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Washington Court Discusses Limitations of Domestic Violence No-Contact Orders

Often when a person is convicted of a crime of domestic violence, the court will impose a no-contact order as a part of the person’s sentence. When a domestic violence defendant and his or her alleged victim have a child together, however, a seemingly straightforward no-contact order may become complicated. This was evidenced in a recent case decided by the Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2, in which the court ruled that a no-contact order cannot limit the constitutional right to parent a child. If you are faced with a domestic violence crime, it is important to retain a knowledgeable Tacoma domestic violence attorney who can assist you in seeking a just outcome.

Factual Background

Allegedly, the defendant assaulted his ex-girlfriend, after which he was charged with domestic violence assault. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was aware that the State intended to recommend that he not be permitted to contact the victim. At the sentencing hearing, the State recommended that the court issue a ten-year no-contact order. The defendant’s attorney stated it was a joint recommendation, but advised the court that as the defendant’s ex-girlfriend was pregnant with his child, the order would have to be modified after the child was born. The court entered the order, barring the defendant from contacting his ex-girlfriend in any manner for ten years.

It is reported that after the defendant’s child was born, the defendant filed a motion asking the court to modify the order, as the current order violated his constitutional right to parent his child. The court denied his motion, directing the defendant that he could seek access to his child through family court proceedings. The defendant appealed.

Unconstitutional Limitations of a No-Contact Order

On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court ruling. Specifically, the court found that although the defendant agreed to a no-contact order at the time of his plea deal, he did not agree to the specific terms of the order. Therefore, he did not waive the right to object to its terms. Further, the court noted that as the child was not born when the order was entered, the circumstances the defendant argued justified relief did not exist at the time of the order, contrary to the trial court’s position.

The court went on to state that Washington courts have the jurisdiction to correct erroneous sentences when justice requires them to do so. While courts are permitted to impose no-contact orders as conditions of sentences, if such an order interferes with a constitutional right, it is only lawful when it is drawn narrowly, and there is no reasonable alternative method to achieve the interest of the State. In the subject case, the appellate court found that the broad scope of the order interfered with the defendant’s constitutional right to parent, as it prohibited all contact with the child’s mother, which included contact through legal proceedings. Thus, the appellate court reversed the trial court ruling.

Speak with a Trusted Criminal Defense Attorney

If you live in Washington and are faced with charges of domestic violence, it is prudent to speak with a trusted domestic violence defense attorney to discuss what options you have for striving to protect your liberties. The diligent criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White will develop compelling arguments on your behalf to help you seek the best result possible under the facts of your case. You can contact us at 253-203-1645 or through our form online to set up a conference.

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