Combs Waterkotte Interview Part Four

Combs Waterkotte is Missouri’s Leading Criminal Defense and DWI/DUI Law Firm, with over 10,000 successful cases handled. This interview serves as an introduction to our firm and is part of a five-part series designed to educate, inform, and assist you during a stressful time.

Episode Transcript

Scott Michael Dunn: Another popular item that folks were interested to understand better is domestic violence.That’s scary in itself, to potentially be charged with domestic violence. But, there’s two different places to sit on that situation.

Again, don’t talk, right? This is another “Shut up,” [to] start off. But then how does that work for someone dealing with domestic violence?

Chris Combs: Domestic violence cases are really complicated. Obviously it has a bad stigma. Of course, you hear “domestic violence,” and everyone kind of looks the other way.

But you’d be surprised. There’s a lot of situations where it’s a married couple and they’ve never had an issue before, someone drank too much and things got out of hand. Someone got scared and called the police. But then they settle their differences, but the state’s still wanting to prosecute.

So we run into that a lot. Where a spouse or a boyfriend or brother or sister doesn’t want to prosecute their loved one or their family member. However, the state still wants to pursue charges. so we deal with that quite often.

Scott Michael Dunn: Do they get dismissed often? Or what happens?

Chris Combs: It’s tough because the prosecutor’s office – different prosecutors’ offices in Missouri – once they issue a domestic violence, they’re not inclined to dismiss a case. So a lot of times you have to set it for a bench trial or a trial. If the alleged victim is not wanting to prosecute, it’s typically how you’re gonna get your dismissal. Prosecutors are not willing to dismiss domestic violence charges once they’ve been filed.

Steve Waterkotte: They’re weary that the alleged victim is coerced or intimidated into prosecuting. That’s kind of the rationale, I suppose. And in my opinion, prosecutors’ offices in many cases like this, I think you’d agree, is to create more harm and issues.

Under Chris’s example, a husband and wife that had no prior issues, been married 15 years and something got out of hand that night. [I’m] not justifying it or saying that’s acceptable, but they’re dealing with it in the home. But the police have been called and, sometimes they’re very reluctant to dismiss as Chris mentioned.

Chris Combs: And once the call to law enforcement happens, it’s over. It’s out of their hands.

Steve Waterkotte: It’s out of their hands.

Chris Combs: Exactly.

Steve Waterkotte: We get calls – and how often you hear this? “My wife doesn’t [or] my husband doesn’t want to prosecute.” I say, “I understand that, but it’s not as simple as just calling down to the local prosecutor’s office.

Scott Michael Dunn: They don’t go, “Oops, oh no problem.”

Steve Waterkotte: Right. Once those police get called, it’s completely out of the hands of whether or not they want to prosecute. Now, then you get us involved or an attorney involved, and there are certain things, like Chris said, setting it for a trial, in which maybe the alleged victim doesn’t show up to get the dismissal.

But again, prosecutors are weary of dismissing on the rationale of, “Well, is this alleged victim coerced or intimidated by the defendant?”

Scott Michael Dunn: I mean, it’s commonplace, right? It kind of starts there, so it’s scary to wonder, is it that or is it not that?

What about if the alleged victim didn’t make the call, what if the neighbors made a call?

Steve Waterkotte: Same thing applies, really. Once those calls are made and the police arrive.

Scott Michael Dunn: It’s the same old, same old.

Steve Waterkotte: It’s out of their hands. They gotta, at that point, they have to do their job, of course.

Scott Michael Dunn: Right. Which is find a reason to take you to jail.

Steve Waterkotte: Yeah, they’re typically gonna make arrests. The days of showing up and saying, “You get out of the house tonight and come back tomorrow.” That doesn’t happen anymore. Obviously, domestic violence [is] a real thing. So once they show up and arrest is typically made, and then that’s when we get involved.

Scott Michael Dunn: Is that called like the 12 hour rule or something like that?

Steve Waterkotte: I guess some jurisdictions. Again, that’s a thing of the past, where I’m saying, “Hey, leave the house and kind of spend the night overnight.”

Chris Combs: “Cool off,” right.

Scott Michael Dunn: Or just pull down the block and park. And then as soon as we leave, you can just come on back.

Steve Waterkotte: Right. And most of these things, let’s face it, like Chris mentioned initially, most of these issues, the majority of them are rooted in alcohol, a night out, infidelity. Alcohol and drugs is a big initiator of domestic violence issues.

They’re not going to put Mr. Drunk guy back in that house. Or say, “Go cool off down the street,” you know? Somebody’s typically getting arrested.

Scott Michael Dunn: That was a long time ago. That’s in rural towns.

Chris Combs: Yeah, the days of getting pulled over and, “Hey, park your car and call an Uber.” That’s over.

Scott Michael Dunn: That’s over, yeah.

So dismissing cases is not often the case, but can you get them reduced? If they come in and say, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do that. I was drunk and stupid. Can we not go through with this?”

