Domestic Violence Charges in Ontario: Answers to the Five Most Common Questions.

Updated: Jun 1

Covid-19 and the Rise of Domestic Violence Charges in Ontario


The number of Ontarians facing domestic violence charges has risen dramatically since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Every week my law firm receives a high volume of telephone calls and emails from men and women on either side of new domestic violence charges.

Defendants want a clear grasp of their rights. The majority are hardworking professionals who have never been in trouble with the law before. They want to know what they can expect from the court process and how quickly they can get back to their normal life. Naturally, they are also worried about the cost of hiring a skilled domestic violence lawyer.

Complainants call my criminal law firm regularly, too. Most learn about our services after reading our popular blog, Getting Domestic Violence Charges Dropped: Understanding the Victim's Role in Domestic Violence Cases. Complainants who find us this way are mostly women who regret the involvement of police. They feel bewildered, confused or let down by a justice system that feels more like a steamroller than help.




domestic charges dropped ontario



“I specifically told the police I didn’t want him charged,”


“The police made me feel like I had to give a statement.”


"I just wanted to get my husband some help."

As a Toronto domestic violence lawyer, I hear exasperated comments like these multiple times per week. Shut out of the court process and ignored by police, many victims of domestic violence feel re-victimized by the process itself. They reach out to me in search of experienced domestic violence lawyer to reclaim their voice. Many want the domestic charges dropped. Some just want to know what their husband's future might hold.


Domestic Violence Charges: the Five Most Common Questions Answered.


This article is addressed to defendants facing domestic violence charges in Ontario. In it, I discuss the five most common questions I get from new clients facing domestic assault, mischief, and threats charges across the province.



Domestic violence charges often come as a complete surprise to the people caught at the centre of them. That’s because most Ontarians do not know a simple fact: in our province, the police must charge any time an allegation of domestic violence is made, regardless of the wishes of the complainant.


These topics range from the specific role of victims in domestic violence cases, to how long domestic court cases usually take, to the best strategies everyday defendants can use for getting domestic violence charges dropped.

As a Toronto criminal lawyer with years of experience defending domestic charges, I have spent considerable time helping to educate Ontarians in this difficult area of law. For this reason, you can find additional information about a few of the topics discussed below elsewhere on our website.

As always, the contents of this blog are not legal advice. Legal advice, especially in domestic violence cases, requires a careful analysis of the specific details of your case. If you’re unable to find an answer to your specific question in this blog, don’t worry. Contact our Toronto criminal law firm today and a member of our team will be happy to discuss your case.



1. Why Was I Charged With Domestic Violence?


Domestic violence charges often come as a complete surprise to the people caught at the centre of them. That’s because most Ontarians do not know a simple fact: in our province, the police must charge any time an allegation of domestic violence is made, regardless of the wishes of the complainant.

The allegation could be minor: “She shoved me.”

The allegation could flow both ways: “He shoved me so I shoved him back.”

The allegation could be completely understandable: “I caught him cheating so I got angry and shoved him.”

The allegation could relate to property alone: “He broke a vase.”

The allegation could arise in the course of a mental health episode: “He’s been off his medications and he threatened me. I just want him to get help.”



Hiring a skilled domestic violence lawyer is the single most important decision Ontarians facing domestic charges can make. The best domestic violence lawyers will not only speed up the court process and relieve stress; they will substantially increase your odds of leaving the case without a permanent criminal record, jail sentence, or other unwanted "collateral consequences".


Once the police arrive at the scene of a domestic dispute, any suggestion of criminal conduct - including theft, mischief to property, threats, or an assault - will result in the laying of domestic violence charges. The allegation need not be in any particular form. It need not be corroborated. And to the surprise of many, it need not be supported by the man or woman who made the original complaint.


For more detailed information about the types of domestic violence charges that police can lay, see our blog, Ontario Domestic Violence Charges: Everything You Need to Know from an Experienced Domestic Lawyer.



best criminal lawyer toronto
A Look at Fall in Toronto




2. How Long Will My Domestic Violence Case Take?


Once domestic violence charges have been laid, a series of restrictions will be imposed on the accused preventing contact between the parties. Any communication or proximity runs the very real risk of additional criminal charges. Especially in cases where the parties wish to reconcile, Ontarians want to know how long their domestic violence court case will take.


