When You Are Both a Victim and a Defendant in a Domestic Violence Dispute

domestic-violence-accuser-and-accused-300x200Being arrested on suspicion of domestic violence can be highly disruptive to your life—and of course, being the victim of domestic violence is nothing short of traumatic. But what happens when you are both a victim of domestic violence and the person accused of it—at the same time? What if the alleged victim and the defendant are one and the same person—and that person is you?

It doesn’t happen that often—but it does happen. When domestic violence occurs, we typically assume there is one perpetrator and one victim. One person gets hurt, the other one gets arrested and charged. In the majority of DV cases, this assumption holds true—but on occasion, someone who has been attacked in a domestic violence dispute may actually be arrested and possibly charged as a perpetrator. Let’s talk about the complexities of these types of cases, the circumstances in which they may occur, and what you can do about it if you find yourself in this undesirable situation.

How Can Domestic Violence Victims Also Be Charged?

At first glance, it seems almost unfathomable that someone who has suffered domestic violence could be charged with it. But there are several situations in which it happens, and it’s more common than you might think. Let’s look at a few scenarios where a victim of domestic violence might also be arrested and/or charged.

Mistaken Identity

California has a “mandatory arrest” policy for domestic violence disputes. In other words, when police respond to a domestic violence call and find probable cause that domestic violence occurred, they have to arrest someone. In rare cases, they mistakenly arrest the victim rather than the alleged perpetrator. (This can happen, for example, when the victim acts in self-defense and causes injury to their attacker in the process.)

Dual Arrests

In California, dual arrests are discouraged but not prohibited. If the police arrive on the scene and see evidence that suggests both partners were attacking each other, they may place both under arrest. (Again, this can happen if one defends against the other.)

Mutual Abuse

While most domestic violence cases do involve one perpetrator and one victim, there are relationships in which mutual abuse occurs—where both parties are actually committing crimes against each other. These cases can be quite complex and nuanced because the definition of domestic abuse in California is so broad, extending to non-physical forms of abuse like stalking, threats, and psychological abuse. Both parties may physically attack each other, or one may be abusive verbally while the other abuses physically, for example. If your partner attacks you physically and is arrested, then reveals a pattern of abuse on your part which could be corroborated, you could even find yourself arrested after the fact.


Sometimes, abusive people may “gaslight” their partners, essentially accusing the other of committing the crime of which they themselves are guilty—or even psychologically manipulating their partner into believing they are somehow the perpetrator. In extreme gaslighting cases, the perpetrator may even manipulate the evidence (sometimes to the point of self-inflicted injury) to make you appear guilty when police respond to the call.

Complexities in Defending Mutual Abuse and Victim-Defendant Cases

When a victim of domestic violence also becomes a defendant in the case, it can create a web of unique challenges that only a skilled defense attorney may be able to unravel successfully. You may encounter any or all of the following complications if you find yourself in this situation.

He Said/She Said Scenario

If you’ve been wrongly fingered as the perpetrator, or if you and your partner both face domestic violence charges, it can trigger a complicated situation of your word against your partner’s as to what actually happened. If there’s not a lot of evidence to sort through, this can be a double-edged sword for you. On the one hand, your charges may be dropped due to insufficient evidence; on the other hand, your abusive partner’s charges could also be dropped. This could put you once again in jeopardy unless you have an exit strategy in place to leave the relationship.

Complex Forensic Evidence

In situations where both partners are accusing each other of domestic violence, and the evidence could support either accusation, it requires some expertise and skill to investigate the case, especially from a forensics standpoint. Prosecutors will likely conduct their own investigation, but you also want a defense attorney who can conduct a thorough independent investigation to sort through the evidence and make your case.

The Need for Additional Protection and Support

If you are a victim of domestic violence who has been falsely accused, arrested, and/or charged, you’ve essentially been victimized twice. Not only do you need a skilled defense attorney in your corner, but you may also need support as a domestic violence survivor. You may benefit from counseling, but if your abusive partner is free and also happens to be your accuser, you may also need protection from further abuse. Until the charges are dropped or dismissed, it may take some skilled negotiation from your attorney to arrange for protective restraining orders, support from domestic violence advocacy groups, etc.

The Bottom Line

If you find yourself in the unwelcome position of being both a survivor and a defendant in a domestic violence case, you’re dealing with some complex legal issues that you should not face alone. For the best possible outcome, you need the help of a compassionate defense attorney with experience in complicated domestic violence cases. We are here to help. Call our office today for a free case evaluation.

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