What to Expect for Your First Time Domestic Violence Charge

first time domestic violence charge
Have you been charged with domestic violence for the first time? Read along to learn what to expect and how to get the best possible outcome for your case.

Law enforcement and prosecutors in Washington State take domestic violence (DV) charges very seriously. From the moment the police arrive at your door and declare you the ‘primary aggressor’ in a domestic violence incident, your world can be turned upside down. 

From no-contact orders to the possibility of jail time, the process is beyond stressful—especially for people who have no experience with our criminal justice system.

If you’ve been charged with domestic violence in Washington State for the first time, keep reading to learn about domestic violence laws, what to expect during the criminal process, and how you can get the best possible outcome for your case. 

What are Washington State’s Domestic Violence Laws and Penalties?

In Washington State, “domestic violence” is defined under the Revised Code of Washington, Section 26.50.010 as “physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, sexual assault, or stalking of one intimate partner by another intimate partner; or (b) physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault, sexual assault, or stalking of one family or household member by another family or household member.”

Essentially, this means any time a crime is committed against a family member, intimate partner, or someone you live with could be considered “domestic violence.”

The most common domestic violence offenses include:

  • Assault
  • Harassment
  • Telephone Harassment
  • Malicious Mischief
  • Stalking
  • Interfering with Reporting Domestic Violence
  • Violation of No Contact Order
  • Burglary
  • Coercion

The penalties for domestic violence in Washington State range widely based on the severity of the crime. 

Gross misdemeanors are the most common level of charges. If you’re facing a gross misdemeanor DV charge, you could spend up to 364 days in jail or receive up to $5,000 in fines.

Then there are the felony domestic violence penalties, which are severe.

Class A felonies can result in a sentence of up to life in prison and a $50,000 fine. Class B felonies’ max sentence is ten years in prison with a fine of $20,000. And class C felonies can result in up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

On top of that, you may face other penalties from the state of Washington, including:

  • A Protection Order
  • Probation/Community Custody
  • Domestic Violence Classes
  • Anger Management Classes
  • Electronic Home Monitoring
  • Loss of Firearm & Voting Rights

Determining the Level of Charges

Prosecutors pay close attention to a defendants’ criminal records in domestic violence cases. First-time domestic violence charges are far more likely to be reduced, charged as misdemeanors, or even dropped altogether.

As a first time offender, if you hire the right representation, you may be able to avoid jail time with one of the following case resolutions instead.

  • A dismissal of charges in the pre-trial stages
  • A Stipulated Order of Continuance (leads to dismissal of charges)
  • A Deferred Sentence
  • A Reduction of charges
  • A Reduction of penalties
  • Not guilty verdict after trial

The best way to find out what level of charges you are facing and how to avoid them is to contact an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible.

The Domestic Violence Criminal Process in Washington State

If you’re dealing with first-time domestic violence charges in the state of Washington, you might be wondering what the criminal process looks like. 

Below we briefly walk through the domestic violence criminal process to help you get a better idea of what to expect.

1. Probable Cause/Bail Hearing

While this hearing can be combined with an arraignment hearing on misdemeanor matters, for possible felony charges, the first step is for a judge to review the “probable cause” statement written by a police officer to determine if there is enough evidence to keep the case going or not.

Unfortunately, the legal standard of Probable Cause (PC) is a very low one, meaning that short of a major deficiency in the police report, PC will typically be found.

After PC is found, the judge will hear arguments surrounding the conditions of release. The two primary matters addressed here are Bail and No Contact Orders. For the vast majority of first-time misdemeanor DV cases, there is a reasonably good chance you will be released without having to pay bail.  However, in most all cases, no contact orders are put in place at this first hearing.

2. Arraignment

An arraignment is a hearing where you will be notified of your charges and allowed to make a formal plea, which will almost always be ‘not guilty.’

This is also where conditions of release are set such as potential bail and a no-contact order on the accused, so they can’t contact the alleged victim. Violating no-contact orders is a crime, so make sure you follow them to the letter.

3. Pre-Trial Conferences

A pre-trial conference or hearing is the next step after your arraignment. The court will check in on the status of the case at this hearing.  The bulk of the work on your case, however, occurs between trial dates.  

It is not uncommon for there to be several pre-trial hearings in a given case.

4. Motions Hearing

When supported by the facts, law, & evidence, your attorney may move to dismiss your case or suppress various aspects of it so that an outcome can be reached.

For example, you might see a motion to dismiss the case because there is insufficient evidence. Or, you could see a motion to suppress evidence that was illegally gathered. 

5. Readiness Hearings

If a pre-trial resolution is not reached, a readiness hearing, also often referred to as an omnibus hearing, will be set before trial.  Its purpose is to determine the defense and prosecution readiness for the trial and address or resolve pre-trial motions or issues.

6. Trial

The majority of domestic violence cases never make it to trial, but if you do, it can be a drawn-out process. For misdemeanors, a jury trial consists of six jurors whereas there is twelve for felonies.

In the trial, the burden of proof rests with the  prosecutor, meaning they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime in question.

The jury will then deliberate to decide if the prosecution successfully proved each element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt and declare you either not guilty or guilty. 

If the jury can’t agree, you could be looking at a hung jury. In which case, a mistrial will be declared.

7. Sentencing

If you end up pleading guilty to something or if you go are convicted at trial, the next step is sentencing.  

Both the prosecutor and your attorney will have an opportunity to make a sentencing recommendations to the judge, but, ultimately, your sentence is up to the judge (although they must sentence within certain guidelines). You will also have a chance to speak during sentencing if you so choose, as will family or friends if they want to appeal for a reduced sentence on your behalf. 

Overall, the domestic violence trial and the sentencing process is time-consuming and expensive. It’s not something you want to try to navigate without an experienced attorney by your side.

What to do if you’ve been charged with domestic violence?

If you’ve been charged with domestic violence, don’t wait, contact a defense attorney as soon as possible. 

Even first-time domestic violence charges can devastate families and impede on the rights of the accused. 

Make sure you have the defense you’re entitled to, call Will & Will.

Seattle’s leading domestic violence criminal defense attorneys will stand with you and get the best possible outcome.

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