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Washington Court Discusses Unjust Sentences in Domestic Violence Cases

On Behalf of | Aug 1, 2022 | Assault


A conviction for a domestic violence crime may not only result in criminal penalties, but it may also negatively impact a person’s relationships. For example, courts may determine that parents guilty of committing domestic violence offenses should be denied access to their children. Courts may only limit parental rights if it is necessary for the protection of children, though, and any order limiting their rights should be narrow in duration and scope. Recently, a Washington court issued an opinion discussing when the courts may impinge on the fundamental right to parent in a domestic violence matter. If you are accused of a crime of domestic violence, it is advisable to meet with a Tacoma domestic violence defense attorney to assess your options for seeking a favorable result.

The Facts of the Case

It is reported the defendant and his wife were married in 2003 and separated in 2016. In 2017, the wife obtained a domestic violence protection order that, in part, limited the defendant’s access to his children. A second order was issued prohibiting him from seeing the children, but his wife continued to allow him access to them despite the order. In 2018, the defendant became angry the wife was dating someone and entered her home without his permission.

Allegedly, once he was inside the home, he assaulted his wife and threatened to kill her. He was charged with and convicted of numerous domestic violence offenses. The sentencing court entered a lifetime no-contact order protecting the children. The defendant appealed.

The Fundamental Right to Parent

On appeal, the defendant argued that the court’s order barring him from contacting his children violated his fundamental right to parent. As the sentencing court did not offer an explanation for the duration or scope of the order, the appellate court agreed. Thus, it remanded the matter to the trial court for an assessment of the no-contact order under the reasonably necessary standard.

Under Washington law, parents have a fundamental interest in the custody, care, and control of their children, and their parental rights cannot be diminished without due process of law. A court may impose a sentence in a criminal case, however, that sets forth conditions limiting a parent’s rights. Such conditions must be imposed in a sensitive manner to ensure that they are reasonably necessary to meet the essential needs of public order and of the State.

Typically, sentencing conditions are reviewed under the abuse of discretion standard, but conditions that interfere with a constitutional right, like the right to parent, are reviewed more carefully. In the subject case, the appellate court found that the trial court failed to justify the duration and scope of the order prohibiting the defendant from contacting his children. Thus, the trial court erred in issuing the order, and the court remanded the matter so that the trial court could address whether the terms of the order were reasonably necessary.

Meet with a Skillful Tacoma Criminal Defense Lawyer

Accusations of domestic violence should always be taken seriously, as they can irreparably harm many aspects of a person’s life. If you are charged with a crime of domestic violence, it is wise to meet with an attorney to discuss your available defenses. The skillful Washington criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White are mindful of the impact a domestic violence conviction can have on a person’s life, and if we represent you, we will zealously advocate on your behalf. You can reach us at 253-363-8662 or through the online form to set up a meeting.