As a resident of California, you live in a state that takes a strong stance against domestic violence (DV). While the law protects victims like yourself, it's not unusual for those who have reported domestic violence to consider retracting their statements later.
This happens for various reasons, but it often doesn't result in dropped charges, and in the worst-case scenario, it could open alleged victims up to be criminally charged themselves.
The primary difference between domestic violence and other types of assault is that it involves people within the same family or people dating.
This often means prosecution of these crimes can be complex due to the nature of the relationship. Victims are often reluctant to see a loved one get arrested and punished.
When that happens, victims frequently stop cooperating with police officers at the scene or prosecutors. Sometimes, they will recant their statements about the incident or significantly change their story.
Prosecutors will use a victim's statements to the police about domestic violence to charge the alleged abuser with a crime. The most common DV-related charges in California are Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC domestic battery, Penal Code 273.5 PC corporal injury to a spouse, and Penal Code 273.6 PC violation of a restraining order.
In other words, the victim's statements are evidence for the prosecution. If they decide to change their story or take back their statement altogether, it's called “recanting,” which can occur at any point in the case. Mainly, recanting occurs after the incident in an attempt to get the charges dropped.
If you have reported someone for domestic violence, your statement becomes evidence against the accused. If you need to recant or alter your statement, here's what you need to know.
Why Does Someone Recant or Change a Domestic Violence Statement?
Domestic violence victims may try to withdraw or change their initial statements for various reasons. Some of the most common include the following:
- Fear of Retaliation: The victim might fear further abuse or violent acts from the perpetrator if they continue with their statement.
- Family Considerations: Concerns about the impact on children or the disruption of family life may lead to recantation.
- Close Relationship: Often, close emotional bonds between the abuser and the victim survivor usually play a significant role.
- Financial Dependence: If the victim is financially reliant on the abuser, they may fear the economic consequences of legal action.
- Hope for Reconciliation: The victim may still love the abuser and hope they can change, leading to a desire to retract the accusation.
- Perceived Isolation: The victim may feel alone or unsupported in their decision to press charges, which could lead them to recant.
- Lack of Confidence in the Legal System: If the victim distrusts the justice system or fears it may not adequately protect them, they may withdraw their statement.
- Concerns for the Accused: A domestic violence conviction can result in serious penalties for the accused. Sometimes, a partner regrets filing the report afterward when they realize what their partner might be facing.
- Police Coercion: Sometimes, a partner might sign a police statement because police manipulated them into doing so, and they regret it afterward. However, proving police coercion is difficult.
When Can Retracting a Statement Be Beneficial?
Because allegations of domestic violence are taken so seriously, retracting a domestic violence statement can hold you up to scrutiny or suspicion. Generally speaking, the explanation most likely to be accepted by prosecutors or a judge is that you made the allegations by mistake. For example:
- You were angry and scared at the altercation and misinterpreted your partner's actions as a threat when there was no such intention.
- Your injury was an accident, but at the time, you believed your partner hurt you on purpose.
- You were intoxicated, under duress, or otherwise impaired and misremembered the events.
If your partner is indeed innocent of domestic violence and your statements were made erroneously—and if you can convince prosecutors that your statement was, in fact, a mistake—retracting your statement may restore your relationship and save your partner from challenging consequences.
Will Retracting My Statement Result in the Charges Being Dropped?
Not necessarily. Once domestic violence is reported, it's treated as a crime against the state, and you're seen as a victim and a witness to that crime.
That means the case can proceed without your testimony if the prosecution has other substantial evidence of abuse, such as medical reports or witness testimonies. If your purpose in retracting a statement is to get the charges dropped, you should be aware that you may not be successful.
In other words, prosecutors might decide there is enough independent evidence to proceed with criminal charges, even without the recanting victim's cooperation. Prosecutors typically expect domestic violence victims to recant their statements.
In a typical case, a domestic violence victim initially cooperates and obtains a restraining or protective order. Once the alleged abuser contacts the victim, sometimes while in jail or violating a no-contact order, they ask, or even demand, them to drop the domestic violence case. Next, the victim will contact the prosecutor and recent their original statement.
What Are the Risks of Retracting a Domestic Violence Statement?
Making an allegation of domestic violence only to retract or change it comes with significant risks to the accuser. Unless you can convince prosecutors that your statement was a legitimate mistake, they are likely to believe that you're changing your statement either because (a) you feel coerced into doing so or (b) you lied. Neither scenario looks good on an accuser. The specific risks you could face are as follows:
- Continued Abuse: If domestic violence truly happened, retracting your statement could expose you to abuse further if the charges are dropped.
- Criminal Charges: If your retraction suggests to prosecutors that you falsely accused your partner, you could face charges of making false statements to the police or even perjury if you signed a sworn affidavit or gave testimony under oath. If prosecutors believe you're just trying to get the charges dropped, you could be charged with obstruction of justice.
- Impact on Future Allegations: A retracted statement could undermine your credibility in future domestic violence allegations. Even if your initial statement was a genuine mistake, you could be taken less seriously if you report a legitimate incident later.
- Loss of Legal Protection: By retracting your statement, you could lose protective orders or other legal safeguards that were put in place to ensure your safety.
Because of the legal and personal risks involved with changing or retracting a domestic violence statement, always consult an experienced criminal defense attorney who can offer guidance and help you create a strategy that is least likely to expose you legally. You can contact our law firm for a case review and to discuss legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, California.