Press-Republican

April 2, 2013

Controlling emotions can prevent charges

By PENNY CLUTE, The Law and You
Press-Republican

---- — My last column was about common “stupid” behaviors, committed while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, that break the law. 

Being high is no excuse, and the decision to drink or do drugs can change your life if you end up with a criminal record or jail time. 

Out-of-control behavior due to anger, rejection, jealousy or other strong feelings can also cross the line to being criminal. 

The law regulates conduct — if your actions break the law, then you may end up with a criminal conviction even if you regret what you did and think that it wasn’t the real you.

IT’S A CHOICE

We have the idea that criminals are strangers who attack us or break into our homes. They certainly are, but people we know and care about can become criminals, too. 

I saw many cases as Plattsburgh City Court judge and Clinton County district attorney where people reacted impulsively, making bad choices while emotionally upset. 

It is understandable to feel angry and hurt if another person rejects or betrays you. But, how you act on those feelings is a choice you make.

When a relationship ends but you persist in texting, calling or confronting the other person, you are crossing the line into crimes of harassment and stalking. 

If, during an argument, you break someone else’s phone, computer or other property, that is criminal mischief.

Assaulting the person who wronged you, especially if you seriously injure them, can bring criminal and civil charges.

SEEK GUIDANCE

Strong feelings can overwhelm you, especially if you do not talk about them to someone you trust. A parent, friend or counselor can help you slow down and work through your feelings so that you do not react unwisely.

People get themselves into trouble when they won’t take “no” for an answer, whether it be from a loved one, a police officer or a judge in an order of protection. To keep contacting the one you care about, even after being told not to, can lead to your arrest.

You do not have the right to make your friend, partner or spouse respond to you or take you back. The law sets limits on how far any of us can go in imposing our will on another person.

In the movies, it may be romantic to wear someone down with constant attention, but in real life, that looks like stalking, and the person can call the police.

LIVING IN FEAR

For some people, the concern goes beyond an emotional reaction to a painful situation. They are abusive and controlling to their family and intimate partners. The everyday life in their households may be filled with fear. Yet no one outside the home realizes this. 

Eventually, even though your partner or children may be afraid of you, they call the police to try to change your behavior.

Your reaction may be to try to talk the person into dropping the charges, but it is out of the victim’s hands. It is the district attorney, not the victim, who decides whether to reduce or drop the case when a person is charged with a misdemeanor or felony. 

The DA represents the whole community, not specific victims. It is the responsibility of law enforcement and the district attorney’s office to investigate, evaluate the evidence and decide whether to prosecute. 

They recognize that hitting someone and then apologizing does not make it go away. Threatening to kill someone with your hands around her throat is not erased when you let go. 

When a defendant’s behavior breaks the law, charges and an order of protection can be brought, even if the victim does not want them.

MANAGE EMOTIONS

Yes, there is a difference between the defendant who reacts emotionally to a bad situation and the one who uses abuse or violence as an ongoing means of controlling those he says he loves. 

If you are in the first category, you certainly hope you can convince the district attorney and judge, because the behavior each defendant commits can look very much the same. 

But by controlling your impulses, managing your emotions and accepting that you cannot always have what you want, you will avoid behaving like a criminal and being treated like one.

Penny Clute has been an attorney since 1973. She was the Clinton County district attorney from 1989 through 2001, then Plattsburgh City Court judge until she retired in January 2012.

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RESOURCES

The National Center for Victims of Crime recommends that victims should:

▶ Trust their instincts.

▶ Take threats seriously.

▶ Contact 911 when they are in immediate danger.

▶ Let agencies and EAPs can help you develop safety plans.

▶ Tell family, friends, roommates and co-workers and seek their support.

▶ Tell security staff at their job or school. Ask them to watch out for everyone's safety.

Locally, Behavioral Health Services North has services that can help those who are victims of violence, stalking and other crimes.

Stop Domestic Violence: 563-6904. Violence Intervention Program: 563-7208.