The answer, unfortunately, depends.



The vast majority of domestic violence cases in Ontario will extend well beyond the first court appearance date. With the assistance of an experienced domestic violence lawyer, minor cases can be completed in as little as 1 to 4 months after the first appearance. More serious cases, on the other hand, or those requiring a trial could take 18 months or more.

At a bare minimum, all domestic violence charges in Ontario need to reach their first court date before any action can be taken on the file. In extremely rare cases, a prosecutor who has previously reviewed at the file may decide to withdraw the charge at that time. Though technically possible, this outcome is actually as rare as hen’s teeth.


The vast majority of domestic violence cases in Ontario will extend well beyond the first court appearance date. With the assistance of an experienced domestic violence lawyer, minor cases are often completed in as little as 1 to 4 months after the first appearance. More serious cases, on the other hand, or those requiring a trial could take 18 months or more.

Obtaining a truly reliable estimate for how long your domestic court case will take requires consulting with an experienced domestic violence lawyer. That's because a number of factors can have a bearing on the duration of a domestic violence case, including:


  • How rapidly and effectively your domestic violence lawyer pursues your case.

  • How promptly the Crown makes disclosure available to your domestic violence lawyer.

  • How serious the allegations of domestic violence are.

  • How strong the evidence supporting the domestic violence charges is.

  • Whether you have a prior criminal record, especially for domestic violence-related offences.

  • The wishes of the complainant in your domestic violence case.

  • Your expectations and objectives as a defendant in a domestic violence case.


At my Toronto domestic violence law firm, we use our experience to provide an accurate assessment of timelines during our initial consultation. That’s because we want our clients to know what to expect from the legal process, and how long they be required to comply with the conditions of their release.





3. Do I need a Domestic Violence Lawyer to Represent Me?


Domestic violence charges often leave both defendants and complainants feeling powerless and afraid. Even if the charges are not supported by the victim, the heavy hand of the law robs both parties of the ability to live life as normal. As I explain elsewhere, once domestic charges reach court, prosecutors are fully entitled to take the case to trial against the wishes of the complainant.

Making matters worse, many Ontarians fail to recognize that domestic violence charges are, by definition, criminal charges. This means that the threat of a jail and a permanent criminal record are present in every domestic violence case. And these are are just the most obvious consequences that come to mind.



[W]e also target key case objectives at a very early stage. These then guide our approach, and the advice we give, throughout the case. For some of our professional clients, for example, or for those who require vulnerable sector screening searches, the complete absence of a criminal record is a topline priority.


In actual fact, every domestic violence case carries the potential for a number of other “collateral consequences”. These include court orders, prohibitions, and other travel- and employment-related outcomes that often haunt clients far more, and for far longer, than the imposition of a simple jail sentence.

As examples, collateral consequences include, but are not limited to:


  • Orders for a sample of your DNA - often mandatory;

  • Orders prohibiting you from possessing weapons or firearms, including hunting rifles, for up to life;

  • Orders prohibiting you from contacting your spouse or children;

  • Orders requiring you to attend for counselling or risk going to jail;

  • Immigration consequences under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, including findings of “inadmissibility” resulting in deportation;

  • Travel-related consequences; and

  • Consequences related to employment, including termination or the inability to pursue specific vocations.


Hiring a skilled domestic violence lawyer is the single most important decision Ontarians facing domestic charges can make. The best domestic violence lawyers will not only speed up the court process and relieve stress; they will substantially increase your odds of leaving the case without a permanent criminal record, jail sentence, or other unwanted "collateral consequences".




...But What Does a Domestic Violence Lawyer Cost?



My Toronto criminal law firm prides itself on providing fair, flexible, transparent legal fees tailored to the individual needs of each case and each client. Because of our exceptional track record defending domestic violence charges, we are normally able to assess the time requirements of a case after an initial consultation. This allows us to offer our clients a “block fee” – meaning you pay a fixed price for the legal services you need.


Our block fee model means you only pay for the core legal services you need to get a result. It also means you get access to an experienced domestic violence lawyer at no extra cost. No nightmare bills. No $100 phone calls. No hidden fees.


