Tacoma Domestic Violence Attorney
Throughout Tacoma 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.
It’s no secret, the justice system’s treatment of domestic violence is far from perfect. And when false or exaggerated claims are made, otherwise law-abiding citizens can suddenly find themselves thrust into an extremely difficult situation. Domestic violence claims can devastate families, create a lot of stress, and should be immediately addressed with help from a capable Tacoma domestic violence attorney. To discuss your situation in a free and confidential consultation, call criminal defense attorney Morgan Fletcher Benfield right away.
What is Considered Domestic Violence?
Under RCW 10.99.020 and RCW 26.50.010 domestic violence is defined as practically any criminal action that causes “physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault, between family or household members or between people with a dating relationship.” Specifically, “household members” covers any spouses, children, and any relatives or non-relatives living in the same home.
Some of the common criminal charges related to domestic violence include:
- Aggravated Assault
- Sexual Assault
- Violation of Protective Orders
- Malicious Mischief
Domestic Violence Penalties & Consequences
Depending on the exact charges and the circumstances involved, domestic violence is either pursued as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, or a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. If aggravating factors are present, you can also be charged with a felony domestic violence crime with significantly higher penalties. For instance, if it was alleged that you choked someone in a domestic violence situation, a typical assault charge can increase to a class B Felony, carrying a possible 10 years in prison and up to a $20,000 fine. In addition to criminal penalties associated with domestic violence convictions you may have to deal with several collateral effects and implications:
Loss of employment
Employers and industries may terminate employment if they learn an employee has been convicted of domestic violence-related crime.
Difficulty finding employment
Other employers will be hesitant to offer someone with a domestic violence conviction a job or position that requires certain clearances.
A domestic violence conviction will almost always bar an individual from owning or possessing firearms.
Custody & Visitation
Domestic violence convictions can be used to influence or modify custody and or visitation agreements, which can hinder your ability to spend time with your children.
Domestic Violence & No Contact Orders
In the state of Washington (RCW 10.99.040), the court has the authority to prohibit you from contacting someone in various circumstances, including domestic violence cases. These No Contact Orders (NCO) can either result from an alleged victim petitioning the court or directly by the court, following a domestic violence arrest.
If criminal charges for domestic violence are pending, a No Contact Order will generally be issued as a condition of release or as part of a sentence if convicted. NCOs may be issued regardless of whether you share housing or children, and may cause serious inconvenience and hardship.
A NCO is intended to protect the victim until the case is resolved and generally refers to all forms of contact. This can include phone calls, texts, emails, letters, contact through a third party, and may even restrict your ability to come within a certain distance of the victim’s work, school, or home. If you have a NCO filed, you can be prevented from seeing your children, removed from your home, and denied access to your own property regardless of the circumstances.
What complicates matter even further is when alleged victims do not want to have a NCO imposed at all. Remember, victims largely have no say in the filing of domestic violence charges and despite their objections that they are not in any fear; families and relationships can become seriously strained. The order can only be dismissed or modified during proceedings, or it can be continued after the case is resolved. While the alleged victim does not control whether the order remains in place, he or she must support it if the order is lifted.
If a No Contact order has been filed, it needs to be taken seriously. Violating a NCO is a criminal offense (RCW 26.50.110) and is completely independent from the original domestic violence allegation, with its own set of penalties. If you have less than two prior convictions for violating protection orders and the contact did not include an assault, you can expect to be charged with a gross misdemeanor. This is punishable by up to a year in jail, and a $5,000 fine, in addition to any penalties imposed for the domestic violence charges. On the other hand, if the violating conduct did include an assault or you have a history of violating similar orders, you could face penalties as a class C felony with a maximum of 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
In addition to the new charges for violating the NCO, you will still need to contend with the original domestic violence allegations. Prosecutors do not look favorably on individuals who don’t obey court orders and this can have a negative impact on any on-going negotiations or may severely limit your chances of a favorable outcome.
But What if I’m Contacted?
