NFL football player Chad Johnson, formerly known as “Ochocinco,” was recently arrested on a domestic violence charge. Apparently Johnson’s wife, Evelyn Lozada, had a few questions for Johnson about a receipt for a box of condoms… thereafter, Lozada told police that Johnson “head-butted” her. Inevitably, Johnson was arrested for domestic violence. You can read about the story here.
While it is unclear whether the allegations made by Lozada are with or without merit–it is possible that Chad Johnson is facing the unintended consequences of domestic violence laws. Oftentimes couples argue–this is a normal everyday occurrence and fact of life. Arguments may escalate into screaming or yelling matches and outsiders may interpret such nasty scenes as physical altercations and may respond by calling the police. Alternatively, a person involved in such an altercation may feel threatened or scared. Sometimes, wives, girlfriends, and even husbands or boyfriends may be so outraged in the heat of the moment that they may simply respond irrationally by calling the police in order to “get back” at the significant other or have law enforcement intervene to end the argument. Such irrational responses may result in unintended consequences.
In many states, including Washington, there are special laws which apply to “domestic violence” situations. “Domestic violence” has a very broad definition in Washington–it concerns crimes committed by one “family or household member” against another. “Family or household members” includes spouses, former spouses, persons who have a child in common regardless of whether they are married or live together, adults related by blood or marriage, adults who reside together or who have resided together in the past, or persons who have had a “dating relationship.” A “dating relationship” means a social relationship of a romantic nature. Therefore, law enforcement may determine that a domestic violence situation exists under countless circumstances.
In Washington, police officers are required by law to make an arrest and take a person into custody when the officer has probable cause to believe domestic violence has occurred. Therefore, unfortunately, oftentimes arrests might be made when allegations are without merit. As a result prosecutors, courts, and the legal system may be burdened by countless cases that are in fact without merit. Beyond this, husbands, wives, children, and families may face further burdens associated with the issuance of no contact orders. Oftentimes courts will automatically issue no contact orders in cases concerning domestic violence in order to prevent further altercations which may arise shortly after domestic violence arrests. No contact orders may separate husbands and wives, temporarily break up families, and cause financial burdens (e.g. paying for hotels, day-care, babysitters, etc.) Ultimately, a no-contact order may effectively create a temporary single parent status in a household.
The policy rationale supporting domestic violence laws are laudable in many ways. Many girlfriends, wives, and possibly boyfriends or husbands oftentimes are in denial with respect to abusive relationships. Legislatures across the county recognize this. In such situations it is good for local law enforcement to intervene.
Additionally, the policy rational supporting the issuance of no-contact orders is also laudable. Courts recognize that domestic violence may reoccur shortly after domestic violence arrests. No contact orders, at least in part, are intended to promote a “cooling off” period as a person who is charged with domestic violence may still be “heated” over the prior argument, altercation, or arrest. How do you think Chad Johnson feels after being arrested?
Nevertheless, as discussed above, there are countless times where a report of domestic violence may be without merit. Prosecutors and defense attorneys alike recognize that individuals involved in nasty arguments may react irrationally by calling the police in the heat of the moment. The domestic violence call will inevitably result in the mandatory arrest of the person whom the officer believes to be the primary aggressor (which more often than not may turn out to be the male). Therefore, many prosecutors understand that numerous domestic violence cases are without merit. However, prosecutors remain aware that many individuals in abusive relationships are in denial. Therefore, regardless of whether an alleged victim later recants, changes their story, or desires that the domestic violence charge to be dropped–prosecutors may remain reluctant to dismiss a domestic violence case.
Individuals should stop and think about the potential unintended consequences before picking up the phone and calling 911 in the heat of the moment. Chad Johnson may now be facing the unintended consequences of a heated argument (although this remains uncertain).
When facing a domestic violence allegation it is important to have a lawyer who understands the laws concerning domestic violence, no contact orders, and who is able to effectively negotiate with prosecutors. Oftentimes prosecutors may be persuaded to dismiss domestic violence charges.