Domestic Violence Frequently Asked Questions

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Burg/Fulton: Trusted, Experienced, Ready to Help!
Burg/Fulton: Trusted, Experienced, Ready to Help!

What does Domestic Violence mean in Washington State?

In Washington, domestic violence is a label attached to cases where the alleged crime was committed by one family or household member against another or against someone with whom there is a "dating relationship".  RCW 10.99.020

The Judge issued a no contact order and I cannot go home – how do I get my personal belongings?

The court can authorize a "civil standby" where a law enforcement officer goes with you to your home to supervise while you remove some personal belongings. Your attorney can help you set this up if necessary.

The Judge issued a no contact order, but the other person keeps trying to contact me – what should I do?

In Washington DV cases, courts take no contact orders very seriously. Do not respond to the attempts to contact you. If necessary, hang up the phone and/or refuse to answer the door. Do not respond to emails. Keep a record of these attempts to contact you. Remember, it is a crime to violate a no contact order even if the other party wishes to have contact with you.

How can they file charges if it is just one person's word against mine?

This is a common scenario in a Washington domestic violence case – many are just one person's word against another's with no physical evidence or witnesses to the incident. If a case like this was to go to trial, the jury would hear both sides of the situation and would look at all the other evidence (or lack of other evidence) to decide who they believed.

The court has ordered me to attend domestic violence treatment – what is this?

The Domestic Violence Batterers Treatment Program is a counseling programed defined by Washington law in at WAC 388-60-0015 to 388-60-0755.  A court will require a defendant who is convicted of a domestic violence related crime to enroll in this twelve month treatment program through a state certified agency.  This treatment is also usually a requirement of some diversion or SOC agreements.  A defendant is required to pay the cost of the treatment program.

Was I arrested for a domestic violence crime?

You are under arrest if a police officer takes you into "custody." This means that you reasonably believe that you are not free to walk away from the scene of the contact with the officer. Not every contact with a police officer means you are under arrest. Certainly, if you are placed in handcuffs you are under arrest.

The officer never "read me my rights," does this help my case?

Possibly, under certain circumstances law enforcement officers are required to provide you with warnings about your rights.  If the officer fails to do so, it can result in suppression of any statements you may have after your arrest.

I refused to answer the officer's questions or make a statement, will this hurt me?

No, you have an absolute right to refuse to incriminate yourself by making statements. If your case went to trial, the prosecutor and officer would not be allowed to even mention the fact that you were asked questions and did not answer.  We always advise that when people are confronted by the police investigating them for a crime they should speak with an attorney before agreeing to answer any questions or make any statements.

I have no criminal history, will this help my case?

Having a clean criminal record can help in negotiating your case. Your criminal history, or lack of history, would generally not be relevant if your case went to trial.

Will the officer write a police report and can I get a copy?

Yes, the officer or officers involved will write a police report and you may review a copy.  There may also be written or recorded witness statements, video evidence, photographs, or other information available about your case.  The easiest way to view this evidence is for your attorney to make a discovery request. The prosecutor must provide all the evidence in the case to your attorney. Unfortunately, the court rules do not allow your attorney to provide you a copy of this evidence, though you may review it at your attorney's office or with your attorney as often as you like.

My spouse does not want to press domestic violence charges against me – does this mean the prosecutor will drop the case?

Unfortunately, not necessarily.  It is very common for the alleged victim in a domestic violence case to decide that he or she does not what charges brought against their loved one.  Some prosecutors may give the alleged victim's feelings on this a great deal of weight, while other prosecutors do not let it influence their decisions on the case at all .  It is the prosecutor's decision to press charges and go forward with the case and it is not uncommon for the prosecutor to go forward on a case even when the "victim" would prefer to have it dropped.  This is particularly true in domestic violence related cases.

What should I wear to court?

We recommend that you dress professionally - as though you are going to a job interview. Definitely do not wear the following: shorts, tank tops, or hats - some Judges will refuse to allow you in the courtroom wearing such items. Also, do not chew gum in court or bring food or drinks into the courtroom.

When should I arrive for my court appearance?

It is generally not necessary to arrive more than a few minutes before the hearing is scheduled. However, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to find your way to the courtroom. If the judge calls roll at the beginning of the calendar and you are not present – you may have to wait until the end to have your case called.

What should I bring to court?

You should keep a file of all documents relevant to your case and bring this to court every time you appear. Also, if you are attending any counseling or self help meetings (like AA) it can be helpful to bring proof of this to court.

