Domestic Violence Allegations Require A Strong Defense And Careful Response
The courts of Washington State take domestic violence very seriously. Some jurisdictions like Pierce County, King County and the city of Tacoma and have specially dedicated units whose prosecutors are zealous — often too zealous — in pursuit of convictions. An accusation of domestic assault or other domestic violence can have a domino effect on your freedoms, your home life, your custody rights and future employment.
At The Law Offices of Smith & White, PLLC, we understand how the legal system works and how to mount an effective defense against domestic violence criminal charges as well as overly restrictive protection orders. We have successfully represented men and women, fighting false or overblown accusations and working to limit the consequences of an arrest.
What Constitutes Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is not a specific separate crime. Rather, it is a designation that can be assigned to other offenses, most commonly assault in the fourth degree or felony assault. Domestic violence involves a spouse, former spouse, co-parent, dating partner or a member of the household. It does not necessarily involve physical violence or even physical contact. If can refer to one or more of the following:
- Punching, slapping, kicking or shoving
- Verbal threats of violence or threatening gestures
- Stalking or harassment
- Malicious mischief, burglary or destruction of property
- Coercion (making someone do something or preventing them from doing something)
- False imprisonment (physically restraining or preventing a person from leaving)
- Interfering with a 911 call
The typical domestic altercation is charged as a misdemeanor or gross demeanor crime. When domestic violence involves strangulation or results in broken bones, facial injuries or other serious harm, it will likely be charged as felony assault in the third, second or first degree. Domestic violence is charged at the discretion of the prosecutor, whether or not the alleged victim wants to press charges.
Understanding The Legal Process
Under Washington law, whenever the police have a reasonable belief a crime of domestic violence has occurred an arrest is mandatory. The police should interview the parties separately to determine what happened and whether a crime occurred, but often when there are conflicting stories they will default to arresting the man in a male/female altercation.
Once arrested, the person will be held in jail without bail until the first court appearance. Typically they will go before a judge within 24 to 48 hours. At that first court appearance, prosecutors commonly ask for high bail, even where there is no prior history of domestic violence. More importantly, the prosecutor almost always asks for and almost always gets a no-contact order (even over the victim’s wishes against it). This prohibits the accused from contacting the victim in any way, forcing them to relocate from their own home and preventing from seeing their own children. Violating a no-contact order or protection order can result in additional criminal charges.
The Problem Of False Reporting Of Domestic Violence
It is an unfortunate reality that in some cases, domestic violence allegations are falsely made to cause legal problems for the alleged offender. A partner may file a false report as revenge or manipulation for ending the relationship or cheating. They may fabricate allegations for attention or sympathy, or it may stem from mental health or substance abuse issues. One of the most common reasons for false allegations is to gain an upper hand in custody battles or divorce proceedings. In a contentious case, the accusation of violent behavior undermines their partner’s credibility or paints them as an unfit parent.
Even if the allegations against you are false, it is important to abide by any no-contact order, since a violation of the order can be used against you as evidence, helping the accuser substantiate his or her claim. Do not let the other party weaponize a protection order in this way. You will get a chance to tell your side of the story in court.
Defenses Against Domestic Violence
Our criminal defense lawyers are well-versed in the statutes and how these cases are prosecuted. To get a conviction, the prosecutor must prove each element of the crime. We will explore all possible defenses, including self-defense, motivations for false reporting, warrantless arrests without reasonable suspicion or failure to advise you of your Miranda rights. We can sometimes intervene early to convince the prosecuting attorney that the allegations do not merit charges. Sometimes we can get the charges dismissed entirely or downgraded to a misdemeanor offense. And we are fully prepared to fight the accusations at trial.
The earlier you contact our experienced attorneys, the better we counter the allegations and protect you.
The Penalties And Consequences Of A Domestic Violence Conviction
When charged as simple assault or Assault 4, domestic violence is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines. But it can escalate to a gross misdemeanor or Class C felony if you have prior offenses, which the prosecutor and victim will definitely capitalize on. Once domestic violence enters felony territory, you are looking prison time, major fines and all the fallout of a felony criminal record.
Anyone subject to a domestic violence protection order is not allowed to possess firearms, and a felony conviction will cause you to permanently lose gun rights. The court can also require community service, chemical dependency evaluation and/or participation in a domestic batterer’s treatment program at your expense.
Frequently Asked Questions About Domestic Violence
Many people have misunderstandings about domestic violence. Here are some we hear most often:
What is the difference between domestic violence and domestic battery?
There is no difference. Many people think that “domestic battery” is a specific crime, but the law in Washington does not have that specific charge.
Washington defines domestic violence as any physical harm, bodily injury, nonconsensual sexual contact, coercive control, assault, stalking or infliction of fear between family members or members of the same household.
Is my domestic violence case a misdemeanor or a felony?
It depends on the circumstances. Many domestic violence cases in Washington are treated as misdemeanors, which are punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Others are charged as gross misdemeanors, which are more serious offenses. Those are punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
More serious assaults, kidnappings and repeat offenses will likely be charged as felonies. If that’s true, you could face between five years in prison with a $10,000 fine and life in prison with a $50,000 fine.
At The Law Offices of Smith & White, PLLC, our attorneys will make certain that you understand the specific charges against you and the potential penalties attached so that you can make informed decisions at every stage of your case.
What do I do about a domestic violence charge?
You need to retain a criminal defense attorney with significant experience in domestic violence cases to defend your interests.
In the meantime, pay very close attention to any protective orders you have received and follow them to the letter. Do not make the mistake of contacting the alleged victim to try to talk things out. That can lead to new charges that can stick even if the original charges are ultimately dismissed.
Get Serious Legal Representation Today
Smith & White has represented hundreds of people in your circumstances, with a record of favorable results. We will customize the defense to the facts of your case and work every angle to protect your interests. We practice in the criminal courts of Pierce, Thurston, Kitsap and King counties. Contact us 24/7 to arrange a free consultation. Call 253-363-8662 or use our online form. Hablamos español.