Domestic violence charges in Ottawa are generally complex. They are complex to investigate, prosecute and defend.

Law enforcement generally errs on the side of caution. Police officers don’t want to intrude unnecessarily in domestic matters but neither do they want to be seen to be defending serious criminal behaviour.

So, you should expect that an accusation of domestic violence made to the police will lead to someone being arrested.

If that someone is you and you end up being charged, your first question will be about how to get the charges dropped?

It is a potentially life-changing question…

Understanding the different types of domestic violence charges in Ontario

Not all domestic violence charges are the same. They have varying degrees of gravity:

  • Minor offences: mischief (damaging or breaking items) or uttering threats to damage property
  • Mid-level offences: uttering threats to kill, criminal harassment or basic domestic assault (but no physical injuries caused)
  • Mid-to-high level offences: assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm, stalking, choking, etc.
  • Very high-level offences: sexual assault, aggravated assault and homicide.

When is a criminal charge considered “domestic” in Ontario?

According to Canadian law, a crime becomes “domestic” in nature when it is perpetrated against an “intimate partner”. This could be a wife, husband, common-law partner, girlfriend or boyfriend.

Depending on the severity of the alleged offence and the past criminal history of the accused, an arrest by police may follow.

Violence against an “intimate partner” triggers some unique legal and procedural dimensions at all stages: from the investigation to bail, prosecution, and sentencing. You are less likely to be dealt with leniently by the justice system if an offence qualifies as “domestic”.

Investigation into domestic violence charges

The more serious the alleged offence, the more likely police are to investigate, arrest, and charge you – especially if there is any previous history of domestic violence.

You will probably face a “zero-tolerance” attitude from police and prosecutors. The prosecution is almost always reluctant to drop charges in anything but the most minor domestic violence cases.

The Ottawa police force’s zero-tolerance policy is intended to protect victims of domestic violence but it can (and does) lead to wrongful arrests and charges being dropped.

Sometimes, the alleged victim has ulterior motives for filing a domestic violence report – including during divorces and child custody battles.

It is best to be prepared for what happens next if you find yourself in this position.

Most likely, you will be arrested

If the police arrive at your door after a report of domestic violence, you will most likely be arrested, charged, and bailed on strict conditions not to communicate with the victim (and to live outside the family home, in most cases).

Even if one partner calls the police but has no intention of filing a formal police complaint, the matter is no longer within the partner’s control. From that point, it is up to the police and the prosecutors whether to press ahead, even if the partner wants charges dropped.

Remain silent if you are taken to the station

If you are arrested and taken to the local police station for processing, it can be tempting to try to explain to the police what happened – especially if you know you’re innocent.

However, this could be a mistake. The best strategy is to remain silent until you can speak to your lawyer. Find a lawyer who has experience in domestic violence cases locally.

Your lawyer will review the charges, listen to your version of events, examine the evidence, and advise you on the next steps. He or she will also assist at your bail hearing and try to persuade the judge that you are not a threat to your partner so that the least stringent conditions possible are imposed.

What do you do if you’re charged with domestic violence?

There are two important steps to take if you are charged with domestic violence and hope to get the charges dropped.

  1. Save all communications

Every piece of communication on your cellphone or tablet may be of use in your defence. Your lawyer may be able to find key “nuggets” of evidence that can be used to defend your position.

Make sure that nothing is deleted from your phone (emails, SMS, videos, images, social media posts) – save it all.

  1. Hire a criminal lawyer experienced in domestic violence charges

This is no time to gamble. The consequences of a conviction for domestic violence will affect not only your immediate future but may have far-reaching effects in the long term (see below).

Take the time to find a seasoned domestic violence lawyer who can provide the best legal assistance possible.

This can make the difference between getting domestic violence charges dropped and having to suffer the stress of a trial and a conviction.

No lawyer can guarantee success but the best will be the well-equipped to achieve it.

Domestic violence charges and the Ontario courts

Fighting Domestic Violence Charges in OttawaIf your charges aren’t dropped right away, the matter will progress through the Ontario courts. However, that does not mean a trial and conviction.

Charges can be dismissed at any stage of the process if new information comes to light or evidence is called into question and the prosecution’s case looks weak.

There are a few things to bear in mind.

Firstly, get used to the fact that this will not be a short process. Be patient and allow the court to follow its procedures. Your lawyer will handle the case, however complex, while you try to get on with your life the best you can in the circumstances.

Next, be sure to follow the conditions of your bail to the letter. The terms may be strict and it may be extremely tough to be separated from your intimate partner for an unjust reason but you will harm your chances of the charges being dropped if you violate the conditions of bail. You could even end up in jail with a criminal record.

Finally, remember that the decision of whether to prosecute the charges is not your partner’s, the police’s, your lawyers, or yours. It rests with the local Crown Attorney’s office. So, be patient and allow your lawyer to try to persuade the prosecutors to drop the charges.

Is jail inevitable for a domestic violence conviction in Ontario?

It will come as no surprise that the consequences of a conviction for domestic violence are severe. But how severe?

This will largely depend on:

  • The gravity of the crime
  • Your past criminal record
  • Any mitigating factors presented to the sentencing judge

The skills and experience of your lawyer are vital for limiting the consequences. However, do bear in mind that any domestic violence offence is, technically, jailable.

Generally speaking, someone convicted of a serious domestic violence offence with a history of convictions is likely to end up in jail. If it is a relatively minor first offence, jail time is unlikely if you follow your lawyer’s guidance.

Even if you plead guilty or are found guilty, a good domestic violence lawyer will work to limit the negative consequences. The priorities will be to avoid jail time and a criminal record.

The latter is possible in some circumstances. For instance, where charges are dropped and substituted for a peace bond (a court order requiring you to abide by certain conditions for a certain period).

A conditional or absolute discharge may also be possible. In return for an admission of guilt, the offence is not registered as a conviction on a criminal record – either guaranteeing no further action or meaning no further action will be taken if the conditions of probation are met.

If you do end up with a criminal record, it can be devastating for your future:

  • Employment

Often, people accused of domestic violence are professionals with respected careers and no prior criminal history. A conviction (and jail sentence) can jeopardize their career.

  • Immigration

A conviction can ruin the plans of any individual with less than full Canadian citizenship, such as visitors, foreign students, and permanent residents.

Don’t take any chances…

For many people accused of domestic violence charges, it is their first and only brush with the law. This makes it an intimidating experience.

Getting the right advice in these situations is vital.

Don’t take any chances. If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with domestic violence in Ottawa, contact an experienced criminal lawyer at Affordable Defence for a free case evaluation.