Vail Daily column: Charging domestic violence in Colorado
September 13, 2016
You think you know what it is. Domestic violence is, well … violence and, domestic implying home and hearth, presumably the violence allegedly committed is "at home." Well sorta.
First, what is "violence?" A plain English dictionary might define it as, "the use of physical force to harm someone or to harm property." "Domestic" means, "relating to or involving someone's home or family." And so, patching the two together, domestic violence may be defined as, "the use of force to harm a person or property involving someone's home or family." And that's our starting point and, sadly, those of us who practice in family law, see it — or at least the charge of domestic violence — all too often.
But life and law are not so simple.
If all there was to domestic violence was a black eye, a wrenched arm or a bloody nose, then, as unfortunate as that may be, contending with a charge of domestic violence would be easy. But, as your momma taught you, life is not all Skittles and beer.
According to Colorado statute, domestic violence means, "an act or threatened act of violence upon a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship. 'Domestic violence' also includes any other crime against a person or against property, including an animal, or any municipal ordinance violation against a person, or against property, including an animal, when used as a method of coercion, control, punishment, intimidation or revenge directed against a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship."
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An "intimate relationship" is further defined as, "A relationship between spouses, former spouses, past or present unmarried couples, or persons who are both the parents of the same child regardless of whether the persons have been married or have lived together at any time."
As you can plainly see, domestic violence may be much broader that you might have suspected. Not only is violence included but so is the threat of violence. What's more, domestic violence includes "any other crime committed against a person or property when used as a method of coercion, control, punishment, intimidation or revenge and deployed against a person with whom the alleged perpetrator has been intimate.
The definition of "intimate relationship" is cast more broadly too and extends beyond just "home and family." Instead, an "intimate relationship" does not necessarily encompass living together (or having ever lived together) and circumscribes spouses old and new and lovers come and gone. "Intimate" follows you like a contrail tracks a jet.
While the intent of the law is to prevent — or to, sadly, punish, if the deed is already done — violence where emotion may run hottest, sometimes, its application casts too broad a net. Mandatory arrest laws, compulsory no-contact orders, criminal charges and the stain of being accused as a batterer, are the too-common unfortunate consequence of disputes among intimates or formerly intimate couples. When used as a shield, the law is laudable, but its misuse as a sword can have profound, lasting and often undeserved negative effects.
Domestic violence is not a crime in and of itself. It is a sentencing enhancer that can be attached to nearly any other crime. If you trespass in my yard and kick over by bear-proof trash can, you may be a simple trespasser. But if you trespass in my yard, give the can a boot, and we once were intimates, you may be charged and convicted of both trespass and domestic violence.
It is worth noting that to be charged with domestic violence, you don't necessarily have to commit an act of physical violence against the other person. Damaging property, threatening the other, calling, texting or emailing repeatedly or verbal aggression can result in a charge. I once had a client arrested for domestic violence whose offense was yelling at his girlfriend and damaging her yoga mat.
Before you give vent too fully to your emotions, it is worth considering that Colorado is a mandatory arrest state. When a law enforcement officer determines that there is probable cause to believe that a crime involving domestic violence has been committed, off to the pokey you go. If the police are called, chances are you, your other, or the both of you are going to jail. You can explain it to the judge.
Once someone is arrested for domestic violence, a mandatory restraining order enters. Simply, what that means is that the restrained party cannot have contact by any means with the victim during the period of the restraining order. It is a separate — and serious — criminal offense if you do. What the restrained party cannot do on his/her own, he or she cannot do through a third party or intermediary. If a party is restrained, he/she cannot put a friend up to contacting the victim in his or her place or stead.
A last thing to consider is that the victim can't simply elect to drop the charges or instruct the court to do so. No. A prosecutor cannot drop a domestic violence charge unless he or she believes in good faith that the charge would be impossible to prove at trial. Simply, once you step in it, you may find you've got a much bigger mess than you bargained for. If convicted of a domestic violence charge, it will trail you, possibly for life, among other things, potentially affecting future employment and proscribing you from owning or possessing a firearm.
I do not mean to make light of any of this. Domestic violence is a serious and often tragic consequence of relationships gone bad or tempers burning too hot. This is especially true when fueled with alcohol or certain drugs. But caution is advised here too. If an argument is simply an argument, law enforcement should not be called. Only if the threat is real should one make the call, knowing that it will topple the first of what may be a long and life-altering line of tumbling dominos.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 and at his email addresses, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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