You may have heard the term “pressing charges” long before being arrested for domestic violence. As you await trial, you may be hoping that the police will eventually have to drop the criminal charge because the accuser doesn’t want to press charges—and the police can’t act without someone to pursue the complaint, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not true. In Canada, domestic assault cases are pursued and prosecuted on the doctrine of “society’s interest.” This means that society itself relies on promoting acceptable behaviour and deterring criminal behaviour regardless of how it was committed and who was involved. As a result, domestic violence cases can be (and typically are) prosecuted even if the complainant doesn’t want to pursue them.
Myths About Pressing Charges in Canadian Domestic Assault Cases
Many defendants are unprepared for the hard road ahead because of their false assumptions about domestic violence laws in Ontario. Specifically, defendants misunderstand the role of the alleged victim and how the victim’s wishes impact the various parts of a domestic violence case.
For example, defendants may mistakenly believe that:
- “My partner can stop the police from making an arrest.” Ontario police procedure requires frontline officers to issue charges wherever they have reason to believe an incident of domestic violence exists. Once the police arrive at the scene of a domestic violence call, the first credible claim of criminal conduct—such as threats, battery, or destruction of property—will almost certainly result in an arrest of at least one party, even if the original caller says the arrest isn’t necessary.
- “The criminal prosecutor is representing my partner.” It’s a common misconception that the Crown prosecutor is acting as a lawyer for your accuser. Prosecutors do not represent the victims in these cases; they represent the public interest and bring the case on behalf of the government. Since the prosecutor and alleged victim are not lawyer-and-client, the prosecutor does not have to do what the alleged victim says. The alleged victim has no influence over the legal process at all.
- “My partner’s wishes are the only factor in the decision to prosecute.” In truth, your partner’s wishes are a very small part of the decision to prosecute. Just as only law enforcement officials have the power to make an arrest, only the Crown prosecutor has the power to decide whether charges will be laid—and the decision is solely based on the strength of the evidence.
- “I’ll go to jail if my partner says I’m dangerous.” What happens at your sentencing depends on the judge’s opinion of the case and your defence lawyer’s ability to mitigate the penalties. The judge may consider imprisonment if they believe that you are a danger to the public as a whole, but judges don’t imprison people simply because a defendant’s accusers tell them to.
- “My partner won’t give evidence against me.” Again, prosecutors are working for the state, not your partner. It’s the prosecutor’s job to perform a thorough investigation to determine if there’s sufficient evidence to support the domestic violence charges under consideration. If the prosecutor suspects there’s more to the story, they can legally compel the alleged victim to answer questions about current or past incidents of criminal behaviour under threat of perjury.
- “I don’t need a lawyer because the whole thing was just a misunderstanding.” Even if your partner agrees with your version of events or admits to sharing fault in the altercation, you should never assume that your case will just go away. You need to consult an experienced domestic assault defence lawyer immediately to protect your rights.
Let Us Advise You After a Charge of Domestic Assault
If you are charged with domestic assault in Ontario, the experienced criminal defence lawyers at Kruse Law Firm can help you avoid conviction and minimise the effects of these accusations on your life. Contact us today to learn more in your free case review.