As little as a decade ago, domestic violence in the State of Oregon was often ignored. The victims of domestic violence were also ignored, neglected by the system that was supposed to protect them. Obviously, this often led to tragic results.
A growing recognition of the problem of domestic violence on the part of the authorities has led to the state treating the issue with the seriousness it deserves. Law enforcement authorities, prosecutors, and various state agencies have all adopted an attitude of zero tolerance when it comes to domestic violence.
While this attitude has gone a long way towards protecting the victims of domestic violence, it has also had an unintended side effect. The increased vigilance being used to protect domestic violence victims has also led to an increase in false accusations of domestic violence. Parties can often find themselves arrested, charged, and prosecuted for merely defending themselves against their partner's aggression.
Let's be perfectly clear: Oregon law gives you the right to reasonably protect yourself or a third party from another's aggression by physically defending yourself. However, under Oregon's domestic violence laws, that act of defense will usually also mean arrest and prosecution. Let's take a look at why.
As we've discussed, Oregon's laws are designed to zealously protect a potential domestic violence victim. This starts with the law enforcement investigation into an alleged act of domestic violence. Under Oregon law, when police respond to a domestic disturbance and find probable cause to believe that an assault has occurred or one party has placed the other in fear of serious physical harm “the officer shall arrest and take into custody the alleged assailant.” This means that any domestic disturbance investigated by the police in Oregon will likely end in an arrest.
Obviously, if the police find evidence of assault, they must make an arrest. The law gives them no other choice. It doesn't matter that the assault occurred as an act of self-defense. For example, let's say that Party A to a relationship has been fighting with Party B. Over the course of the argument, Party A becomes increasingly agitated. At one point, Party A attempts to slap or punch Party B. Party B dodges or blocks the blow and, in self-defense, strikes Party A with a slap or punch of their own. A then calls the police. During the course of the investigation, the police discover a red welt on the side of Party A's face where B's slap or punch connected. After concluding their investigation, the police arrest B for domestic violence assault, even though B claims that the slap or punch occurred while they were defending against A's attack.
Keep in mind that when we talk about arrest during a domestic violence situation, we mean arrest. The police will not sit you in the back of the squad, give you time to cool down, and then let you spend the night on a friend's couch. Instead, they will handcuff you, read you your rights, and take you to jail where you will be searched, photographed, fingerprinted, and placed in a cell.
Also, keep in mind that all it takes for this to occur is an allegation. If your partner claims that you struck them, or that you made them afraid that you would strike them, and police find probable cause to support the allegation, you are going to jail without passing go and without collecting $200.
Therefore, if you do find yourself under arrest for an alleged act of domestic violence that occurred in self-defense, remember to keep calm. Nothing is more infuriating than being arrested unjustly. However, everything that you say to the arresting police officers can and will be used against you in court by the prosecutor assigned to your case. This means that it is in your best interest to remain polite and say as little as possible to the officers involved. If any questions are asked, simply tell the police that you do not want to discuss the matter until your lawyer is present. If you are given the opportunity, contact an attorney who has experience dealing with Oregon domestic violence defense.
If you were arrested in or around Portland, you will find that your case is being handled by the Domestic Violence Unit of the Multnomah County District Attorney. The Domestic Violence Unit, or DVU, is responsible for prosecuting all felony and misdemeanor domestic violence cases that occur in the county. Most importantly for you as a domestic violence defendant, they have publicly adopted a "no drop” policy towards the cases they handle. This means they will “proceed with the prosecution of issued cases where legally and ethically possible.” In other words, they will take your case to trial.
Despite the perhaps overzealous nature of the prosecution, raising the defense of self-defense is an effective tactic for countering the charges against you. While self-defense may not have prevented you from being arrested, it will become an important issue at trial. You see, the prosecution has to disprove the claim that you acted in self-defense. This means that to convict you, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that 1) you intentionally hurt or injured another person, and 2) the person that you injured was not the aggressor in the situation.
In short, you are legally allowed to defend yourself as long as the level of defense you used did not exceed the level of aggression that you faced. In other words, if your partner punched you, you can punch them back in defense, but you cannot pull out a knife or a gun and stab them or shoot them.
Acts of self-defense occur in many domestic violence situations. This means that they form the basis of one of the most common defenses against domestic violence charges. If you're facing domestic violence charges in Oregon and you acted in self-defense, contact our office today for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your options.