Under Virginia law, domestic violence is any act of violence directed towards a member of your family or household. This means the alleged victim is a spouse, ex-spouse, parent, stepparent, child, stepchild, brother, sister, half-sibling, grandparent or grandchild. Additionally, in-laws count if they live with you. Also, anyone with a child in common or who has slept over romantically also qualifies.
Fairfax County domestic violence arrests are far more common than most people expect, and the numbers are increasing. Even as recently as five years ago, the court heard these types of cases only once a week; now as the number of arrests increases, cases are heard five days a week. The police force has dedicated a team of detectives to investigate only domestic violence cases, and the prosecutor’s office has hired two prosecutors dedicated exclusively to handling domestic violence cases.
A major reason for the increase is a change to the policy of the Fairfax County Police Department. Previously, arrests were not always required when officers responded to calls in which an allegation of domestic violence has been made, but now police are required to make an arrest. They investigate to identify the aggressors in these cases, arrest them, take them to jail and charge them with misdemeanor domestic violence. This means many people are charged with domestic violence even if they are not guilty. There is a big difference between being an “aggressor” and being guilty of hitting someone. There are several defenses to every domestic violence case, and a mere arrest is not nearly enough to prove guilt. One of the greatest mistakes a person can make is to waive their rights and accept a conviction for domestic violence without protecting their rights.
In Fairfax, domestic violence cases are heard in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. If your case is a misdemeanor domestic assault, it will be handled by one of the two prosecutors who deal with domestic cases exclusively. Many domestic violence cases are classic he said/she said scenarios. One spouse or significant other calls the police and makes some allegation of violent conduct against the other. In this scenario, independent witnesses are rarely, if ever, involved. An argument and some bad feelings often precede the police being called. These factors make many domestic violence cases winnable, but it takes a lot of skill and experience.