Seth Okin on Assault versus Domestic Violence

Assault versus domestic violence is discussed by criminal lawyer Seth Okin

The following blog is excerpted from a transcription of an interview with attorney Seth Okin in which he discusses assault and domestic violence charges in Maryland.

What is the difference between assault and domestic violence?

Seth Okin: They are basically one and the same. Assault is assault. Domestic violence is violence of a domestic nature, meaning that it happens between people who are family or household members. That is considered domestic violence or domestic abuse. Underneath that domestic violence umbrella, there are cases of assault or child abuse. There could also be sex crimes or stalking. Those are all labeled as domestic crimes.

How are domestic crimes tried differently from assault cases and are the punishments more severe?

Seth Okin: A domestic crime is not punished more severely just because it is committed against a family member or a household member. The defendant is still protected under the same laws as everyone else. Assault in the second degree against a family member is still assault in the second degree. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine. However, assaulting someone at a bar and assaulting a spouse will look a little bit different to a judge. There is a stigma associated with domestic crimes. The state of Maryland, the governor, and the attorney general have zeroed in on domestic violence and eliminating it. They pay a lot of attention to it. These charges occur again and again because people get stuck in those relationships and continue to be abused. The police feel differently about domestic cases than they do about assault cases between two people who don’t know each other. They are specifically trained to deal with domestic issues and victims of domestic violence in terms of how to approach the victim and how to deal with different situations.

What happens if the accuser wants to drop the domestic assault charges?

Seth Okin: Any time a police report is made, that report is submitted to the State’s Attorney’s office. If you are married, you have marital privilege and you can invoke spousal immunity. Spousal immunity means that you can choose not to testify against your spouse. However, in the state of Maryland, you can only do that one time.

What strategies do you use to defend a client in a he said, she said scenario?

Seth Okin: Credibility. If the defendant has no prior record, is not a violent person in any way, and they present themselves well to the jury or the judge, that is all important. How the person reacts when you talk with them is also very telling and is a good way to tell if they are being truthful. It’s not my job to judge them, but that is the first thing a judge is going to see. A judge will notice if the individual speaks well and explains themselves well, their demeanor, and their eye contact. Your client gives you the choice to put them on the stand or not and you’ve already questioned them, so you can make that call. The burden of proof is on the prosecutor, so if they can’t prove their case, you never have to put your client on the stand. However, in cases of first or second degree assault, sometimes putting your client on the stand is the best way to win the case.

Seth Okin is an aggressive criminal defense attorney who represents clients charged in Maryland. Call his Maryland law office to schedule a free consultation at (410) 782-0742.