Know Your Legal Rights
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Domestic Violence cases in Washington State are all criminal offenses. When you are arrested or charged with a Washington State domestic violence (DV) crime you have many important rights.
These rights are guaranteed by the United States Constitution, the Washington State Constitution, statute, case law, and court rule.
Protecting these rights for you and all the citizens of Washington State is one of the fundamental jobs of a criminal defense attorney.
The following list outlines some of these important rights you have in a domestic violence case - deciding which rights to exercise and when to exercise them is a decision best made after speaking with an experienced Washington criminal defense attorney.
You have a right to refuse to answer any questions.
A law enforcement officer may require you to identify yourself, but cannot require you to make statements or answer any questions regarding your DV charges. Any information you provide to the officer can (and probably will) be used if charges are filed against you at a later time. This is true even if you do not give a formal, signed “statement.” It is always better to decline to make any statements or answer a question until after you have consulted with a lawyer.
You have a right to speak with an attorney.
If you have been arrested for a domestic violence charge, the police must advise you that you have a right to speak with an attorney as soon as practical after your arrest. If you request to speak with an attorney, the police may not ask you any questions about the incident until you have had an opportunity to speak with an attorney.
You have a right to be brought before a judge to address your release from jail.
If you are arrested and booked into jail, you have a right to be brought before a judge to address your detention and set bail and/or conditions for your release. This generally occurs between 24 and 72 hours of your arrest. Unfortunately, for domestic violence charges there is usually a "no bail" hold which means you will be in custody until the next judicial day. If the arrest is on a Friday night, this means you may not go to court until Monday for your DV charges.
You have a right to receive notice of the charges and penalties.
When you first appear in court for your domestic violence charges, you have the right to be told the nature of the charges against you and to have those charges formally read in open court. You also have the right to be informed of the maximum penalty you could face if convicted and any mandatory minimum penalties the court must impose.
You have a right to plead not guilty at arraignment.
A plea of not guilty at arraignment will not be held against you at any time. In fact, many courts will not allow you to plead guilty to a serious charge without consulting an attorney first.
You have a right to an attorney.
Since all domestic violence cases are criminal offense, you have a right to have an attorney of your choosing represent you throughout the entire criminal process and for that attorney to be present with you at all court hearings. If you cannot afford an attorney and qualify financially, the court will appoint a public defender to represent you.
You also have a right to represent yourself and proceed without an attorney. However, if you choose to represent yourself, the court will hold you to the same standard as an attorney and expect you to understand the law and procedures as they pertain to your case.
You have a right to a speedy and public jury trial.
You have a right to a speedy and public trial by jury. A speedy trial is one that occurs no more than ninety days from your first court appearance if you are out of custody (jail) or sixty days if you are in custody (jail). Your trial would occur in a courtroom open to the public. Your jury would consist of people from the community who would hear all the evidence presented and make a decision as to your guilt or innocence.
You have a right to be presumed innocent.
You have a right to be considered innocent of any domestic violence until you are convicted or until you enter a plea of guilty. However, the court does have the power to impose certain conditions while the case is pending against you – this can include no contact orders, orders to not drive without ignition interlock, or even the posting of bail or bond.
You have a right to be convicted by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
You have a right to require that the prosecutor prove every element of a the domestic violence charge beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest burden of proof in the legal system. As a defendant, you are not required to present any evidence or prove your innocence.
You have a right to confront witnesses who testify against you.
You have a right to confront and cross-examine all witnesses testifying against you. This means that the prosecutor will subpoena witnesses to testify against you, and you (through your attorney) will be able to question these witnesses.
You have a right to call witnesses to testify on your behalf.
You have a right to call witnesses who can testify on your behalf. These witnesses can be compelled to appear in court by subpoena. You have a right to testify or not testify. You have a right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself. This means that if you choose not to, no one can force you to take the stand and testify. If you choose not to testify, this cannot be held against you.
You also have the right to testify.
If you choose to testify, the prosecuting attorney is allowed to cross-examine you about your case and anything you say while testifying.
You have a right to appeal a conviction or sentence.
If you are convicted of a criminal charge you have a right to appeal this conviction to a higher court.