Domestic Violence or Family Violence Arraignments in Connecticut
“Domestic violence” is actually a misnomer under Connecticut law. Certain kinds of offenses are known as “family violence” crimes in Connecticut and are defined as allegations of criminal conduct occurring between family or household members. Family violence crimes also, by definition, cause physical injury to another, or create the fear that physical injury is about to happen. Family violence crimes can be committed against not only relatives (i.e. parents, children, and spouse) by also by people who were married, who merely live together or have a child together or people who are recently broken up.
Family violence or domestic violence is, itself, not a crime, but a category of crimes that affect how the police department and judicial system will handle the case. The actual crimes that are commonly charged as “family violence” crimes include breach of peace in the second degree, disorderly conduct, assault in the third degree (or other assaults), sexual assaults, kidnapping and others. Family violence crimes can be misdemeanors (meaning that maximum exposure to incarceration is less than one year) or felonies (with exposure of greater than one year).
All individuals accused of family violence crimes will have to meet with a representative of the Office of Family Relations (“Family Relations”) at the time of his or her first court date (also called the arraignment date). There is going to be a wait, sometimes a significant wait, because the police generally bring in the paperwork associated with the arrest as late as 10 or 11 a.m. Nevertheless, the defendant should arrive early and sign in with the Office of Family Relations so that they know you are there and patiently waiting for them.
Anything that the accused says to the family relations officer is non-confidential and will be repeated to the judge and the prosecutor. The family relations officer is also working at an information advantage, because he or she has reviewed the police report and the defendant has not, nor will the defendant typically be allowed to read it by the family relations officer. Needless to say, a defendant should consult with an attorney about their case before meeting with family relations and making any further disclosures, especially where the case is seriousness enough that the family relations office likely will not work with the defendant (as discussed further below). Many criminal defense attorneys, like those at our office, allow individuals charged with family violence crimes to get in touch with a defense attorney day or night, so as to avoid any delay in getting representation before arraignment in family violence cases.
Based on the interview (or refusal to interview) with family relations, that office will decide (based on internal policies) whether to “accept a referral” of the defendant. A defendant whose case is referred to family relations by the prosecutor is going to be given an opportunity to do certain things to earn a favorable resolution of their case (i.e. a “nolle” or dismissal of the case). Family relations will schedule a time to meet with the defendant again before their next court date to further discuss the defendant’s characteristics and the case details to make a plan on what active steps the defendant needs to do to earn that favorable disposition. Quite often, the office of family relations will recommend use of the “Family Violence Education Program,” which entails classes and a year continuance of the case.
Before any family violence case is continued, an order of protection is entered against the defendant. An order of protection is similar to, and different from, a restraining order in a number of respects.
For defendants who are unable to work with the office of family relations, because of past referrals to the office, prior use of the Family Violence Education Program, or the seriousness of the criminal allegations, the case is returned to court for prosecution in the usual manner. This is to say, that the office of family relations is not offering to assist the defendant is achieving a favorable resolution and the case will be prosecuted by the State’s Attorney. Of course, these cases are the most serious and entail significant risk to the defendant. As such, if the defendant has not sought counsel at this point, they will almost always be directed to retain a lawyer or apply for a public defender by the State’s Attorney and the Judge.