Steve Waterkotte: You could shed light on this, the case where the victim doesn’t wish to drop the case. The alleged victim. At that point, it’s like any other case. We’re evaluating the evidence. We’re talking with our client, conducting our own investigation. Was this a self defense case? Did the alleged victim initiate it? So we’re looking at all that. Sometimes, like you just mentioned, [it can be] motive based too. Maybe they’re in the middle of child custody, and there’s a motive behind making the call to police or something like that. And so we’re looking at all these things when we’re evaluating the case and reviewing the evidence.

Scott Michael Dunn: It’s important to know what you’re dealing with. You guys have to do that, which you do it very well.

Moving on to orders of protection. I think a common aspect, at least in my thoughts, is when’s it so far that I can stop somebody? When does it cross the line to where an order of protection makes sense?

Steve Waterkotte: Well, unfortunately, it’s the easiest – I always will maintain – it’s the easiest thing in our judicial system to misuse.

I could literally walk into St. Louis County Courthouse, and say, “My wife hit me with a frying pan last night.” Write that on a piece of paper, they’ll send it through to a judge, who will almost certainly issue what we call an ex parte order of protection. Meaning my wife would get served, be removed from the house until there’s a hearing. It is so misused. And it’s unfortunate too because there [are] times obviously that people, real victims, – these things are in place to move incredibly quick because somebody’s in danger, whether it be an adult or a child.

So we need these things and it’s good to have, but also it’s also the most misused. Under my example, I could do that. My wife would probably be served tonight, tomorrow, and out the house she goes until we have a hearing three weeks from now.

Scott Michael Dunn: Oh my gosh.

Steve Waterkotte: I do hundreds of these. Maybe more than any other attorney in the state. You see people filing for the most frivolous reasons. Reasons that aren’t [what] this statute and the Adult Abuse Act were intended for. When they come to me, it’s my job to sift through that, and we’re gonna prepare for a hearing. Because that’s ultimately what a case like this culminates in, is a hearing to determine whether a full order of protection is granted.

Scott Michael Dunn: Okay. That makes sense. So, I guess the judgment call is, if you feel threatened, it’s worth a call.

Steve Waterkotte: Well, sure. The Adult Abuse Act is designed for people to act pro se, without an attorney. 95 percent of what our firm handles is on the respondents side.

Scott Michael Dunn: Oh, I see.

Steve Waterkotte: And that is the person being served. Now we do – we have multiple cases right now with a petitioner, the person seeking the order of protection. But about 90, 95 percent of our cases are dealing with the person who’s served with the order of protection.

If it’s reached that stage, you probably are not wishing to have contact with the person. And I always say that to people. I say, “This isn’t about your relationship or wanting to have contact with the individual who served it on you or filed it against you.” This thing has real consequences.

Scott Michael Dunn: Right.

Steve Waterkotte: If you get a full order of protection entered, this is on your permanent record. As Chris said, nobody wants to have the stigma of being an abuser. These things have real stigma. The worst thing somebody can do is say, “Well, I don’t care that Jane Doe filed this against me because I want nothing to do with her, so I don’t care.”

Well, that’s fine. But this ain’t about Jane Doe. This is about your future. This is about this thing being part of your permanent background. Again, if you go get a job, these things are major red flags.

Scott Michael Dunn: Yeah.

Steve Waterkotte: They say, “Well, you have a full order of protection,” which essentially means you are a stalker, a harasser, an abuser, or a sexual predator.

Chris Combs: What a lot of people don’t realize – and this is Steve’s expertise, these order of protections – but I know a lot of people say they get served with a summons, they show up in court and they don’t realize that a custody decision can be made. They can be tossed out of their place of residence, their home.

Steve Waterkotte: Absolutely. These things [are] beyond just, “Hey, can I contact so and so,” these things have real consequences. We get calls too all the time, it’s after the fact, “Well, I went into court, I didn’t do anything wrong. So I didn’t think I needed a lawyer.” And they come out with an adverse ruling or slapped with a full order of protection. What can we do now?

And there are some things and we can explore an appeal and a motion to reconsider.But man, you make the call before. It’s back to this, “I’m innocent. Do I need a lawyer still?” Well, absolutely. Maybe even more so if you’re innocent. And that’s the common mistake people make on these is saying what the person wrote in that petition isn’t true. I didn’t feel I needed to get a lawyer.

I’m in courtrooms two times a week at least on orders of protection. I watch pro se litigants on both sides of the aisle, petitioner and respondent. and it usually just does not end well.

Would you conduct your own surgery?

Scott Michael Dunn: No.

Steve Waterkotte: I always say I wouldn’t build my own deck. I’m not handy. I’m going to call a carpenter.

Scott Michael Dunn: Even if you were handy, you’d probably call somebody.

Steve Waterkotte: I say it all the time, it’s not wise to go into any courtroom without an attorney. Even if you think, “The truth is on my side, I didn’t do anything wrong.” That is a common mistake folks make on these. They call us after the fact. They leave the courthouse, in many cases. “I got this order of protection. It’s BS.” And there [are] things we can do. But it’s a lot easier to do it before you walk into the courtroom.

Scott Michael Dunn: Right.

Steve Waterkotte: And now they can enter them up to 10 years. That’s a new change in the law, [since] two years or a year and a half ago. It was one year. So you could only get one for one year and then the person can renew it. I have a case right now that we’re appealing and the individua, our client, has a 10 year order of protection.

