Our state takes domestic violence charges very seriously. So seriously, that law enforcement officers must arrest an offender if they have evidence of any injury to the victim.
In other words, if police are called in and there is a domestic dispute where one party appears to have injured the other, they are required to arrest the alleged perpetrator by law.
As you might imagine, this can cause some tricky situations. What if two people in a romantic relationship are having a heated argument and one gets scared… even though nothing actually happened? Or if they have a child together and it is the frightened kid who calls the cops, misunderstanding that sometimes Mommy and Daddy have passionate disagreements? Or if the call is made by a neighbor or some other uninvolved party who didn’t even see what was going on?
Is it possible for the alleged victim to simply say that they don’t want to press charges?
Or, if they claimed violence in the heat of the moment, to retract that statement and drop charges?
Illinois has a “no drop” policy for domestic violence charges. This means that even if an alleged victim doesn’t want to pursue charges, the state can still prosecute the defendant without their consent.
How is this possible?
Below, we’re going to delve into the inner workings of Illinois domestic violence law, how charges work, and what role alleged victims play in the overall process.
Understanding Domestic Violence Law in Illinois
The Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986 outlines how domestic violence charges are handled by the state court system.
For a crime to be classified as domestic violence in Illinois, it must be an act of violence committed against a certain member of a family or household, such as:
- Spouse or former spouse
- Other relatives related by blood or marriage
- Roommate or former roommate
- Parent of the same child
- Dating partner or former dating partner
- Engaged partner or formerly engaged partner
- Person with disabilities or his/her caregiver
Depending on the circumstances, these types of charges could be levied against the offender:
- Domestic Battery
- Aggravated Domestic Battery
- Interfering with the Reporting of Domestic Violence
A conviction for these crimes could result in serious penalties, including prison time and a significant fine for the alleged offender. Additionally, when domestic violence charges are filed, the judge may issue an order of protection to keep the offender from having contact with the victim. If the offender violates the terms of the order of protection, he or she could face severe legal consequences.
How Do Illinois Domestic Violence Charges Work?
There is a misconception out there that domestic violence victims are the ones pressing charges against their alleged abusers, but that’s not how things work. In actuality, it is the State that charges someone with a criminal offense.
Because of this, alleged victims have no power to drop a charge. The only person who can decide to drop or dismiss charges is the prosecutor.
Where domestic violence is concerned, there’s a very specific reason alleged victims don’t have this power. The idea behind it is to protects true victims of domestic violence from being pressured to drop the case by the defendant, or due to their own fear, doubt, or belief that they are at least partially responsible for what happened.
The worry is that if victims had the power to drop charges, many more abusers would go free. Unfortunately, this also makes it harder in situations where charges really are the result of some kind of misunderstanding and the alleged victim is unable to make a quick exit from the process.
That being said, alleged victims in Illinois are not entirely powerless.
Victim’s Rights in Illinois Domestic Violence Cases
While there is no way for an alleged domestic violence victim in Illinois to drop charges, there are still things that they can do to help the accused if that is what they want to do. One of the most common ways to do this is to testify on behalf of the defendant or (if they initially made a statement accusing the alleged perpetrator) recant their statement to the police.
A huge percentage of alleged victims do this, but if you are considering it there are a few things you should know. One is that you can potentially face legal action if you recant since you are essentially admitting to lying to police. This rarely leads to charges, but it is possible.
The other issue is that you are likely to be painted as a victim who is only acting out of emotional duress. The way to combat this second problem is to have yourself tested for psychological fitness as evidence that you are acting as a rational and balanced person.
How a Skilled Chicago Criminal Attorney Can Help Victims
Since domestic violence cases are complicated and emotionally charged, you can benefit from the help of an experienced lawyer who has successfully handled many domestic abuse cases. It’s common for someone to file domestic violence charges in the heat of the moment, then later regret their decision.
A good criminal attorney will be able to help protect your rights as a victim in a domestic violence case and make sure that your voice is heard. If you wish to speak directly to the prosecutor to get the charges dismissed, your lawyer can facilitate that conversation.
Do not hesitate to contact a defense attorney as soon as charges are filed. He or she can advise you on how the law applies to your case and what steps you can take once charges are filed.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, murder, and drug crimes.