Seattle Domestic Violence Attorney(206) 895-6728
Throughout Seattle and across the state of Washington, allegations of domestic violence are taken very seriously. At The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield PLLC, we take them seriously too.
In Seattle and throughout Washington state, accusations of domestic violence are treated with utmost seriousness. At The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield PLLC, we also take these accusations seriously. We understand that the justice system’s handling of domestic violence is flawed, and innocent individuals can face challenging situations when false or exaggerated allegations are made. Domestic violence claims can cause great harm to families and cause immense stress. It’s crucial to seek assistance from an experienced domestic violence lawyer. To schedule a confidential consultation, contact Seattle criminal defense attorney Morgan Fletcher Benfield without delay at (206) 895-6728.
What is Considered Domestic Violence?
According to RCW 10.99.020 and RCW 26.50.010, domestic violence encompasses a wide range of criminal actions that result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault between family or household members, or individuals in a dating relationship. The term “household members” includes spouses, children, as well as any non-relatives or relatives living in the same residence. Common criminal charges associated with domestic violence comprise assault, aggravated assault, sexual assault, harassment, violation of protective orders, and malicious mischief.
Domestic Violence Penalties & Consequences
Depending on the nature of the charges and the surrounding circumstances, domestic violence can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor, punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and 90 days in jail, or a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to $5,000 in fines and 364 days in jail. If aggravating factors are present, a domestic violence offense can be charged as a felony, carrying much steeper penalties. For example, if a defendant is accused of choking someone in a domestic violence situation, an ordinary assault charge can escalate to a class B felony, resulting in a potential sentence of 10 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines.
In addition to the criminal penalties associated with a domestic violence conviction, there are several collateral consequences to consider, such as:
Termination of employment
Some employers and industries may terminate employment if an employee is convicted of a domestic violence-related offense.
Difficulty finding employment
Other employers may be reluctant to offer jobs or positions that require certain clearances to someone with a domestic violence conviction.
Loss of gun ownership
A domestic violence conviction can result in a prohibition on owning or possessing firearms.
Custody & Visitation
Domestic violence convictions can be used to influence or modify custody and visitation arrangements, which can impact a parent’s ability to spend time with their children.
Domestic Violence & No Contact Orders
In Washington State (RCW 10.99.040), a court can impose a No Contact Order (NCO) that prohibits contact with an individual in various circumstances, particularly in domestic violence cases. Such orders may be initiated by the alleged victim or directly by the court following an arrest for domestic violence.
When facing criminal charges for domestic violence, an NCO is usually issued as a release condition or part of a sentence if convicted, regardless of whether you share housing or children. This can cause significant inconvenience and hardship, as it prohibits all forms of contact, including phone calls, texts, emails, letters, and even contact through a third party. In some cases, it may even restrict you from coming within a certain distance of the victim’s work, school, or home, resulting in loss of access to your own property, removal from your home, and denial of seeing your children.
Adding to the complexity, alleged victims may not want an NCO imposed at all, but have no control over the filing of domestic violence charges. While the order can be dismissed or modified during proceedings, it can continue after the case is resolved, and the alleged victim must support it if the order is lifted.
Violating an NCO is a criminal offense (as per RCW 26.50.110), independent from the original domestic violence allegations, and carries its own penalties. Penalties for a first-time violation without assault are a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. However, if the violation involves an assault or a history of violating similar orders, penalties can escalate to a class C felony with a maximum of 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Furthermore, failing to obey court orders can negatively impact ongoing negotiations and limit the chances of a favorable outcome for the original domestic violence charges. Therefore, it is important to take an NCO seriously and comply with its terms.
But What if I’m Contacted?
Domestic violence cases are typically complicated, particularly when No Contact Orders are involved. In some cases, an alleged victim may try to contact you. While it may seem like an opportunity to reconcile, it is not advisable as the NCO only applies to you and not the alleged victim. Only the court can lift or change the order.
Since an NCO prohibits contact with the victim, the victim is not at risk of violating it, but you would be if you respond to their communication. Even if the alleged victim initiates contact and agrees to meet or talk with you and promises not to take legal action, you are still taking a risk. Additionally, some supposed victims may use a potential NCO violation to seek revenge or gain an advantage in a divorce or custody case.
When in doubt, it is best to prioritize your safety and consult an attorney before contacting someone when a No Contact Order is in place.
Advocates for the Falsely Accused
Although laws concerning domestic violence are created to protect victims, there are instances where people may be wrongly accused, often due to the lack of physical evidence and reliance on statements from alleged victims. Convictions of domestic violence can result in severe consequences such as imprisonment, costly fines, and damage to your criminal record and reputation, making it challenging to move forward without proper legal representation.
If you have been falsely accused of domestic violence, finding appropriate solutions can be difficult without the help of competent legal guidance. We understand that these situations are complex and are dedicated to handling your case with the utmost sensitivity and confidentiality.
To schedule a free and confidential consultation, you may contact The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC online or call us directly.
Understanding Mandatory Arrests
Under Washington Law, police officers responding to domestic violence situations are mandated to make an arrest if they have probable cause to suspect a domestic assault or any other offense has been committed. However, it is important to remember that officers are often responding to emotionally charged and unstable situations, and in the absence of concrete evidence, they may arrest and charge the person they consider to be the primary aggressor based on one party’s claims.
There is a common misconception that an alleged victim can drop domestic violence charges if they change their mind and do not want the case to continue. This is untrue. Although the assigned prosecutor may assess the evidence and opt to dismiss the case, only they can make this decision. In domestic violence cases, the alleged victim is considered a witness to a criminal act, and prosecutors have the power to file charges against them if they refuse to testify against the defendant. Additionally, most prosecutors in Washington will pursue a case even if the alleged victim wishes to drop it. The alleged victim’s desires are usually not sufficient to halt the progression of a case.
While these laws are meant to safeguard everyone’s well-being and maintain the integrity of a criminal case, they may also result in unfounded accusations and significant trouble for those involved.
Defending Against Domestic Violence
Regrettably, it is a common occurrence for someone to falsely or overly accuse another person of domestic violence for personal gains, such as in a custody dispute, divorce proceeding, or out of anger or jealousy. It can be frustrating to defend your reputation in court, but you don’t have to do it alone. With the help of a skilled Seattle domestic violence lawyer, you can expose inconsistencies in the accuser’s story and compare it to police-collected evidence. Additionally, by demonstrating that you have no prior history of violence, your attorney can strive to prevent a conviction.
Furthermore, working with a knowledgeable domestic violence lawyer, you can present evidence that you were not the aggressor, acted in self-defense, or lacked the intent to harm the other person. This defense may require you to admit to an aggressive act, but it can effectively demonstrate that the situation was contentious and not criminal.
Even when a conviction is likely, it is essential to explore all of your options. Your domestic violence lawyer may be able to negotiate for a more appropriate charge based on the circumstances, secure your participation in available diversion or anger management programs in lieu of jail, or achieve another favorable outcome during sentencing.
Consult a Seattle Domestic Violence Attorney Right Away
The complexities of Washington law and the emotional toll of domestic violence charges can create a chaotic situation for you and your loved ones. At The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC, we recognize this and are ready to provide guidance on how to safeguard your rights through the legal process.