Rethinking Criminal Defense: A Holistic Approach to Handling Domestic Violence Crimes
Any number of Colorado defense attorneys and criminal law firms take clients facing domestic violence charges. All too often, though, defense attorneys treat these cases like other criminal matters, without regard to the broader issues surrounding domestic violence. But these cases are exceptionally complicated, sufficiently different from other assault cases, and require a special approach – one that is responsive to the unique circumstances present in these case types.
Domestic violence cases have been a core component of my practice for a considerable time now, in a number of different contexts. Over time, I’ve developed a thorough, holistic method of handling these cases that pairs experienced defense strategy with broader rehabilitative and treatment-based measures. Here’s how I got there and why.
Diverse Experience: The Foundation of a Holistic Approach to Domestic Violence Defense
My Front Range criminal defense firm’s approach to defending domestic violence crimes is influenced by my extensive and unique experience with these cases. I am a former prosecutor and for years handled habitual domestic violence cases on behalf of the largest District Attorney’s Office in Colorado. I’ve also partnered for some time now with a Colorado-based non-profit, Project Safeguard, that helps victims through the court process and provides essential support to get them to safety.
As you might imagine, my diverse experience has given me an insider’s perspective on how these crimes proceed through the court system, and how to effectively advocate on behalf of an alleged domestic violence offender. But there’s more to it than that. Through working closely with victims, I’ve developed an intimate understanding of the all-too-often overlooked issues in domestic violence defense cases. Sometimes, it really does take two to tango.
Looking Beyond the Charges: Unique Aspects of Domestic Violence Cases
Domestic violence cases have some unique characteristics:
- Victims and offenders are intimately related;
- Domestic Violence is rarely an isolated incident;
- Roles of victim and offender often switch, depending on circumstances;
- Relationships between victims and offenders are often ongoing throughout the case;
- Recidivism is a concern for may prosecutors.
The relationship between the victim and the offender can change nearly everything about these cases. Victims also often recant, meaning they no longer want to prosecute the case, and they want the offender home. But it’s important to note that (in Colorado, at least) whether to “press charges” or not is never up to the victim in these cases. Prosecutors have tried and won cases without a victim ever testifying. That being said, it’s often much harder to secure a conviction without a victim’s cooperation.
Generally speaking, a defense attorney’s job is to help his or her client navigate the criminal court system and mitigate the impacts of criminal charges. Many attorneys view their primary (and perhaps only) goal as beating or minimizing the charges and sending the client on his or her way. With domestic violence cases, however, this approach can create more harm than it does good.
A singular, narrow focus on simply defending against domestic violence charges does nothing to help the offender truly move past the crime – nor is this approach necessarily responsive to the victim and his or her future safety with the alleged offender. To create a holistic approach to handling domestic violence cases, it’s important to look beyond the criminal issues. I often recommend counseling, for example, even in the event the criminal case is dismissed. Who doesn’t need more coping methods to deal with the stressors of any relationship? Even healthy relationships often benefit from intervention, and there’s no reason to think a relationship can’t be repaired!
Changing the Narrative from Crime and Punishment to Treatment and Growth
With only a few exceptions, treatment is a conversation I routinely have with domestic violence defense clients. Treatment in Colorado, though, is typically not tailored to your specific needs. Trying to find a way to be successfully “treated” is half of the battle if you’re on probation for a DV offense. Coming to the table prepared to advocate for your own treatment goals is something I always coach my clients to do.
For most offenders who are receptive to getting help, treating the underlying emotional, behavioral, and situational issues that lead to incidents of domestic violence is a foundational part of moving beyond a charge or conviction in a healthy, productive manner. Many times, this will also involve treatment for substance abuse, as many offenders are great people but can turn violent when intoxicated. We all self-medicate to some degree, but the key is finding a way to cope that doesn’t put yourself or others in danger. See more about coping here.
Depending on the circumstances and the severity of the charge, any number of treatment options may be available for offenders (and victims, where appropriate):
● Mental health assessments
● Couples counseling
● Substance abuse treatment
● Behavioral therapy
● Anger management
● Court-ordered Domestic Violence Offender Treatment
● Family counseling
● Parenting skills classes
In many cases, the court mandates treatment as part of an offender’s probation, but I proactively guide many of my clients through these options well before we reach the settlement or trial stage. Addressing these issues head on and incorporating treatment into my defense strategy can help my clients take responsibility for their behaviors and actions — and ensure they get the help they need to change.
I believe in second chances — Call Nicol Gersch Petterson Offices, LLC if you need me to believe in you, too.
There is no excusing actual domestic violence, but what the average person thinks is domestic violence is often not what Colorado law entails. DV in Colorado includes everything from property damage in the heat of an argument to assault with a weapon, kidnapping, etc. if done to intimidate, harass, control, or otherwise inflict harm on a victim. Broken picture frame? DV. Broken oven door? DV. (And, yes, before you ask, those were real cases I’ve handled).
There is also no getting around the fact that even hardened offenders who are willing to seek treatment can often make measurable progress to improve their life and their relationship with loved ones. There is no reason not to treat a DV arrest as a learning experience! Prosecutors may be all about the conviction, but an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the process to ensure you thrivein the end.
By viewing each and every Colorado domestic violence defense case through a holistic lens, I’ve successfully helped offenders with more than just domestic violence criminal charges. Learn more about me and my experience here, where you can also contact me to schedule a free phone consultation. You can also reach me directly at (970) 670-0738 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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