Domestic violence cases normally begin when an alleged victim or a neighbor calls up the police or dials 911. Police rush to the scene of the domestic dispute with only one thing in mind - to make sure no one is hurt. Upon arrival, they are faced immediately with two different sides of the story, and it may not even be clear who was the aggressor. In other instances, there is just an accusation but not signs of actual physical harm - but police have to decide, nonetheless, whether to make an arrest.
Unfortunately, appearances and circumstantial evidence, along with the desire of police to "err on the safe side," often dictate that the wrong person is arrested, or that someone is arrested when no one should have been. The police report will often contain little more than the other side's version of what happened and inconclusive pieces of information, while other key pieces of evidence are left out.
Nonetheless, the police report is made, and a citation with court date is issued. You may be taken to jail only for a short period to "cool off," but in felony cases, you would need to either pay bail or await your arraignment before getting out of jail.
After the arrest but before any formal charges are filed, there is a window of time where the police and prosecution will continue their investigation, gather evidence, talk to witnesses, and decide if they think they "have a case" against you. If police feel they have a good case, the District Attorney will then review the case (if a felony is to be filed) or the city attorney (if a misdemeanor will be filed) before making the final decision to press charges.
Quite often, there is a chance for your lawyer to interact with the city attorney pre-filing if it's a misdemeanor allegation. A special hearing is often called, which may give you the ability to conclude the case out of court. A good attorney can present evidence in your favor at this point that might convince the prosecution to drop the case. Or, you might be able to come to a reasonable settlement. A third possibility is that the case will be "paused" for months or even a year while the prosecution waits to see if they will finally take the matter to court or not.
Once your first court date, or "arraignment," arrives, you will have a chance to formally face the domestic violence complaint that has been filed against you. This is where you will have to make your plea - guilty or not guilty. If there is a favorable plea deal available, and you fully understand its terms and consequences, you might plead guilty in return for deferred entry of judgment, a diversion program, or a reduced charge or sentence. Otherwise, you would plead not guilty.
The arraignment is also the time where the judge will decide if you qualify for bail or not, and if so, how high to set it. The decision will be based on recommendations set by the state and county, the defendant's past criminal record, any evidence the defendant ever fled justice in the past, and the nature of the alleged crime and its potential penalties.
Finally, the judge will also decide at the arraignment whether or not a restraining order will be issued. As there are different kinds of restraining orders, your lawyer can attempt to avoid such an order or at least petition for a less stringent one.
After the arraignment but before the trial date, there will be one or more opportunities to resolve matters out of court. Around 95% of case are resolved pre-trial, which means you want a lawyer well experienced in pre-trial negotiations and the making of pre-trial motions.
A pre-trial settlement might be favorable and worth agreeing to, but the better your lawyer, the better settlement you likely will be offered since the prosecution will fear going to trial and losing. Pre-trial motions can increase your chances of winning in court. For example, some motions can get evidence the prosecution is counting on declared inadmissible in court and effectively get your case dismissed. The overall point is that what happens pre-trial can put you in a better position going into the trial or allow you to avoid going to court altogether.
For those 5% of cases that do actually go to court, a back and forth battle begins to win over the jury. Experience and legal knowledge are key here, as well as diligent research into the details of the case. You need a lawyer who will find witnesses and evidence in your favor and defeat the evidence and argument of the prosecution.
Even trials can end in a plea deal, but you always want to aim first of all for a full acquittal. And only by relying on a skilled defense attorney can you maximize your chances of victory.