The answers to these questions are not intended to be legal advice, but are general information. An attorney should be consulted for actual, case-specific legal advice.
What happens if I call law enforcement?
- If you call the police about a current domestic violence incident tell them immediately if you are in danger or injured.
- An officer will come and take a report. Be sure to note the date and time and get the officer’s name and the report number.
- If you have any injuries, let the officer know so the injuries can be documented. If the injuries aren’t visible until later, you can go back to the police to have them documented, or you may see your own physician or an ER doctor to have them documented.
- If there are visible injuries, the police will make an arrest.
- If the accused batterer leaves the scene, a warrant may be issued for his or her arrest. If you feel you are in danger, you may request an Emergency Protective Order. You may also consider going to safe shelter. You can call NEWS anytime at 255-NEWS (255-6397).
The District Attorney of Napa County represents The People of the State of California and decides whether the accused batterer will be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony violation of the law.
If the case is charged as a misdemeanor: Once the accused batterer (the defendant) has been arrested, the first court appearance is the arraignment. At the arraignment, the defendant can enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest. If the defendant is in custody, the arraignment will be held within 2 court days. If he or she is not in custody, it will be held within 5 days unless the defendant “waives time” for a speedy trial.
If he or she waives time, the number of days it will take for the arraignment can be extended. One reason arraignments are extended is to allow the defendant additional time to obtain an attorney or be referred to the Public Defender’s Office.
If the defendant pleads guilty or no contest at the arraignment, the Court could impose a sentence at the same time as the arraignment hearing. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the Court will set a date for a misdemeanor jury trial. Before the trial, the Court may also set a date for the parties to discuss settlement, and another to determine readiness to proceed to trial. The victim will receive a subpoena to testify at the trial.
If the defendant is found guilty, a hearing for the purpose of determining the sentence will be set. The victim has a right to make an “impact statement” at the sentencing hearing to tell the judge how the domestic violence incident has affected his or her life.
If the case is charged as a felony: After a defendant has been charged with a felony domestic violence crime, the first hearing is the “preliminary hearing.” In most domestic violence felony cases, the victim is asked to testify at the preliminary hearing because he or she was a witness to the alleged crime. The purpose of this hearing is for the District Attorney’s Office to present key facts of the case to the judge. There is no jury at this point. Usually, before the preliminary hearing, a Deputy District Attorney from the District Attorney’s Office will interview the victim witness and guide him or her through the hearing.
If the Court determines at the preliminary hearing that there is sufficient evidence, the defendant is then held to answer, that is “bound over,” for a felony trial by the judge. The People, represented by the District Attorney, will file again its charges against the defendant. It can also add new charges identified during preliminary hearing testimony, add prior convictions, and drop charges it feels are weak. The Court will set a date for an arraignment where the defendant can enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the Court will set a trial date as well. Prior to trial, the Court may set a date for the parties to attempt settlement of the matter. If the case is not resolved before trial, the victim will receive a subpoena to appear in Superior Court to testify at a trial in front of a jury.
If the defendant pleads guilty, no contest or is found guilty by a jury, the Court will set a hearing date for the purpose of implementing a sentence. The victim will have a right to make a statement at the time of sentencing about the impact the case has had on their life.
What if I don’t want to press charges, can the charges be dropped?
- Law enforcement is required by law to make an arrest when there are visible injuries as a result of domestic violence. The victim in this case does not make the choice about the arrest, and therefore, cannot drop the charges.
- Victim/Witness Services, a program of the Volunteer Center of Napa Valley, can help with understanding the criminal justice system, filing for victim of crime compensation, and offering support and information throughout the criminal justice process.
- Victims can call the VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) information system to learn the time of release from custody if their partner has been arrested. You can call 1-877-411-5588 for information 24-hours a day.
How do I get a restraining order?
