An Overview Of Domestic Violence Charges In Washington State

Washington State law defines domestic violence broadly as almost any criminal act committed by one member of a family or household against another. Thus, domestic violence in Washington may include a wide range of offenses such as:

  • Assault
  • Harassment
  • Destruction of property
  • Intimidation with a weapon
  • Reckless endangerment
  • Violation of a protection order

For purposes of Washington domestic violence law, anyone in the following relationships may be considered members of the same family or household:

  • People who are or were previously married or living together
  • People age 16 or older who are or were previously in a dating relationship
  • People who have children together
  • People who share a family relationship, such as parent-child and grandparent-grandchild (including step-parents and step-grandparents) as well as siblings

Domestic violence convictions carry serious consequences in Washington. Depending on the circumstances, a domestic violence offense in Washington State may be charged as a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony.

Domestic Violence Penalties

A misdemeanor domestic violence conviction is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. A more serious offense may be charged as a gross misdemeanor, resulting in up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine if convicted. The most serious domestic violence offenses are tried as felonies and carry prison sentences longer than one year in the event of conviction.

In addition to facing fines and imprisonment, people convicted of domestic violence offenses in Washington State are prohibited from owning firearms and cannot qualify for a concealed weapons permit in the state. Violating this law is a felony and can lead to additional criminal penalties.

Law enforcement agencies in Washington State take allegations of domestic violence very seriously, and state law contains a "mandatory arrest" provision for police officers investigating incidents of potential domestic violence. The law requires officers to make an arrest if there is probable cause to believe that an assault or other serious domestic violence offense has taken place within the last four hours. In these cases, an arresting officer is required to arrest only the person he or she believes to be the "primary aggressor."

Seek Legal Help

Although these laws can help officers to prevent further harm by separating the people involved in a domestic incident, the subjective nature of the judgment involved creates a potential for error that can have serious legal consequences for those individuals. For instance, in some cases an arresting officer may identify the wrong individual as the aggressor or make an arrest when no act of domestic violence actually took place. For these reasons, it is important to seek legal help from a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer right away when facing charges for domestic violence in Washington State.