The criminal justice process in domestic violence cases is largely the same as it is in other types of criminal defense matters. There are some unique features of this process as well as some additional roadblocks that aren’t present in your standard non-DV type of criminal charge. Review the brief synopsis below and if you have any questions, feel free to contact the Washington Domestic Violence Lawyers at Milios Defense for more information or to schedule a consultation.
The Domestic Violence call
Almost every criminal charge involving an allegation of domestic violence is precipitated by a 911 call, either by the alleged victim, a family member or some other third party witness. When the police arrive they will separate the parties and question them individually, apart from one another. If it is determined that there is probable cause to believe that a crime of domestic violence has been committed, the responding officers will decide whether one party was the aggressor and if so, whether that person, by law, has to be arrested. Pursuant to RCW 10.31.100(2):
“If a person is over the age of sixteen (16) and has assaulted a family or household member within four hours, and the officer reasonably believes that a felonious assault has occurred, an assault which resulted in bodily injury to the victim (whether visible or not), or any physical action occurred intending to place a victim in fear of imminent bodily injury or death, then that person SHALL be arrested.”
Jail and First Appearance
When a person is arrested on suspicion of committing a crime of domestic violence, he or she will be held in jail, without bail, until seen by a judge or magistrate. This first appearance will usually occur within the first 24-48 hours after arrest, not counting weekends and holidays. The purpose of this requirement is to allow a judge the opportunity to review the alleged facts of the case, as well as the accused’s history to determine if any conditions or protective orders should be put in place. The court could do anything from releasing the accused with no conditions to imposing a significant bail amount to be posted prior to release along with several very restrictive conditions. Conditions such as a no-contact order, no possession of weapons, participation in pretrial probation services and even entry into a home detention program are all possibilities in the most serious cases.
If no charges are filed
If the government declines to file charges you may be processed and released with the caveat that charges may be filed in the future. If this is the case there will likely not be a no-contact order put in place but it is very important that you talk with an attorney and prepare for the very real possibility that charges will be filed in the future. The government has two years to file charges for misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases and longer if the allegation leads to felony charges. While it may ultimately harm the strength of their case to wait a long time to file a charge, you are best served by being proactive in your choices and preparing for a future filing.
Finally, it is possible that the prosecutor will not be ready to file charges immediately but still ask that you be held as long as possible up to 72 hours. You may have an opportunity to post bail to allow for your release or may have to wait for the 72-hour time frame to run at which time you will be released if they still have not filed any charges.
In many, if not most jurisdictions the arraignment and the first appearance are one in the same. In these instances, in addition to determining what conditions should be imposed on the defendant, the court will enter a plea from the accused. In almost every case the best advice is to plead not guilty to the allegation(s). A guilty plea should only be entered at an arraignment in very rare cases and then only after consultation with an attorney. Once the plea has been entered and the conditions set, the court will set future court dates. Each jurisdiction is different but the next date set will be some form of pretrial hearing or pretrial conference. Some courts will also schedule a trial date at this time while others will wait until the pretrial hearing to determine if setting a trial date is necessary.
No Contact and Civil Standby Orders
The topics of No Contact Orders and Civil Standby Orders are addressed thoroughly in different sections of this site. Be sure to review them because each plays a very prominent role in domestic violence cases.
Role of the Victim’s Advocate
Domestic violence cases, more than any other criminal charge, involve a lot of input from the alleged victim in the case. This input comes in the form of the appointed victim’s advocate (VA). The VA appears at every hearing to act as the voice of the alleged victim, who for a variety of reasons may not want to appear in court. Most courts place a lot of stock on the VA’s position on a variety of topics. Most of these advocates wok in conjunction with the prosecutor’s office which can call into question the independent nature of their actions. If a victim does not believe his or her interests are being adequately represented by the VA, private counsel can be sought to speak on their behalf.
A pre-trial conference or hearing is a status conference where the prosecutor, your attorney, and judge have an opportunity to speak with one another and see how the case is progressing. This is a time when your attorney may do some negotiating, though most of that happens outside of the courtroom. There may be an exchange of information or further discovery but your chief responsibility will be to sign for a new court date.
A motion hearing is a testimonial hearing. At a motion hearing, facts and legal issues are presented for the purpose of determining the admissibility of evidence at trial. A motion hearing may be held as far out as several weeks or even months before trial all the way up to and including the day of trial. The timing of motions depends on the complexity of the issues presented and the local rules of the jurisdiction in which the case was filed.
A readiness hearing is held prior to trial to determine if all parties are prepared for and ready to begin a trial. At this hearing, any lingering issues regarding discovery and witnesses will be addressed. On occasion, a case will be resolved at this hearing, but the ultimate purpose of this hearing is to make certain that the case is ready for trial.
Trial or Disposition
Ultimately every domestic violence case reaches some form of resolution. From dismissals to SOC’s, reduction of charges to findings of guilt, there are several potential outcomes. For more information on this topic review Potential Outcomes in Domestic Violence (DV) Cases.