Although finances are a always legitimate concern, we urge Ontarians to think carefully about their priorities when facing domestic violence charges. It is not uncommon for clients who initially preferred another domestic violence lawyer's services, mainly due to fees, to return to Shaffie Law due to unsatisfying results. The result in such cases is delay and even more costs.




domestic violence lawyer toronto
A Scene from Kensington Market



4. What Can I Do to Get My Domestic Charges Dropped?


Getting domestic charges dropped is top of mind for most Ontarians who consult my firm. This is especially true for first offenders who have never dealt with the criminal justice system before; and doubly so where the complainant or victim is not supportive of the charges.



When a criminal lawyer “guarantees” you a result, what they are really guaranteeing is that their first priority is getting hired. "Guarantees" of this sort are not only empty, they are a sales pitch pure and simple.


Clients in this position are usually looking for more than a lawyer to represent them. They are looking for a feeling of relief. Because of their anxiety, they are vulnerable to a sales pitch.


A lot of new clients facing domestic charges say things like, “If you guarantee my domestic charges will be dropped, I will hire you.” I'd like to be clear with you: no criminal lawyer worth their weight in salt would ever offer such a guarantee.


When a criminal lawyer “guarantees” you a result, what they are really guaranteeing is that their first priority is getting hired. By contrast, the very best domestic violence lawyers don’t rely on empty promises to earn your trust. They earn it with diligence, intelligence, and, most importantly, by getting results.



By contrast, the very best domestic violence lawyers don’t rely on empty promises to earn your trust. They earn it with diligence, intelligence, and, most importantly, by getting results.


The best domestic violence lawyers know from experience that fighting domestic charges is a fluid, dynamic and in many ways artful process. It is a process that, from week to week, requires a careful and ongoing assessment of an array of factors – from outspoken victims, to tough prosecutors, to vigilant police, and yes, to seeking to satisfy the wishes of a demanding client.

If we return to our question – what can you do to get your domestic charges dropped - there is simply no prescription in Ontario. That’s because, as I’ve stated time and again, every domestic case is different. Every investigation, prosecutor, and client is different.

What is not different, however, are my two golden rules:



a. Hire the Best Domestic Violence Lawyer You Can.


If you’re serious about getting your domestic charges dropped, hiring the best domestic lawyer you can is the single most potent quiver in your bow. Hiring the best domestic violence lawyer not only dramatically increases your chances of obtaining an excellent result, but can also have a major impact on the speed with which you obtain that result.

My Toronto criminal law firm has handled hundreds of domestic charges. We pursue every domestic violence case with determination, speed, skill and experience. Because of that experience, a brief consultation is usually all we need to gauge the “profile” of a client’s case. This, in turn, this allows us to accurately predict how long the case is likely to take, what outcomes are likely to be achievable within a given timeframe, and what “block fees” – or set price for services – is both fair and tailored to the case.

Perhaps most importantly, we also target key case objectives at a very early stage. These then guide our approach, and the advice we give, throughout the case.



Take it from an experienced domestic violence lawyer. If you’ve been charged with domestic assault and your partner is calling or texting you: put your phone down. Consider blocking the number. Do not reply under any circumstances. In short: follow your bail, not your heart.


For some of our professional clients, for example, or for those who require vulnerable sector screening searches, the complete absence of a criminal record is a topline priority. For others, protecting their immigration status is a central concern.


As the disclosure rolls in, we provide our clients with an assessment of that evidence and base our advice on the available approaches, weighing the pros, cons, timelines and costs of each. As our clients' instructions and priorities are modified, so too is our approach.

Hiring the best domestic lawyer you can find is the first and, in our view, most important step you can take to getting your domestic charges dropped. But there's another important key that does not require the assistance of a lawyer, and it's arguably just as important.



criminal law firm toronto
Fall Colours at the Brickworks



b. Follow Your Bail – Not Your Heart.


Emotions run high after domestic charges are laid. Wives or girlfriends who never thought the police would lay charges are often in a panic. They reach for their phones with the best of intentions and send a flurry of texts or emails. On the other side, husbands or boyfriends are left staring at these messages in one hand, and a release paper in the other. They know that if they respond, they could be arrested.

