Misdemeanors are misdemeanors, felonies are felonies. Right? Most people assume that felonies are serious and misdemeanors are not so serious. While that is somewhat true, misdemeanor domestic violence charges, such as simple battery, violation of an injunction, and any other misdemeanor crime involving people who meet the criteria for domestic relationship (assault, criminal mischief, trespass, etc...) is taken very seriously by the State Attorney’s Office. More so than any other misdemeanor offense.
I have heard domestic violence prosecutors refer to misdemeanor DV cases as “quasi-felonies” meaning that they will dedicate the time and resources to these cases normally reserved for more serious felony cases. That’s because misdemeanor domestic violence prosecutors consider any act of domestic violence, even less egregrious forms such as light slaps or shoves, as serious acts of violence that could escalate into something more.
Miami-Dade County and Broward County both have separate county court divisions that handle misdemeanor domestic violence cases. Unlike most misdemeanors, everything from the filing process to the trial is different.
First and foremost, all misdemeanor DV cases are thoroughly pre-filed. That means that prosecutors and paralegals take detailed statements from witnesses, victims, and officers. Most misdemeanor cases are simply filed when an officer makes an arrest. In misdemeanor DV cases, prosecutors carefully screen each case before deciding which charges, if any, to file.
Many misdemeanor “arrests” will not result in being taken into custody. In Florida, police officers can issue citations, known as promises to appear (PTA), that simply advise the accused of their court date.
For misdemeanor DV cases, you cannot be issued a PTA. You will be taken into physical custody and you must see a judge before you post a bond. If arrested for any other misdemeanor, you can usually post a bond as soon as you are booked.
The judge may set special conditions of a bond, such as a GPS monitor or require you to attend anger management classes. In nearly all misdemeanor DV cases a stay-away order will be issued requiring the accused and alleged victim to stay away from each other.
Once your bond has been posted your arraignment date will be set. Your defense attorney can waive your presence at this hearing so that you do not need to attend.
Broward County has soundings/calendar calls for all types of criminal cases. But for misdemeanor offenses, Miami-Dade County did away with all soundings except for those in DUI cases and misdemeanor domestic violence cases.
Your domestic violence lawyer will go to court for a misdemeanor domestic violence sounding where the judge will ask each side if they are ready for trial. It is possible that your case will be resolved through a plea or a Pretrial Diversion (PTD) resolution.
If you successfully complete PTD, your charges will be dismissed.
Unlike ordinary misdemeanors, PTD in misdemeanor DV cases includes 26 weeks of batterers’ intervention classes. For pleas, your standard probationary plea is 1 year with batterers’ intervention classes.
If you are determined to go to trial, you should know that DV prosecutors will exhaust all resources when it comes to bringing their witnesses in. This may mean flying witnesses in from outside of Miami or Broward.
In conclusion, misdemeanor DV cases are taken very seriously and should not be written off simply because they are misdemeanors or because the alleged victim does not want to press charges.Prosecutors can and will move forward on your case without the victim if possible.
Eric Matheny is a Miami domestic violence lawyer and Broward domestic violence lawyer.