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California prosecutors take domestic violence crimes very seriously, and both police and the prosecutor would be interested in hearing any details of abuse you have suffered.

However, some people don’t immediately report the abuse, which is understandable. Many people try to patch things up with their partner, often believing that the abuse will not happen again. When the couple decides to split, the abused partner often considers whether he or she should have reported the domestic violence when it happened.

As experienced criminal defense attorney, one question we often receive is, “How long do you have to report domestic violence?” The Statute of Limitations is generally three years. However, a victim should report the abuse when he or she feels safe and comfortable doing so. The police and the prosecutor will then decide whether the case warrants investigation and/or prosecution.

Of course, if a partner fabricates a story of abuse that happened either recently or long ago that accuses you, you should consult with an attorney. There is no guarantee that the prosecutor will not investigate and possibly bring charges.

Defining Domestic Violence

At the outset, it is helpful to define domestic violence. Under California Penal Code 13700, domestic violence is any abuse committed against an intimate partner. Intimate partners include current or former spouses, fiancé(e)s, domestic or live-in partners, and anyone you have a child with. Abuse includes any intentional or reckless use of physical force or threats to use physical force against the partner.

Many different statutes criminalize domestic abuse:

  • Penal Code 273.5, corporal injury to a spouse or inhabitant
  • Penal Code 243(e)(1), domestic battery
  • Penal Code 273d, child abuse
  • Penal Code 368, elder abuse

Factors the Prosecutor Considers

You can report domestic violence at any time. The key issue will be whether the police choose to investigate and whether the prosecutor decides to bring charges.

Police will investigate a crime only if there is evidence to obtain. Evidence includes statements by an accuser. If you were abused years ago, then there may not be much for the police to look into. This doesn’t mean a victim can’t report domestic violence. It does mean that the police might not make the crime a priority. The more time that has passed since the violence, the more likely it is that the victim will need to come forward with evidence that shows the abuse happened, such as photographs of bruises or eyewitness testimony.

Prosecutors also have many factors they consider before deciding whether to bring charges:

  • Is the evidence fresh and convincing? If a long time has passed since the violence, the case appears weaker. A prosecutor also might suspect the abuse didn’t really happen if the alleged victim waited a long time to report the crime.
  • Has the statute of limitations passed? The state must bring charges within a certain amount of time, otherwise they are barred by law from doing so. If too much time has passed since the alleged abuse occurred, the prosecutor might not pursue the case.

How Long Do You Have to Press Charges for Domestic Violence?

In California, only the state can bring charges against a person for domestic violence. The victim does not decide whether to go ahead and charge someone with a crime. For this reason, the phrase “press charges” is somewhat misleading. A victim doesn’t press charges; instead, a victim simply reports a crime. The police and prosecutor then swing into action.

Should a Victim Report Domestic Violence?

Victims of domestic violence should consider their reasons for reporting the crime weeks or months after it happened. For example:

  • You might have separated from a partner and now feel differently about reporting the domestic violence you suffered.
  • You might fear for an abuser’s future partners, who could suffer the abuse you suffered in the past.
  • You are trying to gain an advantage in a child custody dispute by reporting domestic violence.
  • You might finally feel safe and in a place where you can report domestic violence without fear of reprisals.

The police will want to know why you delayed reporting.

How to Respond to Old Allegations

If a current or former partner has accused you of domestic violence, you need to carefully consider your legal options. Accused abusers have rights, too, and an experienced California domestic violence lawyer can review them with you.

Please contact the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, today. Our criminal defense attorneys can provide the defense you need. Contact us today to schedule your free case evaluation.

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong

Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm, the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, in June 2007. Prior to that, he was employed as the senior associate attorney for a large criminal defense firm in San Diego for nine years, eventually being placed in charge of that firm’s branch office in downtown San Diego. At one point, he was managing six attorneys at that firm, as well as several support staff and law clerks.