Law enforcement and prosecutors in Washington state take domestic violence (DV) related charges very seriously. From the moment the police arrive at your door and declare you the “primary aggressor” or the “greater aggressor” in a domestic violence incident, your world can be turned upside down.
Make no mistake about it, someone will be arrested. Often, it is the wrong person too. The police have to make a judgment call. While their judgment isn’t always right, the prosecutors tend to follow their lead. That’s when you can end up in a very bad spot.
From no-contact orders, to the possibility of jail time and a criminal record, the process is beyond stressful — especially for those 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.”
But “domestic violence” is just the tag that denotes the relationship between the person considered the “defendant” and the person considered the “victim.” That tag gets applied to the underlying charge.
The most common domestic violence related offenses include:
- Malicious Mischief
- Interfering with Reporting Domestic Violence
- Violation of No Contact Order
The penalties for first-time domestic violence charges in Washington state range widely based on the severity of the crime.
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 much more severe.
Class A felonies can result in a sentence of up to life in prison and a $50,000 fine. Class B felonies have a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and 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 both the conduct alleged and a defendant’s criminal record in domestic violence cases. First-time domestic violence charges are far more likely to be charged as misdemeanors, later reduced or possibly 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 in charge(s)
- 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.
Our attorneys have made defending against domestic violence charges a main focus of our practice. We can put you in the best position for your situation.
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
You have been arrested. This is the next step. 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. If you have been arrested on suspicion of felony DV, there is a stronger likelihood that you will have to pay bail. However, in almost all cases, no contact orders are put in place at this first hearing.
An arraignment is the hearing where you are “notified” in court of your charges (you will likely have known them already) and allowed to make a formal plea; which will almost always be “not guilty.”
This is also where conditions of release are confirmed or set; such as bail and a no-contact order on the accused, so they can’t contact the alleged victim. Sometimes there are additional conditions of release, depending on the allegations. These can include surrender of firearms or a permit to carry, abstaining from alcohol and/or non-prescribed drugs and more.
Violating a no-contact order is a crime that can later be added to your current charges and make things much worse for you, 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 and between your attorney and the prosecutor.
It is not uncommon for there to be several pre-trial hearings in a given case.
For felonies, and depending on the court your case is in, these can also be referred to as “case setting” or sometimes “omnibus” hearings.
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, sometimes referred to as an omnibus hearing or a confirmation hearing, will be set before trial. Its purpose is to determine if the defense and prosecution are ready to proceed to a trial and to address or resolve pre-trial motions or issues.
The majority of domestic violence cases never make it to trial, but if yours does, it can be a stressful and drawn-out process wherein a lot of dirty laundry gets aired.
For misdemeanors, a jury trial will have six jurors whereas there are 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.
If you end up pleading guilty to something or if you are convicted at trial, the next step is sentencing.
Both the prosecutor and your attorney will have an opportunity to make 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.
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.
Impact of a First-Time Domestic Violence Charge
The impact on your life from a first-time domestic violence charge will vary depending on the outcome. Regardless, this charge will affect your life.
If you ultimately are convicted of a misdemeanor, this will create a criminal record. Fortunately, the state of Washington will expunge a domestic violence misdemeanor from your record after five years as long as you follow your probation instructions. However, during the time period that you have this charge on your record, it will appear on background checks. This means that if you are applying for a new job, an apartment, or anything else that requires a background check, they will see this misdemeanor.
Some states may revoke professional licenses in the instance of a domestic violence charge. and , your employer cannot take disciplinary action regarding your charge.
Lastly, this may impact your ability to travel. Some countries, such as Canada, have strict policies regarding who may enter their country. Those charged with domestic violence may be prohibited from entering another country or may need to complete rehabilitation for entry.
What To Do (and Not Do!) If You’ve Been Charged With Domestic Violence
Before we discuss what steps to take when charged with a first-time domestic violence charge, we’ll go over what not to do:
- Defend yourself. An experienced attorney can walk you through the process and help you understand what to do moving forward.
- Contact the victim. Under no circumstances should you try to contact the victim. This contact can be used as further evidence. Go through your attorney!
- Discuss the case. Even casual conversations can hinder your case. Speak only with your attorney about the case.
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 the rights of the accused. Your attorney can assist you in understanding your rights and the next steps that you can take to reduce or eliminate the charge.
Make sure you have the defense you’re entitled to, call Will & Will. We are Seattle’s leading domestic violence criminal defense attorneys. We will stand with you and get the best possible outcome for you.