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Steps when there is a 911 call about domestic violence

Domestic violence does not discriminate against alleged defendants or victims. It occurs between California individuals regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic backgrounds and age. As described by the Guidelines for Effective Response to Domestic Abuse, within the state generally and the law enforcement community specifically, most law enforcement agencies have a domestic violence protocol.

This protocol seeks to better ensure that the department upholds certain standards and follows those standards throughout a domestic violence investigation. A properly handled investigation, followed by appropriate prosecutorial decisions and actions, tends to lead to justice for both parties.

First responders and initial investigation

The first step in an investigation generally starts when a person calls 911 for help. The dispatcher will then inform arriving police of the incident. When law enforcement officers arrive, they will typically engage in several investigatory acts, including the following:

  • Locate the parties, separate them and get emergency care if needed
  • Secure weapons, if any
  • Request a search warrant, if appropriate
  • Get statements from all parties and witnesses
  • Document and photograph any injuries

At the conclusion of this initial investigation and securing of the parties and evidence, the law enforcement officer will make an arrest if warranted.

Prosecution by the district attorney

If law enforcement arrested one of the parties, the Judicial Branch of California, California Courts notes that the case will move forward to eventually be in the hands of the district attorney. The district attorney then engages in the following:

  • Decides if the case is suitable for a felony or misdemeanor charge, or no charge
  • Participates in the arraignment of the defendant
  • Takes part in any pretrial conference of a misdemeanor charge
  • Handles pretrial hearing in the case of a felony charge
  • Acts on behalf of the state in prosecuting the defendant at trial if no plea agreement arises

The majority of domestic violence cases resolve without a trial. Instead, there is often a no contest plea or a guilty plea. If the plea is accepted by the court, the plea agreement is born and a conviction may result accordingly.

However, if the defendant decides to plead not guilty, he has the right to a trial before he or she can be the subject of a conviction. In that scenario, the district attorney must prove that the defendant is guilty of the crime of domestic violence beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant receives the same benefit of the highest standard of proof as others accused of crimes.

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