Domestic violence is one of the most frequently charged criminal offenses in Pinellas County. Due to the high frequency of these offenses, a specific unit was set up in Pinellas County solely to investigate and prosecute domestic violence cases. The Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force helps provide prevention strategies, and assists victims of family violence in seeking restraining or protective orders. The Task Force began in 2000 to help resolve the growing number of murders related to family violence. However, for every legitimate domestic situation brought to the police department’s attention, there are numerous phony accusations that take up valuable time and resources.
Roughly six percent of murders in Florida are linked to domestic violence cases. Therefore, Pinellas County law enforcement takes allegations of domestic abuse seriously, and investigates every domestic violence call. However, false abuse claims have become a considerable problem. Several domestic violence cases turn out to be fake or greatly exaggerated. These bogus reports waste valuable time and resources that could be used to help legitimate victims.
The Pinellas Task Force does not charge member dues or have a steady source of income; the Force functions strictly on donations and fund raising. Their efforts are used to aid victims file reports and arrange for safe places to stay throughout the investigative process. It can take several weeks and extensive resources to thoroughly investigate a claim. Due to the trend of domestic violence escalating to murder, the Task Force does not feel they can turn a potential victim away. The consequences can be devastating if they do not follow up on an allegation.
Individuals file false reports for numerous reasons and motivations. Some people are spiteful after a relationship ends. They might file a false complaint in order to get revenge on their former partner. Other times the alleged victim may actually be the aggressor, but wants to avoid a criminal assault charge so she skews the situation to make the other party look guilty. The problem with retaliation-type allegations is police investigations cannot easily stop once they begin. Once an officer has been called to a domestic disturbance, they will arrest the alleged aggressor, even if the claim turns out to be false. It is then the officer’s duty to thoroughly investigate the situation.
Sometimes the reasons for calling the police are more benign. If a couple is in the middle of a heated argument, one party may call the police to prevent the escalation of violence. In St. Petersburg, once an abuse or assault allegation is filed with the police, the alleged victim does not automatically have the power to withdraw the charge. The State will continue the investigation, and file formal charges if the prosecutors believe there is a real threat of abuse, regardless of whether the alleged victim later wishes to withdraw the allegation or not.
By far, the most common motivation for false reports is to gain leverage in a child custody or child visitation case. The court will often award full custody to an alleged victim of family violence when accusations of abuse arise in order to protect the children from harm. A conviction for domestic abuse in Florida’s criminal court can be used to reflect on a person’s character in family court.
These various types of allegations expend time, money and other resources of the Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force that can be spent on legitimate occurrences of family violence.
However, if a person’s allegations of abuse turn out to be false, the claims could be detrimental to the person asserting they were harmed. In child custody cases, a family court judge will doubt the credibility of the person filing the false report, and often reduce the custody award. Additionally, criminal repercussions can arise, as the alleged victim can be charged with filing a false report.
It is important for someone that is falsely accused of domestic violence in St. Petersburg to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney. If someone who is falsely accused does not fight the charges, they could end up wrongfully convicted. The purpose of the Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force is to stop instances of genuine domestic violence. False allegations of domestic violence diminish the efforts of the Task Force and take away from victims that truly need help.