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One of the more gut wrenching issues to come across any defense attorney’s desk is domestic violence. Simple Assault and Battery is an offense that is usually handled in the General District
Court; however when the alleged victim is a family member of the accused, Virginia has a special court to deal with such issues, the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. As a sister court to the General District Court, the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court provides for a more private and less formal setting to better deal with domestic violence. The Domestic Relations Court is not only empowered to punish the guilty but also has mechanisms to rehabilitate in order to keep families intact if possible. While a conviction and jail sentence may suffice when the victim of an assault and battery is unrelated to the accused, when the parties live under the same roof and rely upon each other for support, the alternatives to punishment offered by the Domestic Relations Court may provide for a better resolution for such conflicts of interest. As with any criminal charge the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty and the Domestic Relations Court is equipped to handle such matters with a bench trial in front of a judge; however, as an alternative an accused may be allowed to forego a trial or otherwise avoid a conviction by seeking rehabilitation as a first offender. As an alternative to conviction, the first offender program may provide for a means to retain security clearances and employment, or otherwise keep an accused out of jail in order to better provide for the overall needs of his or her family. If an accused has not been convicted of domestic violence in the past, he or she may be allowed an opportunity to complete the first offender program. If the court believes an accused qualifies and would benefit from such alternatives to conviction, the court will continue the trial to allow him or her to complete the program while remaining on good behavior. Once successfully completed, the court will dismiss the assault and battery charge and lift any restrictions imposed on the accused by the court. However, as the name implies an accused will only be allowed to attend the first offender program once, so repeat offenders cannot avoid conviction a second time through the program. Additionally, a dismissal through the first offender program has real world consequences and may remain on your criminal record, may not be expunged and may impact your ability to qualify for a concealed carry permit so retaining an attorney is the always the best means to protect your rights whenever facing criminal charges.