The Perils of Quicker Domestic Violence Convictions
In January, a Rantoul man was found guilty of hitting a woman and stopping her from leaving her home. Only two months later, he went to county jail to serve three years behind bars – the absolute maximum sentence for domestic battery.
If that timeframe seems fast, you’re not wrong.
The State’s Attorney’s office has put a new initiative in place designed to bring offenders to justice “faster than ever before.” According to Assistant State’s Attorney Claire Sharples Brooks, “Cases go through the system at varying speeds, so with this initiative we hope to expedite the case through the system.” She added that, “The benefit of having this program is we get some consistency,” she said. “I’m the only person handling felony domestic cases, so I’m handling them in a consistent manner.”
All of which sounds great. And it is wonderful that part of this program allows her to more quickly connect domestic violence survivors with services designed to help them. But in an effort to move fast and protect victims, this initiative severely hampers the ability of those who have been accused to protect their rights.
A Fast Mistake Is Still a Mistake
Our criminal justice system is supposed to be designed to minimize the possibility that an innocent person will ever have to endure punishment that they do not deserve. As we’ve seen in recent years with things like the Innocence Project, this works much better in theory than in practice.
But when the government artificially attempts to speed up the process to put someone behind bars, it astronomically increases the chance that mistakes will be made that cause people to suffer for something they didn’t do.
When the time between a conviction and incarceration is a mere two months, it is like a slap in the face to both due process and appeals. Building an appeals case isn’t just something that happens overnight. Defense attorneys need time to rethink their strategy and figure out where the initial trial went wrong. This is truly important, because once someone starts to serve out their sentence, the number of options available drops considerably.
Unfortunately, it’s where we are right now in Illinois, so defendants truly have to fight as hard and smart as possible to avoid conviction in the first place. This means possessing a clear understanding of the law, the penalties associated with domestic battery, and how to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case against you.
The Elements of a Domestic Battery Conviction
Even though it is easier than ever before to put someone behind bars once they have been convicted, thankfully the actual statute has remained the same. What constitutes domestic battery in Illinois?
The legal definition states that it is when an individual “knowingly and without legal justification causes bodily harm to or makes physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature with any family or household member.” These people are defined as:
- Former spouses
- Other persons related by blood or marriage
- Persons sharing or who have shared a common dwelling
- Persons who have or allegedly have a child in common
- Persons who share or allegedly share a blood relationship through a child
- Persons who have or have had a dating or engagement relationship
- Persons with disabilities and their personal assistants and caregivers
Penalties for Domestic Battery
Where domestic battery is concerned, the penalties don’t begin after you are convicted, but the moment the police arrive at your door. Why? Because when someone calls the cops and makes a claim of domestic violence in our state, the police have to make an arrest – even if the alleged victim changes their mind.
When the police come, they will arrest someone, and that person will have to spend the night in jail. Afterwards, they – or the alleged victim – will need to stay out of their shared home for a mandatory 72-hour “cooling off” period.
And then the real penalties come into play.
First-time offenders face a Class A misdemeanor with up to 1 year in prison. For second-time offenders, the offense jumps up to a Class 4 felony that includes 1-3 years of jail time.
But the most painful penalties may be those that don’t have an end date. You can lose custody of your children and could even be kept from visiting them altogether. You won’t be able to carry a firearm. You won’t qualify for certain types of professional licenses. And you’ll have a criminal record that shows up every time someone does a background check, allowing employers, landlords, and others to dismiss your application without additional cause.
How to Fight Back
Short answer? Don’t – let your lawyer do it for you. There are all kinds of potential defenses that a good domestic violence attorney can mount, but the only way to know which one is most likely to help in your situation is to go over the facts of your case with a lawyer you trust.
Perhaps you and your spouse were both engaged in fighting and you acted in self-defense. Maybe you let your anger get out of control, but since then you have been working hard to learn how to manage it. Or you could be engaged in a nasty divorce where your spouse wanted leverage over you. It may seem horrible to think that way, but sadly it happens.
One day, hopefully, domestic violence can be stamped out without trampling on the rights of the accused. Today, though, another man is scheduled to be rushed to prison through the new initiative in May.
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.