Is it true that if the police are called in on a domestic dispute someone must be arrested?
RCW 10.31.100(2) speaks to this question. Though an officer does not have to arrest someone based on the sole fact that they have responded to a domestic violence call, some situations do require that a responding officer arrest someone. If a person is over the age of sixteen (16) and has assaulted a family or household member within the previous four hours, and the officer reasonably believes that a felonious assault has occurred, or there was an assault which resulted in bodily injury to the victim (whether visible or not), or there was any physical action intended to place a victim in fear of imminent bodily injury or death, then that person MUST be arrested. If it appears that each of the parties has committed an assault against one another, the officer is not required to arrest both persons. Instead, the officer will arrest only the person that the officer believed was the primary aggressor.
I am the one who called 911. Why was I arrested?
This happens much more frequently than people realize. The 911 call sets the stage for the police to respond and investigate. If there are two (or more) versions of what occurred, the responding officer(s) will take the statements of everyone present and ultimately try to determine if a crime occurred. If two parties are both claiming to be injured or victims, the police will try to ascertain who was the primary aggressor. In a domestic situation it is very rare that more than one person will be arrested. That means even if you were the one who called 911, should the subsequent investigation lead the police to believe you were the aggressor, much more often than not, you will be the one who is arrested.
Will a no-contact order (NCO) still be issued even if the “victim” doesn’t want one?
Often, an alleged victim of domestic violence will address the court regarding the issuance of a no-contact order. If the victim wishes the court to order “no contact”, so long as there is probable cause to believe an offense has been committed, the NCO will be put in place. Even if the victim does not wish to have an NCO, the court will most often order one anyway, irrespective of that person’s wishes. If an alleged victim truly does not wish there to be a no-contact order, he or she needs to either convince the court assigned “victim’s advocate” to argue this vehemently to the court on his or her behalf or, more effectively, hire his or her own lawyer to best advocate their desires.
I’ve been kicked out of my home. How do I retrieve my belongings?
If a no-contact order means that you will be removed from your home during the duration of the case, you will likely be entitled to a one time “civil standby”. This is a court order that authorizes you to enter the dwelling, under the direct observation of law enforcement, and retrieve articles that belong to you. Once the order is obtained, law enforcement from the jurisdiction of your case can be contacted. An officer will meet you at the house and “standby” while you collect your things. If there is any dispute as to who owns the belongings that are being picked up, the officer will not allow you to take them. This is generally a one-time order.
There is an NCO in place. Can I still see my kids?
If the issue of contact with the children is not addressed in the NCO, it may seriously impair your ability to see your children. If the court issuing the NCO can be convinced that no safety concerns of the “victim” will be compromised, it may create limited exceptions within the NCO that allow for contact between the parties for the purposes of childcare and visitation. These issues must be addressed at the time of the NCO hearing, however. If it is not, the fact that the contact was made only for purposed of seeing the children will not constitute a defense to a charge of violating the no-contact order.
There is an NCO still in place but the “victim” keeps calling me? What should I do?
The NCO is not put into place in an attempt to modify the “victim’s” behavior. If he or she continues to attempt contact with you, he or she will not get in any trouble. Contrarily, if you respond to these attempts at contact (i.e. return an email or a text, call them back, even just talk to them on the phone when they’ve called) it is a violation of the order. If it is reported. You will likely be arrested and charged with another crime; violation of a no-contact order. If the “victim” continues to attempt contact, do not reciprocate the contact and notify your lawyer immediately. Your lawyer can advise the prosecutor and the court of the “victim’s” ongoing behavior. Also, document each instance where contact has been attempted, both time and method. If the victim continues to ignore the spirit of the order that was put in place to protect them, the court may lift the order.
Will I still be prosecuted if the “victim” doesn’t want to “press charges?”
In the State of Washington, it is not necessary for a victim to formally “press” charges in order for the state to prosecute you. Crimes are considered to be committed against the state and not necessarily against an individual. If the state believes there is sufficient evidence to show that a crime of domestic violence has been committed, it will generally proceed, irrespective of the victim’s wishes. That is why a victim who truly does not wish charges to go forward should consider hiring an advocate of his or her own to represent those wishes. There are several things that a person who does not wish that charges go forth can do to affect those wishes. A domestic violence (DV) attorney can best explain those things.
