Below are questions that clients, and prospective clients, commonly ask us:
Can I Vacate a Domestic Violence Charge?
Yes, if you meet certain requirements. Visit our web page on Vacating or Expunging Convictions for more information, but generally, you must wait until five years after your conviction (and probationary period) before the case can be vacated. This by itself does not restore gun rights, which have to be restored by a Superior Court, either where the offense was committed or where you live.
What is “Domestic Violence”?
Generally, a domestic violence allegation is an allegation involving either a) physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear or imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault, or b) sexual assault, or c) stalking, by one family or household member against another. However, many other classes of criminal allegations, like property offenses (examples: theft and malicious mischief), can carry the “domestic violence” tag. Visit our Domestic Violence webpage for more comprehensive information.
Does it matter that I’m not dating/living with/married to the alleged victim?
In general, no, it does not matter from a legal standpoint. If you ever lived together, had a dating relationship (both 16 years old and over), are blood relatives or are related via adoption (in some cases), the domestic violence label may be applied. However, a good attorney may be able to use this change in circumstances to your advantage.
What are possible penalties for a Domestic Violence conviction?
Please visit our Domestic Violence pages where penalties are discussed in detail, but in general consequences include, among others: loss of firearm rights until restored by a court of record (if legally permissible); inability to obtain security clearancesi possible inadmissibility to Canada; treatment classes (often a year in length); and imposition of No Contact Orders (often 2 to 5 years in length until dropped).
What if the alleged victim wants to drop the case?
In Washington, particularly in Skagit, Snohomish and King Counties, it rarely matters. The charging decision is the Prosecutor’s, not the alleged victim’s. The Prosecutor is supposed to take the alleged victim’s wishes into account in charging a case (and proceeding), but this is not often done.
How do I get a Pre-trial No Contact Order dropped?
The person restrained by a No Contact Order (NCO) is rarely able to do this without a successful resolution to the case. How the “protected party” goes about having an order terminated depends on the court. In some courts, simply the alleged victim asking for it is enough; in others, the defendant may have to take classes (even without being convicted) for the NCO to be dropped. In other courts, even that is not enough; you may need to beat the case at trial (or have it reduced or dismissed) to remove the No Contact Order. A skilled, knowledgeable attorney can help you with this. Visit our No Contact Order page for more information.
What if the alleged victim attempts to contact me?
Do not respond; do not even tell the person not to contact you anymore. Any violation of the order is chargeable as a new criminal allegation. Washington courts have upheld convictions for “invited” violations of a No Contact Order. If the alleged victim (the protected party by the Order) keeps contacting you, consult with your attorney immediately to discuss how to put an end to this risk.
How long until my domestic violence case is over?
As long as it has to take to get the best result. Sometimes, a great result can be achieved quickly; other times, a case may take six months, maybe a year, to get the desired result. Generally, a case will take one to six months, but there is no set rule or guideline. We have had cases dismissed within a week, and have had cases take over a year to get dismissed. Many clients want their case resolved as soon as possible, but we recommend not settling for a sub-par result just to have the case finished.
What if I have no prior Domestic Violence history?
This does matter, and will be helpful in negotiating a resolution to your case, but again, your case and likely outcomes are highly fact-specific. A skilled attorney will likely be able to use this to your advantage.
My stuff is at the house/apartment, but there is an order preventing me from getting my possessions. How do I get it?
You should consult an attorney before having a friend or relative pick up your belongings, as most No Contact Orders prevent communicating with the protected party (or visiting the residence) by and through a third party. Generally, the court that imposes the No Contact Order will allow you an opportunity to get your belongings with the supervision of a law enforcement officer; this is known as a “civil standby.” Unfortunately, the amount of time provided is usually quite short (10-15 minutes).
If I am the alleged victim in a case, do I need an attorney?
Sometimes, but not always; it depends on what your concerns and goals are. If you are seeking to have a No Contact Order (or case) dropped/terminated, or are afraid to testify for a variety of reasons (such as self-incrimination), an experienced attorney can help have your wishes heard by the court and prosecutor, or protect you from any criminal liability of your own.
I had my family member or significant other arrested for domestic violence. I do not want to file charges. Will the prosecutor file charges anyway?
Usually, but it depends on which court. Some courts, like Everett Municipal Court or Seattle Municipal Court, are especially hard on domestic violence allegations, and will investigate heavily. Other courts may not be as aggressive, but will still likely file charges. A good, skilled attorney may be able to prevent charges from being filed, or be able to resolve a case quite favorably.
Police were called, but I was not arrested. Will I be charged?
While typically the police operate under the assumption they must make an arrest, an arrest does not always happen, and charges may be filed later. This may be for a variety of reasons, such as an alleged perpetrator not being at the scene, or a lack of initial evidence. In some aspects, this may depend on whether you have spoken with police. It is usually best to assert your 5th and 6th Amendment rights to remain silent and not speak until having talked to an attorney. Your case is likely being sent to the prosecutor for review, and charges will likely be coming. You need to contact a domestic violence defense attorney ASAP to best begin a strong defense to your case.
A Fourth Degree Assault domestic violence charge was filed against me. The case is weak. How do I prove it was blown out of proportion?
You need to consult with your criminal law attorney ASAP. Even if the case seems minor or weak, do not take it lightly. The prosecutor can, and often does, take weak cases to trial. Prosecutors often proceed even when the alleged victim has recanted. This is where an experienced, successful criminal defense attorney can make a huge difference.
Will a No Contact Order be lifted if the criminal case is dismissed?
If the No Contact Order is issued by the criminal court as part of the criminal case against you, then the order should be dropped. However, in many domestic violence cases, the alleged victim will seek out an additional No Contact Order in a civil court. In that scenario, you would have to seek termination of the order in the civil court.