Domestic Violence Penalties
The laws of Washington state view domestic violence offenses as particularly serious, striking at a fundamental part of society: the family and domestic relationship. As a result, the penalties for a domestic violence offense in a Washington court can be severe, but usually depend on the nature and circumstances of the alleged offense. If you are facing domestic violence criminal charges in Tacoma or western Washington, an experienced domestic violence criminal defense attorney can help you by vigorously defending against the charges, challenging the prosecution’s evidence, and minimizing the legal factors that contribute to a court’s assessment of a penalty.
What is Domestic Violence?
Washington state law defines “domestic violence” as any of a set of alleged criminal acts committed against a “family or household member.” Alleged offenses included in Washington state law’s definition of domestic violence include assault and other offenses causing bodily injury, sexual assault, and stalking.
Penalties for Domestic Violence Offenses
The offense of assault ranges from a “first degree” offense to a “fourth degree” offense, depending on the alleged circumstances. Assault in the first degree includes intentional use of a deadly weapon or a “destructive or noxious substance” like poison, or any alleged act of assault that causes “great bodily harm.” It is a class A felony, with maximum penalties of life imprisonment and/or a $50,000 fine. Other allegedly intentional acts of assault may be classified as second- or third-degree assault, which are class B or class C felonies. Assault in the fourth degree, basically defined as any intentional or reckless act of assault not causing serious bodily injury, is a gross misdemeanor punishable with up to one year in county jail and/or a $5,000 fine. Offense involving alleged sexual assault also vary depending on the defendant’s intent and the harm allegedly caused.
“Stalking” requires proof that a defendant repeatedly followed or harassed an alleged victim, placing that person in reasonable fear of injury. This includes a requirement of proof that the alleged stalker intended to cause such fear or knew that the alleged victim felt afraid. It is usually a gross misdemeanor, but could be a class C felony if the defendant has prior stalking convictions or violates a protective order.
At any time during a criminal case for alleged domestic violence, a judge may impose a “no contact” order prohibiting the defendant from contacting the alleged victim and, in some cases, members of the alleged victim’s family. This can include both prohibitions on phone or email contact and physical restrictions from certain premises or the vicinity of the alleged victim.
Defending Against a Domestic Violence Charge
A conviction for an alleged domestic violence offense can bring serious penalties, so a careful and thorough defense is vitally important. The prosecution is required to prove not only that a defendant committed an alleged act, but also that the defendant intended to cause injury or fear of injury. Challenging the prosecution on its evidence of a defendant’s alleged intent is often key to obtaining an acquittal or dismissal of charges, but even in the event of a conviction or plea bargain, it can lead to substantially reduced penalties, including probation or even deferred adjudication.
If you are facing criminal charges relating to domestic violence in Tacoma, a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can help. I have protected the rights of Washington defendants in criminal cases across the state for more than 15 years. Contact us online or at (253) 201-0406 for a free consultation today.