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The Courts play a very important role in domestic violence prevention. They may help to increase victim safety and increase batterer accountibility.
Victims of domestic violence should speak with a trained legal advocate or attorney before going to court. To locate a legal advocate or attorney, please call the 24-hour, toll-free, all-language New York City Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-621-HOPE (4673) and ask for a referral to a legal services agency. Many legal services are provided at no cost to victims of domestic violence.
After an arrest, the person charged with a crime will appear before a judge. This process is called an arraignment. A defense attorney will represent the accused and an assigned prosecutor from the District Attorney’s Office (called the Assistant District Attorney, or ADA or, sometimes, DA) will represent the People of the State of New York. At arraignment, the judge can set bail or release the abuser who must then return to court on a future date.
Because a crime has been committed against the victim and against the People of the State of New York, the case against the accused is brought in the name of the People of the State, not the victim.
The abuser may be released at any time after arraignment, so the victim should establish a safety plan. Victims should call the 24-hour, all language, toll-free New York City Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-621-HOPE (4673) for help with safety planning, emergency shelter, and other services.
An Order of Protection is a document issued by a judge as part of a court case. It forbids an abuser from doing certain things. For example, an order may forbid the abuser from going to the home, school, or job of the victim. It can also require an abuser not to assault, threaten, harass, or stalk the victim. The order may extend to other members of the family including children. An Order of Protection may be issued whether or not the abuser lives with the victim.
Some Orders of Protection will instruct the accused to stay away from the victim completely, and have no contact with the victim whatsoever. If the abuser violates the "stay-away" provision of an Order of Protection, s/he can be arrested. If appropriate, an Order of Protection need not exclude the abuser from the home. When an abuser is excluded from the home, an Order of Protection may provide for certain visitation rights with the children.
In Criminal Court, the ADA can ask the judge to issue an Order of Protection at arraignment.
The following links provide helpful information on how to obtain an Order of Protection in different courts Citywide, including Family Court:
South Brooklyn Legal Services: Do I Need an Order of Protection?
Legal Information for Families Today: Family Court Fact Sheets
NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence: What is an Order of Protection?
NYS Unified Court System: Domestic Violence Information Brochure
An Order of Protection cannot guarantee the victim’s safety. Therefore, it is important that the victim work with a domestic violence advocate to develop a safety plan. The victim services unit at the borough District Attorney’s Office is available to help victims identify necessary support services and obtain court-related information. Victims can also call the 24-hour, toll-free, all language domestic violence hotline at (800) 621-HOPE (4673) for help with safety planning.
Victims obtain case information;
Arrange for the victim to speak with the Assistant District Attorney assigned to the case;
Obtain a copy of the Order of Protection issued in the case;
Refer the victim to an emergency domestic violence shelter;
Refer the victim to individual or group counseling;
Complete public assistance applications;
Arrange transportation to and from court;
Advocate with other agencies, and/or;
Obtain a cell phone for emergency 911 use (applies to high-risk situations);
Set-up an off-site message service, so that service providers can communicate with the victim in a safe manner.
Many of these services are also provided through the 24-hour, all language, toll-free New York City Domestic Violence Hotline. Please call the hotline at (800) 621-HOPE (4673) for more information.
The following information provides a summary of each court.
Get a more detailed review from the NYS Unified Court System
A victim would go to Criminal Court if a criminal offense has been committed. An abuser may be punished by the Criminal Court judge for injuring, threatening to injure, or committing some other offense such as damaging property, stalking, or sexually abusing their partner. The abuser could be fined, incarcerated, placed on probation, ordered to a program, or some combination of the above.
If the police respond in person to a complaint, complete an investigation and have probable cause that an offense has been committed, they will arrest the abuser in most cases. Victims of domestic violence may also file a complaint against their abusive partners at their local police precinct. The police may then arrest the abuser for committing criminal acts against the victim.
A victim would go to Family Court if a family offense had been committed. A Family Offense is any act which may constitute:
Harassment 1st or 2nd degree;
Assault 2nd degree or Attempt;
Disorderly conduct (including acts amounting to Disorderly Conduct NOT committed in a public place);
Aggravated harassment 2nd degree;
Assault 3rd degree or Attempt;
Menacing 2nd or 3rd degree that is committed by one member of the same family or household against another;
Stalking (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th degrees);
In order to go to Family Court, the victim and the accused must also be in a family relationship. The two people must be legally married, divorced, related by blood or marriage, or have a child in common.
The victim is not required to have a lawyer to bring a case in Family Court. There are people at the court who will prepare the necessary papers on the victim’s behalf. In certain cases, if the victim cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed.
If the victim meets the Family Court criteria AND an arrest has been made, then the victim may proceed in Family and/or Criminal Court.
Divorces are heard in the Civil Part of Supreme Court. The victim must have a lawyer to bring a case in Supreme Court. If the victim is in the process of getting a divorce, separation or annulment in Supreme Court, s/he can ask for an Order of Protection at any time before the trial or settlement is final. Victims should discuss their need for an Order of Protection with a lawyer.
An advantage of getting an Order of Protection in Supreme Court is that when it is attached to a divorce order, the Order of Protection will remain valid for the duration of the divorce. However, having changes made to a Supreme Court Order of Protection can be very time consuming and costly. Victims planning to modify their Order of Protection in the future should request in Supreme Court that the future changes be made in Family Court.