Domestic Violence Case Process
Most cases will start with a 911 call from either the alleged victim or another witness. When the police arrive they should question all parties separately. This is being done so that they can determine who they believe is the primary aggressor. That’s a fancy way to say who started the criminal behavior. It’s not illegal to shout. It is illegal to threaten. It’s not illegal to leave. It is illegal to lay hands on another person. It is not always the person who called that the police decide was the victim. They and all other parties involved in law enforcement or the court are aware that there are aggressors that will call the police to deflect suspicion. That’s another reason for the interviews. It is advised to be respectful to the police but not to speak to them until you can speak to an attorney. Remember that if they have probable cause to believe that a crime of domestic violence has occurred they are required to do an arrest. It is likely that once they have been called they will make a determination and will arrest someone. Sometimes the nuances of a mutually escalating situation are too much for law enforcement to decipher. They may default to arresting the man in a man/woman altercation. Or they may default to believing the person who has visible injuries although they may have acquired those injuries when the other person was defending themselves.
Once they arrest you then you will be held in jail without bail until your first court appearance. This can take up to 72 hours but is usually done within the first 24-48 hours not counting weekends and holidays. This is mandatory in all domestic violence cases so that a Judge decides the conditions of release (with the intent to prevent further, escalating violence). In nearly every circumstance, even in some cases when charges are not filed, the Judge will impose a no contact order. This first hearing is usually an arraignment where you plea guilty or not guilty. Generally it is advised to plead not guilty; you can always change that later but you can’t change a guilty plea back to not guilty. In most cases, the court will not even allow a guilty plea at this stage of the proceedings. This hearing is also where the judge will determine your bail amount and whether to impose a no contact order. Talk to your Pierce County / Tacoma domestic violence defense attorney as soon as possible to see what you can do to reduce bail and potentially avoid the no contact order. These can make life very difficult especially if you live with, work with or raise children with the alleged victim. If the judge does impose the no contact order, follow it to the letter as you don’t want further charges against you, especially one that in the court’s eye strengthens the original charges.
Abiding by the no contact order is a very important point. While you are in jail, your phone calls are being recorded. When you are released, your victim may get angry/upset with you again and report any violation. There are lots of phone records, text records, email records, available. These make no contact order violation cases very easy for a prosecutor to prove. They are usually much easier than the underlying allegation of domestic violence. However, the penalty is just as bad or even worse. Violating a no contact order begins as a gross misdemeanor which means you can get up to 364 days in jail. Your third violation, which has no time limit (you may have violated one 18 years ago) and does not require the same victim is a felony–punishable by up to five years in prison. And judges take these violations very seriously. They do not see its as love or taking care of your obligations. Judges see it as contemptuously ignoring what the Judge ordered you to do. They also see it as proof that you cannot be trust out of jail. Therefore, your bail will be increased substantially in almost every circumstance.
Next will come pre-trial hearings, motion hearings and readiness hearings. The first is to give the defense and prosecution a chance to look over each other’s cases. This may also be where an initial plea bargain is offered. The motion hearings are where your defense attorney can seek to suppress evidence. You will want to remember any details you can. Were you read your rights? How was any evidence obtained? If obtained illegally it can be suppressed – if there is no evidence then there is no case. Readiness hearings are just that – a hearing to see if both sides are ready for trial if necessary. If they are, it will proceed. For a more thorough discussion of the process of a case see our website FAQs Number 5.
It’s a long process, but your Pierce County / Tacoma domestic violence defense attorney will guide you every step of the way. Call Smith & White, PLLC – the first consultation is free.