Domestic Battery Criminal Charges in Aurora, Elgin, Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles – What’s going on?

If you have ever stopped by a criminal court room set aside for domestic battery criminal charges, the crowd from day to day may make you wonder whether half of the citizenry is beating up the other half, whether it’s in Aurora, Elgin, Batavia, St. Charles, Geneva or any other Illinois town. As a criminal defense attorney, I ask, What’s going on?

     Let me give you a suggested explanation by example of a real criminal case invovling such a criminal charge of domestic battery and another criminal charge growing out of it that should surprise you:

     A husband and wife work at the same business that covers DeKalb, DuPage, Kendall and Kane counties. A big busniess. Turns out he’s having an affair and the wife finds out about it. At an office party in a public setting, he starts dancing with the other woman in front of all their co-workers. The wife, understandably upset, runs up to her husband waltzing with the other woman, kicks her husband in the shin one time, and runs away in tears. The husband runs after his wife to bare his soulful apologies and to seek reconciliation, which the husband and wife so begin to reconcile. Regardless, the police are called and she’s arrested – for domestic battery in which, if found guilty, she cannot get supervision even though she has no criminal history at all. She must be convicted, pay a hefty fine, face up to a year in county jail, and spend 26 straight weeks getting domestic violence counseling.  But on trial day, since the prosecution insisted on going forward despite these facts, the husband, with a good dose of guilt and now reconciled with his wife, decides not to appear. Now he’s charged with contempt of court and prosecuted for failing to appear – and on and on.

     I know this case. It’s real. I represented the husband.  

     Here’s what’s true: Abuse of women by a boyfriend or husband went on for far too long without getting the serious attention such crimes deserved. The abused woman often suffers immeasurably, succumbing not only to obvious and horrific physical damage, but psychological damage as well. There can be no denying that at all. Specialized domestic violence courts, as I recall their basis, were created entirely on this very real issue and need.  The intended goal was and remains  laudable. To provide not just the prosecutorial attention, but also to provide counseling services to help end the cycle of the physical as well as the related psychological abuse against women. But something happened that I believe has diverted such courts from these laudable goals. 

     The Illinois domestic violence statute covers every aspect of the phrase “family member” that a person can think of. Not just between spouses as well as people dating for at least a minimal time, but it also includes relationships between any “family member” via blood or marriage. Siblings and step-siblings come under this law, possibly cousins, too. Parents and their kids and step-children. Regardless of the domestic relationship, any unwanted touching, whether it causes bodily harm or not, are all under the same Illinois domestic violence statute and arrive at the court room that was supposed to help address abuse against women.

    As a result, fights between siblings are domestic batteries no matter how benign or serious. A substance-abusing, often-suspended-from-school teen can call the police and make claims against Mom or Dad who have been struggling for years with their child’s bad behavior. Then there are the claims that a man has bitten his girlfriend hard in the face, also punched her several times in the face hard several times, hit her over the head with a heavy object, run her over not once but three times with a car – and in each case the woman has not one injury on her, is drunk at the time even as the man is calm and is actually the one bearing an injury – and he gets arrested anyway. These are fact patterns in domestic violence cases from Aurora, Elgin, Geneva, Batavia, and St. Charles that I’ve handled over the years. 

     To make matters worse, police understandably have real fears when called to a scene of reported domestic violence. The officers do not know what they’ll run into. Perhaps they fear being attacked themselves. They fear making the wrong call if they make no arrest and then they’ll read about it in the newspaper if something bad happens afterwards, so they err on the side of arrest, contrary to exercising discretion based on what they see with their own eyes. 

     In our domestic violence courtrooms, there are of course abused women, real victims, that need special prosecutorial and counseling attention. But as a result of the above, I believe, they and their cases get buried beneath mountains of these other types of cases day after day. Resources get diluted. An already strained prosecution staff has less time to provide services. In many respects, it is the broad scope of the domestic violence statute itself that does a disservice to those women in real need who were the original reasons why the statute was passed in the first place.

     I do not claim to have the perfect solution to this situation but it seems that a few changes would make basic sense. First, do not include fights between siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews among those cases covered by the domestic violence statute. The same holds true between parents and their kids. While such batteries can of course be serious, their dynamics differ from from those suffered by abused women. These other cases can readily be handled not just by the regular misdemeanor and felony criminal courts but also by our abuse and neglect courts when it comes to abused children;  in fact, that’s why such abuse and neglect courts exist, with their own specialized services for those situations. These other cases do not need to use the victim counseling as well as counseling for the offender that are unique to cases of abuse against women.

    And are we to have no logic applied here? If someone makes a claim that is simply not plausible under the given facts, can there be no discretion applied by the police or by the prosecution? Certainly there are gray areas that need to be decided on the side of caution. However, arresting and prosecuting a man upon a claim that he bit someone hard in the face 5 minutes ago, and there are in fact no injuries present of any kind –  is an arrest and prosecution that serves only lawyers, who can then charge that man a fee for legal representation. And I did, discounted given the facts, of course!

     Now, perhaps, you have the answer as to why our domestic violence courts are so crowded day to day, and why such dockets are crowded with cases having nothing to do with common sense or abuse against women.    

    Ending with the beginning – the woman who kicked her cheating man one time in the shin finally had her case dropped after her husband continued to refuse to testify against her. But he did have to go to hearing on the contempt case against him. When I asked the judge whether such a man, after what he had done in public, should now be held in contempt for not wanting to give his wife a criminal conviction, the Judge smiled and shook his head. Four hours of community service, that’s it, the Judge ordered, but for behaving like a jerk at the office party, not for refusing to come to court.

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