Domestic Violence Crimes Overview in Washington State

Washington’s criminal statutes define “domestic violence” by a set of circumstances consisting of (1) the type of alleged offense and (2) the relationship between the defendant and the alleged victim. A case involving allegations of domestic violence may also involve a restraining or protective order preventing the defendant from contacting the alleged victim or coming within a certain distance. Courts may order both defendants and alleged victims to complete programs such as educational programs or counseling. The sheer number of statutes addressing domestic violence demonstrates the state’s seriousness regarding the issue.

In any court proceeding for alleged domestic violence, a defendant has rights that police and prosecutors must respect at all times, and prosecutors have the burden of proving that a crime occurred. The help of a skilled domestic violence defense attorney in Washington State is critical to review and challenge evidence and ensure that the court hears your side of the story.

Definition of Domestic Violence

No single statute in Washington defines “domestic violence.” Rather, multiple codes contain aspects of a broad definition. Title 26, Domestic relations, identifies three types of domestic violence: physical harm or injury, or the threat of imminent harm or injury; sexual assault; or stalking. It specifies that domestic violence is perpetrated against a “household member,” which may include a current or former spouse or domestic partner, a person with whom one has a child in common, a person with whom one has or had a dating relationship, or other adult relatives.

Title 10, Criminal procedure, provides a list of Washington criminal statutes that may constitute domestic violence when committed against a household member. All of the listed crimes involve violence or the threat of violence, such as assault, burglary, criminal trespass, kidnapping, rape, and stalking.

Prosecution for Domestic Violence

Although accusations of domestic violence may carry significant social stigma, a criminal case requires the same burden of proof for the prosecution as any other case. The prosecution must prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that the judge or jury must be convinced that no other believable explanation exists for the alleged crime except the defendant’s guilt. Successfully defending against an accusation of domestic violence requires careful review of witness statements, police reports, and forensic evidence. A defense attorney must also identify and overcome any negative connotations the prosecution, or even the press, may seek to create around a defendant.

Domestic Violence in Non-Criminal Cases

Washington statutes in non-criminal areas also address domestic violence. These provisions may take effect while a criminal case is pending, which could impact the defendant’s rights.

Family law: Washington’s domestic relations laws allow courts to take allegations or findings of domestic violence into account when deciding issues like child support and child custody.

Landlord-Tenant Law: Tenants who are the victims of domestic violence have certain protections against eviction, or the right to terminate a lease in certain circumstances.

Employment Law: Victims of domestic violence and their family members may be entitled to unpaid leave from work to seek legal, medical, or other assistance.

Domestic Violence Programs

Multiple Washington statutes establish programs to monitor domestic violence cases and provide assistance to both defendants and alleged victims. The state may provide “perpetrator programs,” and it can provide for shelters for victims and their families. The law directs the state’s Department of Social and Health Services to create “domestic violence fatality review panels” to review and monitor domestic violence statistics.

If you have been charged with a domestic violence-related criminal offense in Bellevue, an experienced defense attorney can help. For more than 15 years, I have protected the rights of defendants in criminal cases throughout Washington. Contact us today online or at (425) 657-3192 for a free consultation.