I missed a court date, what should I do now?

It is very likely that the judge issued a warrant for your arrest when you failed to appear in court.  You should first contact an attorney who can help you determine if a warrant was issued and explain your options.  If a warrant was issued you may be able to schedule a hearing to come back to court and talk to the judge about why you were not in court and ask the judge to quash the warrant.  You may also be required to turn yourself in to the jail or post bail or bond to resolve the warrant.

What happens at the arraignment?

First, you will be notified of the specific charges filed against you and the fact that these charges are domestic violence related.  The arraignment is not a time to discuss the facts of the incident with the court, but you will be able to ask questions if you do not understand the charges against you.  You will then be asked to enter a plea to those charges.  We recommend that anyone accused of a domestic violence related charge plea "not guilty" at arraignment unless you have already consulted with an experienced DV attorney who advises otherwise.  Finally, the judge will determine if there is probable cause that a crime was committed and decide if you should be required to post bail to remain out of jail and what conditions should be imposed on you while your case is pending. These conditions can include: a no contact order, day reporting to probation, electronic home monitoring, an ignition interlock device on any vehicle you may drive, and other conditions.

What should I plead at the arraignment?

Not guilty.

Will the court hold it against me for pleading not guilty?

Absolutely not. Judges understand that this is an important step and some will not even allow you to plead guilty until you have had time to consult with an attorney about your case.

Can I go to jail at the arraignment?

Yes, if the judge imposes bail or bond (you would be released once you posted this bail or bond).

What is bail or bond?

Bail is an amount of money posted with the court as a sort of insurance that you will appear at all your court appearances and follow all the orders of the court. You typically may post 10% of this bail amount with a bail bonding company (with collateral) as well. If you post cash bail with the court – you will get all this money back at the end of your case. If you use a bail bonds company, you will not receive the 10% fee back.

What happens at a pre-trial hearing on a DV case?

A pre-trial hearing is essentially a status conference between you, your attorney, the prosecutor, and the judge. The following things can happen at a pre-trial hearing: the case can be continued and a new pre-trial hearing scheduled; the case can be resolved and you can plead guilty to the original charge or an amended charge or some other resolution entered; the prosecutor could dismiss the case; you can be sentenced; or the case can be scheduled for motions and trial.

Can we get more time to work on my case?

Generally, yes. It is not uncommon for a criminal case to be continued several times so that your attorney has adequate time to investigate the charges and negotiate with the prosecutor.

I signed a speedy trial waiver, what is this?

You have a right to be tried within what is defined as a "speedy" time frame.  This is to protect defendants from being charged with a crime and then held for long periods of time without resolution of their case.  For Washington DV related cases that means that you can require the court and prosecutor to schedule a trial within 90 days from your arraignment if you are out of jail or 60 days from your arraignment if you are in jail.  There are some circumstances that allow a judge to extend this time even over your objection.  If you want more time to work on your case (i.e. you ask for a continuance) you will need to sign a speedy trial waiver to extend this period.

What happens at a readiness hearing or a Jury Call Hearing?

This is a hearing a week or two prior to your trial date. At this hearing you confirm your readiness for trial and confirm the actual trial date.

What is a bench trial?

A bench trial is a trial where only a judge hears all the evidence and makes a decision about your guilt or innocence.  There are significant disadvantages and advantages to a bench trial and you should only decide to waive your right to a jury trial with the consultation of an experienced lawyer.

What is a jury trial?

This is a trial where people from the community (a jury) hear all the evidence and then make a decision about your guilt or innocence.

Does my case have to go to trial?

No, it is always your choice to proceed to trial. However, your attorney can advise you if proceeding to trial is a good idea or not.

Will I have to testify at trial?

No, you cannot be required to take the stand at trial and testify.  If you choose not to testify, the jury would be informed that they cannot use that against you in their determination of guilt or innocence.

Can I have witnesses testify for me at trial?

Yes, if there are witnesses that you believe will be helpful to your case you should inform your lawyer of them and provide any contact information you have.  These witnesses can be subpoenaed and required to appear and testify.   However, any witnesses must have relevant testimony to provide about the actual incident.  Under the Washington rules of evidence "character" witnesses are generally not allowed to testify (with certain limited exceptions).

If I am convicted after a trial, will the judge punish me for going to trial?