Scott Michael Dunn: Oh my gosh.

Steve Waterkotte: So we are appealing it. In fact, we’re the first appeal in the state of Missouri on this issue. So it’ll be interesting to see what the Missouri court of appeals – how they handle this. Because there’s been no appeal yet on this very issue, this 10 year [order of protection].

Scott Michael Dunn: Wow. Why would you appeal it? It’s pretty obvious that person doesn’t want to be around you.

Steve Waterkotte: Right. But again, it’s goes beyond that one year, five year, 10 year, it goes way beyond that. It goes on your record. Real consequences. We’ve filed more appeals on order of protection cases – Combs Waterkotte, myself, our firm – than any firm in the state.

I have I think four order of protection appeals going now. Just roughly speaking, we probably win at about a 50 percent clip, which is 50/50 coin flip. The state average on appeal[s] is probably like 3 percent successful.

Chris Combs: I would say less, probably.

Steve Waterkotte: Less even. And so these are right for an appeal. I know the very issues to look at. We get a copy of the transcript. We dissect it and we go, “Okay, This is the issue we’re appealing on. There was insufficient evidence on X, Y or Z.” We’ve been successful in appealing countless order of detention cases. And that allows the person to be restored to the position they were in prior to all this being placed on the record.

Chris Combs: And back to what Steve was saying, just because, “Look, I don’t ever want to talk to Jane Doe again, so I don’t care. I’ll just consent to this.” Well, Jane Doe can call the police up and say, “He’s still bothering me.” Then you’re looking at criminal charges for violating an order of protection.

Steve Waterkotte: That’s a great point that I didn’t mention. It almost sometimes weaponizes somebody. Because it becomes very easy for Jane Doe [to say], “Hey, he drove by my house in violation of this order of protection,” and [that] would lead to a criminal charge.

There [are] a number of reasons that you don’t, despite what your thoughts are on having contact with the individual, that you want to contest it.

Scott Michael Dunn: So, if you’re involved at all with an order of protection, you should get an attorney.

Steve Waterkotte: Absolutely. Like I said, day in and day out watching pro se folks on both sides, and I’m going, “Ugh,” you know?. And it’s bad. You don’t want to go into court without an attorney.

Scott Michael Dunn: Or even have something charged against you without an attorney.

Steve Waterkotte: Absolutely.

Scott Michael Dunn: Someone to help you through. I don’t know the legal system. The last thing I want to do is go into a courtroom without somebody that knows it. People seem to think that, “Oh, it’ll be fine, I’m innocent.” But are you just gonna jump in a race car and join the Indy 500?

Steve Waterkotte: Traffic tickets are another one.

Scott Michael Dunn: You drive, right? You know how to drive, don’t you?

Steve Waterkotte: Yeah.

Scott Michael Dunn: You could the Indy.

Steve Waterkotte: I don’t know about that.

Scott Michael Dunn: But it’s just typical people don’t realize it.

Steve Waterkotte: Even low level traffic tickets. “That’s not a big deal.” In the grand scheme of things, a traffic ticket isn’t a big deal. But, you go in there and you pay it. Points go on your license. All of a sudden your insurance rates go up, maybe you drive for a living, or use your vehicle and your employer needs to check your driving record, it creates issues.

So even the most minuscule of things, or minor things can lead to real consequences. We get calls like that too. “Hey, I just sent in my money and pled guilty with no attorney on a traffic ticket. Now my insurance rates went up or my insurance canceled me.”

Chris Combs: Some people just get bad advice from law enforcement. You get pulled over and you get a speeding ticket and they say, “Oh, you don’t have to go to court. Just mail this in with the payment.” Well, when you mail that in with the payment, you’re taking a conviction for speeding and it’s points are going on your driving.

Steve Waterkotte: Moral of the story, it’s a lot easier calling the attorney than trying to undo what’s been done.

Scott Michael Dunn: Because you didn’t call an attorney.

Chris Combs: Exactly.

Steve Waterkotte: Whether it’s a traffic ticket, because then we got to follow a certain motion that gets a lot more expensive. Whether it’s an order of protection case that you had an adverse ruling on and they call us after the fact. It’s a lot more difficult to undo. Undoing in the judicial system is difficult.

Scott Michael Dunn: It’s easy to catch it before you have to undo it.

Steve Waterkotte: Catch it first, call an attorney. We give free consultations. We don’t charge for any kind of consultation. We talk to folks all the time and it might not be a case that we can handle, or maybe they don’t even have the legal issue that is currently cropped up, but it’s worth a phone call.

Chris Combs: That’s something that’s unique to our firm too, is that we’re very generous with our time. Again, we are available 24/7. We’re very generous with our time.

Another great thing about the criminal defense business is we’re not a slave to the billable hours. I often tell clients, “You’re not paying me by the hour. If something’s giving you anxiety, you got a question, pick up the phone, call me.”

If you need Missouri’s leading criminal defense team to defend your rights and freedom, speak to a criminal defense attorney today at (314) 900-HELP or contact us online for a free case review.