What is my legal obligation if I’ve been summoned to court, along with my son, as a witness for a domestic violence case against my ex-husband?

UPDATED: Sep 29, 2022

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What is my legal obligation if I’ve been summoned to court, along with my son, as a witness for a domestic violence case against my ex-husband?

This was his first offense he has no prior record and he is begging me not to show up on the court date. He hopes that the case will be dropped if I don’t but I’m worried the court will issue a warrant for my arrest for not showing up. What should I do? I really don’t want to go. I should not have called the police but at the time I was scared. However, my ex has since apologized and has learned a valuable lesson. I just want it all to go away because it is extremely stressful.

Asked on October 21, 2015 under Criminal Law, Virginia


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 7 years ago | Contributor

You say that you have been "summoned" to court; I take that to mean that to mean that you received a subpoena. And a subpoena is a direct order from the court requiring your appearance; you can't not just show up. As you are aware, if you ignore it, you can be held in contempt of court and a warrant can be issued for your arrest. You can also face fines and/or jail time.
Some victims attempt to refuse testifying by invoking the Fifth Amendment (i.e. the right against self-incrimination). However, this right doesn't apply simply because a witness doesn't want to testify; it only applies if their own testimony would cause them to incriminate themselves. Also, a witness who refuses to testify can be held in contempt and jailed and/or fined.
Additionally, in domestic violence cases, many spouse's think that they can invoke "spousal privilege"; that is the right of one spouse not to have to give testimony against the other. However, most states have amended their spousal privilege statute to carve out an exception for DV victims. Accordingly, one spouse can be made to testify against the other spouse.
At this point, you can consult directly with a criminal law attorney in your area about your rights and legal obligations in this matter.

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