What should I think about when I am deciding to file?

Why would I want to file criminal charges against the abusive person?

You might want to file criminal charges against the abusive person because:

  • It might show the abusive person that you are serious about stopping the abuse.
  • Filing criminal charges means there will be a court record about the abuse. If the abuse happens again, the court might be more likely to send the abusive person to jail or counseling.
  • The court might order your abuser to attend a
    batterers intervention program
    .
  • In the future you may need to prove that you were abused so that you can get custody of your child, or get emergency public housing or other benefits. A criminal conviction of the abusive person for crimes is a good way to prove you were abused. There are also other ways to prove it.

Why might I not want to file criminal charges against the abusive person?

Many women decide not to file criminal charges against the people who abused them. Sometimes women think the court will not do anything. Sometimes women are scared that the abusive person will hurt them
more
if they decide to press charges.

These are things to think about. In some cases pressing criminal charges could make the person who abused you more likely to hurt you again in the future. It is also true that the courts do not always send a person to jail for a first offense, especially if the crime is not a felony. (A felony is a crime that can be punished by more than a year in jail.) Some domestic violence crimes are felonies, but some are not.

If you decide to press criminal charges, your safety plan should include how you will stay safe during this process. It is always a good idea to call a battered women's program and speak to an advocate who can help you decide what to include in your safety plan.

If I file a criminal complaint, will I have any say in how the criminal case goes?

You can decide to call the police or not. You can decide to file a criminal complaint yourself or not.

But if the police arrest the abusive person, the decision to start a criminal case is not always yours. The process will start whether you are ready for it or not.

Once the police arrest the abusive person or you file a criminal complaint, it is up to the District Attorney's (DA's) office to prosecute the case (make it go forward). The DA's office might ask you what you want to happen in the case, but it is
their
case, not yours. The criminal case is the state against the abusive person, not you against the abusive person. The name of the case will be the
Commonwealth

of Massachusetts

v. (your abuser's name).

If you change your mind and want to stop the criminal case, the DA's office might agree to "drop" the charges. But keep in mind that the DA's office might not be willing to drop the case if they have enough evidence to go forward without you. If the DA's office wants to go forward with the case and needs your testimony, they can "subpoena" you. This means they can get the court to order you to testify.

The District Attorney might talk to you about the case, and might ask your opinion about the following things:

  • the kind of sentence the abusive person should get,
  • if he gets probation, the rules he should have to follow (the "terms of his probation"),
  • if he should go to a certified batterers intervention program, and
  • the types of “plea bargains” that sound fair to you. A “plea bargain” is when someone accused of a crime agrees to plead guilty and give up his right to trial, in exchange for being charged with a less serious crime and getting a lighter sentence.

If the abusive person does not plead guilty

It will be up to the judge or the jury to decide if the person who abused you is guilty or not guilty. If he is found guilty, the District Attorney's office will ask the judge to give the abusive person a particular sentence. You might be able to give your opinion on what should happen, but in the end it will not be your decision. The judge will decide the sentence.

Produced by an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services updated and revised Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated October, 2009

Who to call for help

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

Ask a Law Librarian

If it's
Monday-Friday
between
9am and 4pm