Washington Domestic Violence Law
Domestic Violence Charges in Washington
A charge of domestic violence can initiate not one, but a series of criminal prosecutions, setting actions in motion that can have very serious, long-term consequences. Washington state law provides for vigorous prosecution of anyone charged with the crime of domestic violence (DV). It is, in fact, one of the most zealously prosecuted crimes in the state. As in many criminal prosecutions, competent legal counsel is critical to assure that the person charged is provided an effective and timely defense that will generate the most successful resolution possible.
Washington state law defines DV as any crime committed against a family member, someone living in the same household, or against someone with whom you have or have had a dating relationship. While the majority of domestic violence cases involve couples who are in or have been in an intimate relationship, the scope of the law is not limited to that scenario. It can also apply to parent-child relationships, sibling relationships and various other established associations or domestic affiliations as defined in RCW 26.50.010 and RCW 10.99.020.
Washington state law, specifically RCW 26.50 and RCW 10.99, deals with domestic relations and defines the applicable relationships as well as the behavior considered to be in violation under the law. Harassment, intimidation, threatening, bodily injury or harm, physical or sexual assault, and stalking are just a few of the listed violations. Misdemeanor or felony charges can be filed as a result of any of these actions based on the circumstances and severity of the crime.
Once an arrest for DV has been made, the court will schedule an arraignment proceeding where formal charges will be filed by the prosecution and the defendant will be required to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Upon accepting the plea and assuming a not-guilty plea was entered, the judge will determine the conditions of release. Conditions could include participation in a treatment program, electronic home monitoring, or adherence to a no-contact order. The judge may issue a no-contact order at this time if there is not one already in place. A date is set for the pretrial hearing and the defendant may be released based on the judge’s conditions. If, on the other hand, a guilty plea is entered, the defendant may be remanded into custody until sentencing.
No-contact orders are issued by the court for the protection of the victim in a DV case. Adherence to the court order is absolutely essential, whether the victim deems it warranted or not. For example, when law enforcement responds to a DV incident and an arrest is made for criminal conduct, the court will determine whether a protection order is warranted. That order must be honored by both parties or a subsequent arrest and prosecution will be initiated for violation. The victim does not have the authority to reverse a no-contact order and must abide by the judge’s order or incur additional criminal prosecution.
At the pretrial hearing, the parties will review the charges and any progress in the case to determine its readiness for trial. At this point, the prosecution and defense have the opportunity to amend the charges or the plea, and the case will either be resolved or will proceed to trial. Motion hearings may be set before trial to hear various issues and then, barring settlement or pleading out to a lesser charge, the case will proceed to trial. At trial evidence will be submitted by both parties, and the judge or a jury will enter its judgment accordingly, either for conviction or acquittal.
The laws of the State of Washington are enacted to protect the victims of domestic violence. The court system works in concert with the district attorney to prosecute offenders to the full extent of the law and protect the victim. If you have been arrested for domestic violence, your first response must be to seek qualified legal counsel who can prepare an appropriate response to the charges filed against you. Procedural and legal responses will need to be presented to support your case and these require the experience and expertise of a professional with years of familiarity with the law. A criminal conviction is a lifelong issue and affect everything from your right to vote and be in possession of a firearm to your future freedom and the ability to work at the job of your choice. It is critical to consult an experienced Washington attorney if you face domestic violence charges. For more information about the legal implications of domestic violence charges, visit