Take it from an experienced domestic violence lawyer. If you’ve been charged with domestic assault and your partner is calling or texting you: put your phone down. Consider blocking the number. Do not reply under any circumstances. In short: follow your bail, not your heart.

In the rush of emotions that follows most domestic charges, Ontarians seem to ignore that the root cause of their trouble with the law has been brewing for months or even years. Eager to reunite with their loved one, they miss a golden opportunity to take stock of all the ways their domestic disputes have slowly transformed into true domestic conflict.

Trouble with the law is a signal. I tell all my clients they should listen to that signal carefully.

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the wise Friar cautions the hasty young lover: “These violent desires have violent ends.” When clients and complainants break the terms of bail to be together, the result is usually a predictable mess.


I've seen it a hundred times: driven by remorse, or guilt, or worse the parties unite. When the passions fade the conflict returns. Somehow the police become involved. The defendant winds up in jail. This time, however, they are held for a bail hearing - for days or even weeks. Their jeopardy is greater. So are their legal fees.

What are the two steps every Ontarian can take to increase the chances of getting their domestic charges dropped? Simple. Hire the best domestic violence lawyer you can afford. And follow your bail. These two keys work in tandem.



5. My First Court Appearance is Coming Up. What Should I Expect?


The anxiety of a looming court date is understandable, especially for clients who have never been in trouble with the law. As I explain here and here, however, a first court appearance in Ontario is not a trial. You should not expect any witnesses to be present or for the court to ask for “your side” of the story.



In the rush of emotions that follows most domestic charges, Ontarians seem to ignore that the root cause of their trouble with the law has been brewing for months or even years. Eager to reunite with their loved one, they miss a golden opportunity to take stock of all the ways their domestic disputes have slowly transformed into true domestic conflict.


In fact, those looking to vent some steam at their first court appearance are likely to be disappointed. That's because the main purpose of a first appearance court isn’t to determine guilt or innocence at all – that’s what a trial is for. Rather, first appearance court marks the beginning of a long process of monitoring your case’s development.

“Have you hired a lawyer? Have you been provided with disclosure (the evidence in your case)? Has your lawyer met with the Crown? When would you like to return to curt?” Rather than pointed questions about the case, these are the sorts of inquiries you can expect to answer at your first court appearance.

Should I Hire a Domestic Lawyer Before My First Court Appearance?


New clients facing domestic violence charges often ask me if they should hire my law firm in advance of their first court appearance. My answer is always the same: the sooner you hire the best criminal lawyer you can find, the better.

At my law firm, appearing on your behalf at a first court appearance has no impact whatsoever on your legal fees. In fact, it actually minimizes the amount of coordination and work we have to do.



top criminal law firm
Toronto at Dusk


Besides this, there are multiple other benefits to hiring a domestic violence lawyer prior to your first court appearance. Here are just a few:

  • A domestic violence lawyer can identify and help to secure important evidence already in your possession.

  • A domestic violence lawyer may provide practical suggestions, like counselling or anger management, designed to speed up the resolution of your domestic case.

  • A domestic violence lawyer can significantly speed up the process of obtaining and reviewing your disclosure.

  • A domestic violence lawyer can spare you the burden of attending your court appearances, including your first court appearance.

  • A domestic violence lawyer can significantly relieve stress and anxiety by answering your questions concerning the domestic violence court case.

  • A domestic violence lawyer can help you to vary the terms of your bail – for example, to facilitate access to children or, in some cases, to resume contact with an unwilling complainant.



Wrapping Up: It Takes Patience and the Right Advice.



Domestic violence charges take a heavy emotional on the parties involved in them. The combination of emotional pain, uncertainty, and fear of an unknown legal system understandably produces questions.


You are not alone. This list of the top 5 most frequently asked questions and answers is just a sampling of the types of worries we hear and respond to every week. I sincerely hope that it has been helpful to you. More impotently, I hope that it has left you with a greater feeling of clarity and empowerment.


Fighting domestic charges is not only possible. With the right combination of patience and excellent representation, it can often lead to an exceptional outcome and a place of insight.


.

422 views0 comments