Quick Info: Domestic Violence Charges

Who:

Once 911 is called, the domestic violence response system is triggered and the government steps in: first, through the police who investigate and arrest and, next,  through prosecution and court.

This means a loss of control for the family and individuals involved.  The alleged victim does not control the course of action, the government does.  Even the issuance of a no contact order can be beyond the control of the victim. This is even when finances and children are involved.

DV cases involve a municipality or the state as the Plaintiff;  the Plaintiff is not the named victim.  A defendant is a party too. But to be heard, to have influence and to be protected, he/she needs an attorney as soon as possible.

What:

Domestic violence starts with an allegation that may or may not be thoroughly investigated by the police. This is usually followed  by jail.  There is no bail until a judge decides to set bail or release without bail (called a PR).   A person can be held in jail for 72 hours without formal charges being filed.  After that, he/she should be released, but charges can be filed at a later date.

DV charges can be filed for offenses that do not involve assault. Threats, theft, property damage, are also domestic violence charges.  It’s the nature of the relationship between the accused and the alleged victim that determines whether it is a “DV” offense.

When:

Charges can be “rush filed” (i.e., within 72 hours) or they can take days or several weeks to file. The shortest “statute of limitations” for domestic violence offenses is two years from the date of the incident and the statute gets longer from there.  The authorities do not have to tell a suspect when or if charges will be filed.

Once charges are filed, courts may have a rigid timeline that they attempt to follow.  Municipal Courts and King County District Court have domestic violence courts/calendars that emphasize expediting DV offenses for a  variety of reasons that are often not helpful to the defendant.

In practice a DV case can take a month (on the short end) to six months or more to resolve via trial or other favorable resolution.

Where:

Every municipality and county has a domestic violence response system. Even campuses like the University of Washington adhere to the state’s domestic violence laws.  Municipalities such as Seattle, Bellevue, and Issaquah all have their own municipal courts with police, judges and prosecutors trained in domestic violence response.  In King County, domestic violence cases are divided into misdemeanor or felony offenses and are handled either by Superior Court (felonies) or District Court (misdemeanors).   The courts have different divisions and locations.

How:

The case starts with a  prosecutor reviewing the police investigation and deciding whether he/she thinks a crime can be proven.  A victim’s advocate may contact the alleged victim for more information. The decision to file is based on the information they have, which can be incomplete, inaccurate or unreliable.  The case is filed with the appropriate court and the defendant then is required to appear for all court hearings or risk a warrant of arrest.  While the case is pending, the court can issue a no contact order prohibiting the defendant from all contact directly or indirectly with the named victim.  The court can impose other conditions and can set bail.

This is where the quick overview ends. Each case and defendant is unique and the best approach and defense is varied.  A strong and knowledgeable case strategy by knowledgeable domestic violence counsel requires establishing a working relationship as soon as possible.