No, it would be improper for a judge to increase the penalty the impose just because someone exercised their right to proceed to trial. However, it is common for prosecutor will file additional charges or recommend a higher jail sentence if a case proceeds to trial. This can increase the possible penalties.

What happens at a sentencing hearing?

The judge listens to a sentence recommendation from the prosecutor and your attorney and will listen to anything you would like to say about the incident and your sentence.  The judge can also consider character evidence that wasn't allowed at trial and will hear what any alleged victim requests on the case.  The judge will also consider any enrollment in treatment or counseling that you may have started.  After listening to everyone and reviewing the case, the judge will make a decision about what the appropriate consequences for your conviction will be.  You will be given a document called a "judgment and sentence" which will outline the judges decision in writing for you.

What information can I give the judge that might help at sentencing?

At sentencing you may speak (or write a letter) on your own behalf. You may also have friends or family speak (or write letters) on your behalf. At sentencing it is appropriate to accept responsibility for your actions and apologize. If you feel uncomfortable doing this, or feel that it is inaccurate in your circumstance, you should not say anything. You are not required to speak at your sentencing.

The Judge ordered me to get a pre-sentence investigation done, what does this mean?

A pre-sentence investigation is performed by the court's probation department. Generally, you are interviewed by a probation officer who will then make a recommendation to the judge for your sentence.

Will I be taken to jail from the courtroom at my sentencing?

Sometimes, but not generally.  It is more common for a court to give you a commitment date by which you have to turn yourself in to the jail.

Do I have to tell my employer about the case?

No, but you will likely need to miss work to appear at your court hearings.

If I am convicted will I lose my job?

It depends. Your employer may require that you have a clean criminal record. Additionally, if your job requires you to carry a firearm and you are prohibited from doing so by your conviction, you could lose your job.

Do I have to tell my parents/spouse/partner/friends?

No, you are not required to tell anyone.

Would getting letters from my friends or family saying I am a good person help my case?

Possibly. You can always provide these letters to your attorney who can use them if and when they become helpful.

Would getting letters from my friends or family saying I am a good person help my case?

Possibly. You can always provide these letters to your attorney who can use them if and when they become helpful.

How long will it take to get this behind me?

Generally, a criminal case takes between three and six months to be resolved after charges are filed. You could then be on probation for a period of time after that.  If your case goes to trial it can delay a resolution for much longer, even as long as a year.

Will it stay on my permanent record?

What information about your case will be available to the public is complicated and depends on what happens on your case, what you were charged with, and where someone may be looking for the information.  An experienced attorney can give you specific information about your case.

Can I have this removed from my record?

It may be possible to limit the information available to the public about your case under certain circumstances. Talk to your attorney about this.

Can I go to Canada?

Possibly. Canada reserves the right to prohibit entry to people convicted of criminal charges.

I am not a U.S. citizen, how will this affect my immigration status?

Domestic violence allegations have very serious immigration consequences. It is crucial that your attorney knows you are not a citizen and that your attorney either understands the potential immigration consequences or consults with an immigration attorney on your case.

I have never met with a lawyer before, what happens during the initial consultation?

The lawyer should meet with you in private (this is a confidential consultation) to discuss your case, your history, your goals and options and to discuss the cost of hiring an attorney to represent you.

What information should I bring to a meeting with a lawyer?

Bring as much information about your case as you have – particularly any documents from the court or police. It is also helpful to bring a list of whatever questions or concerns you have about your case – so you don't forget anything.

How much will it cost to meet with a lawyer?

Generally, you can find a lawyer who will not charge you for an initial consultation. At that initial consultation you can further discuss the retainer fees with the lawyer.

Will the lawyer tell anyone what we talk about?

Absolutely not. A lawyer is ethically prevented from discussing anything about you or your case unless you specifically give him or her permission to do so.

What questions should I ask a lawyer?

Feel free to bring up any questions or concerns you have about your case. It may be helpful for you to bring a list of questions so that you don't forget anything while you are talking to the lawyer.

How do I know if the lawyer is good at representing people with DV cases like mine?

We recommend that you meet with any lawyer you are considering in person to discuss your case and his/her qualifications. Do not hesitate to ask a lawyer about his/her experience with cases like yours and his or her qualifications. You should feel confident that your lawyer is going to work hard for you and protect your rights and interests.

Can I bring my spouse/partner/parent/friend to the meeting with a lawyer?

Yes, but the lawyer may ask to meet with you alone for all or part of the consultation to protect your confidentiality.

Facing a DV Charge in Washington State?

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