Avvo 1-on-1 is Avvo’s new question-and-answer article series featuring candid interviews with attorneys in various specific fields of law. The goal of this series is to humanize intimidating law topics for the everyday person through stories, anecdotes, and other real-life experiences shared by attorneys.
Our next installment features Matt Fakhoury, a domestic violence attorney practicing in Illinois.
Mr. Fakhoury is a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney. The Law Offices of M. Fakhoury, LLC is a criminal defense firm that represents clients charged with Felony and Misdemeanor offenses. Mr. Fakhoury is also an Adjunct Professor at DePaul University where he teaches Law & Society and Theories of Crime & Delinquency in the undergraduate sociology department. Matt Fakhoury was nominated by his peers as a “Super Lawyer” in 2020 and has been featured on CNN, WTTW, WGN, and WBEZ as well as other publications including Crain’s Chicago Business, The Chicago Tribune, The Daily Herald, and the Chicago Sun Times.
Let’s start with current events: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your practice? Have you seen an increase or decline in clients?
The total number of cases and arrests is definitely down. There’s definitely a huge decrease in the number of new cases coming in.
With that said, stats don’t always paint an accurate picture. This is especially true with domestic violence cases when there are several incidents that have happened before the incident is reported.
There are many situations where it’s unreported or undocumented or underreported because the victim doesn’t want to get the offender in trouble. So in general, yes, I think that the total number of arrests is down but in the last week or two, I’ve been getting more domestic cases than non-domestic cases. So, I have seen an increase.
What are the first legal steps a client should take after being a domestic violence victim?
The first step is to get to a safe place. Get away from the abusive situation and the violent abuser. Then call the police and report the incident, or somehow document the incident with the police. Some people are afraid to call the police. I understand that, but a report should be made to some degree. Even if an arrest is not made subsequent to the reporting of the incident, the fact that it’s being reported is important for court proceedings down the road.
The second thing you should do is decide whether an order of protection is something you want to pursue. The order of protection usually removes the abuser from the house. Which gives you access not only to the home but to marital possessions or possessions that you may have with the abuser. It could restrict abusers access to the assets and even to the kids if you have them.
There’s a lot that goes into it. These situations are very complex because things also depend on the status of the relationship. Are they married? Do they live together? Do they co-mingle funds? Do they have children together?
Step three is follow-through, whatever it is [for an individual’s situation]. Whether it’s the order of protection, whether it’s pursuing criminal charges against the individual, you have to follow through.
If you don’t follow through, and if something happens again, it’s going to be even harder to establish the order protection or to establish a criminal case. Unfortunately, based on the nature of domestic violence it’s common that people don’t follow through for whatever reason—they love the individual, they have children with the individual, they have assets with the individual—there’s so much that goes into it. Sometimes it’s cultural, sometimes it’s socio-economical. So, for some, it’s tough to follow through, but following through is a vital part of this.
What can a client expect when hiring a domestic violence attorney?
First of all, they need to expect to have a very long conversation with the attorney that they retain. The attorney needs to understand the dynamics of the entire relationship, not just the latest incident that caused this individual to seek the advice of a lawyer. We need to understand the dynamics, the ins-and-outs of the entire relationship because it goes into the entire case.
So, clients would need to expect a minimum of two to three meetings with the attorney before the first court date or a legal proceeding. What clients also need to remember is that domestic cases are some of the most complicated cases, so they need to be patient and expect that the process will take time.
What leads a victim to file a complaint?
Usually, there are several incidents of some type of physical abuse before the authorities are involved, and before a lawyer is involved or legal action is taken.
I teach a couple of courses at DePaul University in Chicago and one of them is called “Law and Society.” One of the things we teach is that domestic violence is underreported. It’s usually not reported the very first time since usually it’s excused away. “Oh, I love the guy,” or “This is just a really sensitive topic,” or “This is out of his character,”— or whatever the case may be. I think there’s a dozen excuses or more regarding why the problem isn’t that there’s a pattern of abuse or behavior. It typically takes the partner several instances before they pick up that this is not just an anomaly. This is an actual pattern of abuse.
What advice would you give to a victim who is unwilling to go to authorities while being abused?
Number one is to stay safe and get to a safe place. A safe place for any children that are being supervised. If a person has to stay with friends or family, rent a room at a hotel or even go to a domestic violence shelter—they need to take any means necessary to instill and implement any distance between them and the physical violence. Obviously that’s going to create distance emotionally from the individual as well. At that time you can think clearly and weigh your options. You have to decide what you want to do. Do you want to report it? Do you want to try to contact an attorney and weigh your options?
At that point, assess what legal means you’d like to take. If there’s a criminal road to get the authorities involved, that’s what you do. If it’s a civil road, you could get an attorney involved and petition the court for an order of protection or you can file for divorce or custody of the children.
In your experience what leads to spikes in Domestic Violence?
Drugs and alcohol.
I read a stat a long time ago that it’s in the textbooks that we teach. I think it’s something crazy, like 95 percent of all crimes somehow have a direct relation to drugs and alcohol. It’s obvious in simple batteries or aggravated batteries. You’re out, you’re at a bar and you get drunk, you get into a bar fight.
With domestic cases, I find that often alcohol is involved. It’s a striking number of cases. I would go as high as saying in general, about 90 percent of all cases have some type of relation to drugs or alcohol abuse. There are also mental health issues and there’s a lot of other things that could go into it, but that’s the number one thing that I see: I see a lot of drug and alcohol abuse that subsequently results in criminal charges of some type, including domestic charges.