change. Or An incident leads to a breaking point when one of the spouses/individuals loses control in the moment and behaves in a violent manner, which is out of character. This is often a springboard for real change and growth for one or both of the parties. Getting to the root of the problem helps solve the legal problem, and sometimes sets the client on a new, healthier path.
4. The true “wife-beater”.
This is a relatively rare case, and not limited to male violence on a woman. This is the worst case scenario: endless violence and degradation or one or more family members, over time. This is often a springboard for real change and growth for one or both of the parties. Getting to the root of the problem helps solve the legal problem, and sometimes sets the client on a new, healthier path.
Recantations: Giving the Complainant some control over the process.
A very tricky part of Domestic Assault defence work involves properly providing the Complainant with the opportunity to recant, modify or correct his or her allegations. Sometimes the Prosecution is trying so hard to break the cycle of violence that they treat the Complainant like a child…or worse. Sometimes the people who call the police have an opportunity to reflect on their actions, and realize that they have made a mistake. How do they get their voices heard? I have handled many of cases where a Complainant has “taken back” what they originally told the police. I am sometimes hired by the Complainants themselves, to advise and assist in this fraught area of the law. Each case will turn on its own facts, but there is no question that for many couples caught in the gears of the criminal justice system, bringing the case to a quick conclusion is the best solution.
Connecting you with the resources you need
Whether it’s finding the right Divorce Lawyer to help you deal with the Family Law case or getting a great counsellor to deal with personal issues, I have more experience in defending Domestic Assault cases than most lawyers in Ontario. Approximately 65% of my caseload at any time is classified as Domestic-related. I have the expertise and the best resources to help you get you through this difficult time as quickly and smoothly as possible.