- A restraining order is a court order which is issued to protect a person from physical pain or injury or the threat of physical pain or injury. You do not have to be married to the harasser to file for or get a restraining order. When you first apply for a restraining order, the Court will first issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) and set a hearing date to determine whether the TRO should become a permanent restraining order (RO.) Each of these Court orders demands that the harasser stop hitting or harming you; but, they can also tell the harasser to stay away from you, your place of work, your home, and other places you go regularly. It can also give you temporary custody of your children.
- NEWS has a Court Advocacy Program to help with filling out the paperwork and walking you through the process of obtaining a restraining order. You can get a restraining order without an attorney, but it is recommended that you contact an attorney to make sure your rights are being protected. The NEWS Court Advocate can go with you to court to provide support and general information and help to answer general questions about the process.
- Once your order has been signed by the judge and served to the offender, you are encouraged to report any violations to the police. Copies of the order should be kept with you as well as other protected places such as work, school, and at home. You will also file the order with the local police agencies. If you have a problem with the harasser, call the police and show the officer your copy of the restraining order. It is helpful to write down the names of the officers you talk to. You may also wish to talk to a NEWS Advocate to let them know what is happening or to talk about next steps and safety planning.
If I decide to leave my husband, how will I support myself and my children?
You have the right to file for child support and spousal support through the court. Regardless of whether or not the father sees the children, he may be required to help financially support them. You can contact the facilitator at 707-299-1137 to find out your eligibility for spousal support. For child support questions, contact The Department of Child Support Services, 1-866-901-3212. There are also programs such as Cal Works and Food Stamp Program which can be contacted at 707-253-4511. For job placement assistance, call Job Connection, at 707-253-4291.
We suggest you call our NEWS Transitional Housing Manager to explore options. She may be able to help with affordable housing options or emergency assistance in some cases. She can be reached at our business office at 707-252-3687.
My husband says he won’t give me a divorce, what can I do?
California is a No Fault divorce state. This means that you have the right to file for divorce whether or not your husband agrees. The Napa County Family Court Facilitator’s Office can help with the paper work, and you may qualify for a fee waiver to avoid court filing fees depending on your income level.
What can I do if I need to talk to a lawyer but can’t afford one?
You may be eligible for legal services through Legal Aid. You can contact them at 707-259-0579. NEWS can also send a referral to Legal Aid for you. Please call our business office at 707-252-3687 to find out more. You can also speak to an attorney at the Napa Court Self Help Office 707-299-1137 at no charge.
How do we decide who gets custody of the children?
The Napa County Family Court Facilitator at the Napa Superior Court can provide assistance in filling out forms regarding Child Support, Custody, and Visitation rights. The phone number is 707-299-1137. There is a process called “Mediation,” which the court will require both parties to attend. The purpose of mediation is to help you reach an agreement about custody without a Court hearing. In cases involving domestic violence the appointments will be done separately with separate waiting rooms to ensure safety. The Mediation process is an opportunity for parents to create a parenting plan for the care of their children.
If a plan cannot be agreed upon through Mediation, the parties will be able to bring their case before the judge. The victim will have an opportunity to tell the judge about their reasons for wanting custody.
I am not a US Citizen, are there any services available to me?
Yes, help is available for both citizens and non-citizens. Crime Victims are not required to give immigration status to the police.
Regardless of immigration status, we all have a right to contact the police, obtain shelter, and access the court system. There may be other legal help through the Violence Against Women Act for immigrant victims of abuse and their children. For more information call Legal Aid at 707-259-0579.
Regardless of immigration or legal status, you can call NEWS for information and can use any services which we offer, including the Emergency Shelter.
What can I expect from my experience with NEWS?
Client Non-Discrimination Clause: All individuals will receive services without discrimination of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, creed, religion, age, pregnancy, marital status, or national origin. To receive services in an environment which is safe, to be treated with dignity and respect, protected by confidentiality and to have access to written information about oneself. To receive information about mental health services and other social services. This organization will comply with all applicable federal and state laws designed to assure non-discrimination for these services.