The “victim” hit me first. Can I claim self-defense?
In any type of mutual combat situation, where both parties can claim have been assaulted, self-defense is a possible defense to the charge. If a person is being assaulted, he or she may do what is reasonably necessary to ensure he or she is not injured. Still, the response to the assault must be reasonable in both its force and scope. What starts as valid self-defense often times crosses the line to constitute another assault.
What is domestic violence treatment?
A domestic violence treatment program is more properly called a “domestic violence perpetrator program.” In order to satisfy a court order and even to advertise that a program treats domestic violence, it must meet the qualifications stated in RCW 26.50.150 and be supervised by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). DV perpetrator programs are very intensive. They require a full clinical evaluation, the signing of several release forms for the transmittal of information, attendance at weekly group therapy sessions focusing on ending violence and accountability, have a system to address non-compliance and re-offense and be supervised by qualified personnel. The program runs for a year and while other therapies such as individual or marital counseling, drug and alcohol counseling, and psychiatric interviews or commitments may be required or indicated or even required, they may not replace the group program, they may run concurrently. For more specific information on domestic violence perpetrators programs, please see What Is Domestic Violence Treatment?
Will I have to undergo domestic violence treatment?
As with so many questions on this site, the answer is, “it depends.” All of the facts of the incident, as well as the statements made by you, the alleged victim, and any witnesses, will be a part of the police report. Based on that police report the prosecutor will make an offer of resolution that you and your attorney will consider. The offers can range from “plead guilty as charged,” to the offer of a stipulated order of continuance (SOC) to an offer for a reduction to a lesser charge in exchange for a plea of guilty. Depending on what the offers and associated conditions are, you and your attorney will decide whether or not you should enroll in a DV treatment program. More often then not, any offer to reduce the charge or for a SOC will include your participation in a treatment program. This should not be taken lightly. As a rule of thumb, if you are convicted of a DV crime or agree to a SOC, you will have to undergo DV treatment. If the charge is amended to remove the “DV” designation, you likely will not have to do DV treatment but may be required to go through alternative counseling. If the case is dismissed, you will not have to complete any treatment or counseling.
Having an attorney who is familiar with domestic violence defense is essential. Entering into a DV treatment program requires a tremendous commitment on your part and is not without its risks for you. Your attorney will negotiate the best possible resolution for you and in some cases will take your case to trial to make certain that your rights are protected and the government is meeting its burden.
What is an “SOC”?
The abbreviation “SOC” stands for Stipulated Order of Continuance. Often times, in non-felony domestic violence cases, the government will offer an SOC as a means of resolving the case short of going to trial and in lieu of a guilty plea. An SOC is essentially a contract between the prosecution and the defendant. Certain terms and conditions are set out and if the defendant successfully complies with those terms, the case will be dismissed after a period time. Standard conditions of an SOC normally include some kind of DV, mental health and/or alcohol or drug treatment. In addition there is a period of probation, normally one to two years, a requirement that there be no new law violations and in many cases the continuation of a no contact order.
In many cases an “SOC” can be an outstanding outcome. But that is not always the case. Be sure to know all of your options before agreeing to enter into such a contract. Failure to successfully complete the SOC more often than not will mean being convicted of the DV offense that was originally charged. For more information go to Domestic Violence SOC in Washington.
Is it true that if I am convicted of domestic violence I won’t be able to possess guns?
Any conviction for a crime designated as “domestic violence” will be accompanied by an order prohibiting the possession of guns. That order will remain in effect until rescinded by courts with jurisdiction over the matter. If this may apply to you, make sure you contact a domestic violence or civil rights lawyer prior to obtaining a gun. Do not just assuming that the right is automatically restored. Possession of a gun in violation of such an order is a felony.
Can a DV conviction be expunged from my record?
A conviction for a domestic violence offense can be removed from one’s record. The process for doing so, however, is very involved. Those wishing to remove such a conviction from there record really need to contact either a domestic violence attorney or a lawyer that routinely does expungements.