Interviewer: What would you say are some of the common misconceptions that people have about domestic violence cases?
Paul Tafelski: The biggest one is when they hear the words “domestic violence,” they immediately think of a husband beating the daylights out of his wife. That’s the stigma that goes along with it, which is part of the reason why people should and do take it seriously when they’re charged with it and trying to make sure that they beat the case, because that’s what people picture in their minds. However, the reality is that probably two-thirds of these cases result from someone either just being pushed or grabbing someone and stopping them from leaving, or maybe one slap with an open hand, or some kind of scratch. Just really minor physical confrontations do technically satisfy the elements of the crime and lead to people being prosecuted.
Interviewer: Have you seen cases where it’s not always the typical scenario where people always kind of think that idea where it’s a male abusing or beating on a wife? Have you see unique situations where it’s not that typical scenario?
Paul Tafelski: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. That’s probably still the most common scenario where it’s the husband being prosecuted. It’s very uncommon for it to be a situation where the husband was actually beating on the wife, like you said, but still the husbands are prosecuted more often than the wives. But we’ve seen many cases where the wife is the one who’s accused. We’ve seen cases where the parent did something to a kid. We’ve seen cases where the kid did something to the parent. You see it all. You see even grandmas and grandpas getting involved in some of these cases.
It’s like anywhere where you could have a family that’s getting in a big, heated fight, it could cross the line into domestic violence. All of that is pretty common. Every case is just a little bit different than the last one. Split the fence, they have a lot of similarities. You really want an attorney who’s going to look at your case in a unique way and try to figure out what is unique about your case and how can they convince the prosecutor. How can I convince the court that they really don’t have to worry about me? That’s the bottom line. The better you can do that, the better the outcome is going to be.
Typical Clients & Scenarios
Interviewer: Is there a typical age for the accused or the victim in cases like these?
Paul Tafelski: No, not really. You see them with young boyfriend and girlfriends. You see them with long-time married couples that have been going through stress. Oftentimes they don’t even really have too many marital problems. It’s just a situation where one or both people may have been drinking too much one night and then that got into an argument that turned physical, which led to the charge.
Common Client Mistakes
Interviewer: What are some of the mistakes that you’ve experienced that you’ve seen clients make during the process that they may not know of, that they’re unaware of?
Paul Tafelski: First of all, the biggest mistake people make is making statements to the police when the incident was very minor. They’ll make statements where they might admit something that they don’t think is admitting very much but it actually satisfies one of the elements of the crime that the prosecutor has to prove. That’s the first mistake that people make, but usually by the time they reach me it’s too late to fix that. You have to deal with it.
The other mistake that I’ve seen people make is in the situation where the case was relatively minor, they might just want to go into court and plead guilty to the domestic violence case, thinking that the judge will recognize that it was minor and really do nothing about it: give them a fine, and send them on their way. Nothing could be further from the truth. The judges in the district courts like Troy and Rochester Hills and Bloomfield Hills, Royal Oak, Novi, Plymouth, those places – they all take these cases very seriously. People in their own minds think that they pled to something that was no big deal, but in the courtside it was. They never took the time to really protect themselves.
Another thing that I’ve seen done before that is a mistake is if the case is more serious, the client just feels very guilty and ashamed of themselves, and so they do the same thing. They’ll take the approach of just trying to plead guilty because they feel like they did wrong and they deserve the punishment. In the meantime, they still might have had the opportunity to keep it off their record or at least present themselves in a better light to the court so that they don’t get slammed with the maximum type of punishment. Because, generally, at some point they regret those kinds of decisions even if at the time they feel like it’s the right thing to do.
Overall, it’s basically that the mistakes kind of boil down to putting too much blind trust in the system to look after you when the system has their own concerns and their own political realities that they have to deal with that are not in line with your interests.