Domestic violence situations are almost never cut and dry, especially when No Contact Orders are thrown into the mix. Sometimes, an alleged victim will attempt to reach out to you. This may seem like a chance to clear things up or mend some fences, but it’s almost never a good idea because the NCO does not work both ways. An alleged victim cannot excuse you from a NCO by inviting you to violate the order. The order is between you and the court. Only the court can lift or modify the order.
By having a NCO issued against you, it is illegal for you to have contact with the victim. The victim is not bound by any such order; therefore, there is no risk for them. By responding to their contact, you are assuming the risk even if they initiate contact, agree to meet or speak with your, and despite any promises to “not press charges.” It is also not unheard of for supposed victims to use a potential NCO violation against someone for revenge or to strengthen their case in a divorce or custody dispute.
If you are ever unsure about contacting someone when a No Contact Order is in place, it is always best to protect yourself first and discuss the situation with an attorney.
Advocates for the Falsely Accused
The laws related to domestic violence are there to protect victims; however, it is all too common for people to be wrongfully accused. These cases usually lack physical evidence and are largely based on statements from the alleged victims. With serious consequences like incarceration, expensive fines, and marks against your criminal record and reputation, the stigma attached to a conviction can be hard to escape without representation.
For those falsely accused of domestic violence, it can be hard to find the solutions you need without effective legal guidance. We realize you are dealing with complicated issues and are committed to handling your case discretely and with the utmost sensitivity.
Call The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC to schedule a free and confidential consultation.
Other Services We Offer in Tacoma:
Understanding Mandatory Arrests
According to Washington Law, police officers called to domestic violence situations are required to make an arrest if they have probable cause to believe that a domestic assault or other offense was committed. Remember, officers are often responding to heated and volatile situations and in the absence of any other evidence, police will sometimes make arrests based on one party’s claims and charge the person they think is the primary aggressor.
People sometimes have the misconception that an alleged victim can forgo domestic violence charges if they have a change of heart and don’t want the case to proceed. This is simply not the case. While the assigned prosecutor can review the evidence on its merit and decide to dismiss, only they can make that determination. In domestic violence cases, the alleged victim is perceived as a witness to a criminal act and prosecutors even have the authority to file charges against them if they refuse to testify against the defendant. Furthermore, most prosecutors in Washington will proceed against the wishes of an alleged victim to drop a case. The alleged victim’s wishes will almost never stop a case from moving forward.
These laws are meant to keep everyone safe and protect the integrity of a criminal case, but conversely it can lead to unwarranted charges and a lot of hassle for those involved.
Defending Against Domestic Violence
Sadly, it is not uncommon for someone to make false or exaggerated allegations of domestic violence to further some agenda. It can be to out of anger, jealousy, or to gain child custody or secure a better outcome in a divorce. If you find yourself in a situation where someone is lying about your actions, it can be incredibly frustrating to defend your reputation in or out of court. However, you don’t need to do it all alone. A skilled Tacoma domestic violence lawyer can look for inconsistencies in your accuser’s story and compare it to evidence collected by the police. Also, by presenting you as someone with no prior history of violence, your Tacoma domestic violence attorney can work towards preventing a conviction.
Additionally, by partnering with a knowledgeable domestic violence lawyer, you can present evidence that you were in fact not the aggressor and acted out of self-defense or lacked the intent to physically harm or threaten the other person. This defense requires you to admit to an aggressive act, but is effective in showing the situation was contentious and while it may have escalated, it should not be considered criminal.
In cases where a conviction is likely, it is still very important to review all your options. It may be possible for your domestic violence lawyer to negotiate for a lesser, more appropriate charge based on the circumstances, facilitate your inclusion in any available diversion or anger management programs in lieu of jail, or secure another favorable outcome at sentencing.
Consult a Tacoma Domestic Violence Attorney Right Away
Dealing with domestic violence charges are among the most emotionally and legally complicated areas of Washington law. At The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC, we understand the chaos this can create in your life and the lives of your loved ones. We are prepared to advise you about what lies ahead and how to protect your rights—no matter what.