For the last 15 years, Washington State’s domestic violence laws have undergone bold political changes. Nowadays, Washington harbors some of the harshest domestic violence arrest, release, and sentencing policies in the nation. Many prosecutors conduct trials even without the cooperation or presence of the victim. And the effects of simply being charged are harrowing because domestic violence charges and no-contact orders immediately remove suspects from their homes and families.
Under RCW 10.99, police officers no longer have the discretion whether or not to arrest the domestic violence suspect. Police must arrest a suspect regardless of the severity of the crime, request of the victim, or lack of any other criminal history or prior domestic disputes.
In Washington, domestic violence charges require mandatory bail and arraignment. In other words, defendants charged with domestic violence may not waive arraignment. Defendants must stay in custody and appear before the judge before the court makes a determination on a no-contact order, bail and other conditions of release. Most local jurisdictions in Washington now impose standard bail amounts regardless of the facts of the case, wishes of the victim or criminal history of the suspect.
Unbeknownst to many, a Washington State DV conviction is the only misdemeanor that requires years of additional time before defendants may seal or vacate the conviction from their criminal record. In addition, a DV conviction may disqualify them from entering Canada for at least five years. Additionally, convicted defendants are required to complete a one year certified domestic violence treatment program. Again, this occurs regardless of the facts, criminal, or medical history of the defendant. Regrettably, few if any of these counselors are licensed psychologists.
Under RCW 10.99, courts may enter no-contact orders between parties while the case is pending as a condition of the defendant’s release from jail. The court’s authority is located in RCW 10.99.040(2),(3). These orders are also issued as a condition of sentence under RCW 10.99.050(2). Pursuant to CrRLJ 3.2(c), the court may also issue an order prohibiting contact with children witnesses and others. Although the entry of these no-contact orders is discretionary, it is now routinely requested by the prosecutor and near automatically granted from the court.
These no-contact orders prohibit the accused from entering their own homes. For many, this major inconvenience carries huge burdens and “plea tenderizes” many defendants into pleading guilty simply to rescind this egregious pre-trial release condition. Although the victim may address the court and request that the order is dropped, the prosecutor often objects and the court routinely leaves the order in effect. The clerk of the court forwards a copy of the order to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.
Consequently, many prosecutors use no-contact orders to pressure the family and defendant to plead guilty under the promise that the prosecutor recommends that the court rescind the no-contact order and allow the defendant to return home. If the defendant decides to go to trial, and loses, then many prosecutors request the court to extend the no-contact order for the entire two-year period of misdemeanor probation as a condition of sentence.
In Washington, domestic violence crimes may occur between spouses, former spouses, adult persons related by blood or marriage, parents of a child in common, unmarried persons of same or different genders currently or previously living together, intimate partners of the same gender, dating relationships, and a biological or legal parent-child relationship.
Washington law also defines domestic violence as behaviors that include physical or bodily harm, assault, infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, or assault, sexual assault, and stalking.
Individuals convicted of domestic violence crimes permanently lose their right to bear firearms. A violation of this condition is a felony offense. Although re-obtaining this right is possible through petitioning the superior court, accomplishing this task presents significant political and legal challenges.