DC Assault and Domestic Violence Penalties

Domestic violence cases often involve people who know each other and sometimes have close relationships. They can be family members or people who have dated for years. They may have children in common. Due to the complexity of these cases, it is critical an individual contact an attorney regarding appropriate DC assault and domestic violence defense strategies.

When someone has a close relationship with their accuser, it can create a situation where an accuser has a motivation to fabricate false allegations. That means the witnesses or the accused may have certain biases that cloud their version of events. The attorney must be mindful of these things when exploring and investigating domestic violence cases because they are specific to situations with these kinds of relationships.

Because of the exposed relationships, an experienced domestic violence lawyer may approach these cases with a different mindset regarding investigation and trial strategies. The relationship can affect advice given to the client about whether it is a good idea to go to trial or attempt to negotiate a resolution with the prosecutors.

Defense attorneys sometimes are able to use civil protection orders in order to assist in their investigation and representation in the criminal case. The connection between civil protection orders and criminal offenses can be fairly complicated since the procedures are different, the rules are entirely different, and the two may not necessarily have the same outcome at the end.

Aspects of a Domestic Violence Case

Domestic violence is not an official charge in the District. It is a court. A person cannot be charged with domestic violence. They can be charged with a criminal offense in the domestic violence courts of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Cases heard in the domestic violence court are still criminal charges. The burden of proof faced by the prosecutors does not change. Criminal procedures and the rights afforded to the person charged do not change because a case is heard in the domestic violence court.

A case charged in the domestic violence court is not specifically different regarding the rights of the person charged. However, DC assault defense strategies might be slightly different based on the sensitive nature of domestic violence cases.

Variations of Penalties

When an assault case is filed in the domestic violence court; it does not change the possible penalties an accused person faces if convicted. A person facing an assault charge in the non-domestic violence court faces a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both if they are charged and convicted of a misdemeanor simple assault.

For a simple assault charge filed in the domestic violence court, the person charged faces the same maximum penalties. However, a judge may choose to exercise discretion and impose harsher penalties because of the intrafamily relationship that exists between the accused and alleged accuser.

Impact of Civil Protection Orders on Penalties

Civil protection orders are not criminal cases. If a defendant is charged with a criminal domestic violence offense, the complainant could potentially file for a civil protection order against the defendant. The two are not necessarily connected to each other.

Civil protection orders are filed by a complainant as a civil remedy based on the allegation of some kind of criminal offense. The only thing a judge could order as a result of a request for a civil protection order is a civil remedy, meaning the judge could require the defendant to stay away from and have no contact with the complainant and the judge could possibly impose monetary penalties against the defendant as well.

While a civil protection order does not result in a person being convicted of a crime, it can potentially result in harsher criminal penalties if there is a related criminal case and there is a violation of the civil protection order. A civil protection order hearing and a criminal hearing can sometimes be heard in tandem with one another.

Value of a Judge

A judge can consider the power dynamic between a person charged and their accuser when deciding the penalties to impose. The judge might decide that an assault committed by a husband against a wife warrants harsher penalties compared to an assault committed by a person against a complete stranger in a bar as a result of an alcohol-induced argument.

The nature of the circumstances of domestic violence cases cause judges and prosecutors to exercise discretion in different ways. That does not mean the possible penalties faced change because a charge is filed in the domestic violence court.

Difference from Assault Cases

Not every assault case is a domestic violence case. DC assault and domestic violence penalties vary. Many types of assaults take place between individuals who have no intrafamily relationship. If the two people do not have a legally defined intrafamily relationship, the case can be charged as an assault in the misdemeanor criminal courts.

The assault might be charged as a felony depending on the level of injuries and heard by a felony level judge. Only when the relationship between the defendant and the alleged victim is of an intrafamily nature is the case charged in the domestic violence court.

The domestic violence courts hear different kinds of charges such as assaults, threats, destruction of property, or any combination of those. An assault case can be charged in the domestic violence court, but it can also be charged in a non-domestic violence court depending on the relationship between the people involved.

Seeking out an Attorney

If an individual is eligible for release after charges of domestic violence or assault, they can begin the process of possibly seeking out private representation for the remainder of their criminal case. It is important to begin that process as soon as possible because in especially domestic violence cases, beginning the process of representation is important at the earliest possible stage.

As a general matter, having legal assistance at the earliest available time can help a person to understand what their options are, what their conditions of release are, and what some strategies could be going forward, and ensuring them the best chance of a positive result. Having an attorney’s help can provide available witnesses or surveillance footage that may be beneficial to the defense. 

Beginning the investigative process early is extremely important for assault and domestic violence cases because they are more likely to not miss out on a favorable resolution short of a trial. They may also benefit from investigations that result in possibly favorable evidence in their case. 

It is important for a defendant who is facing criminal domestic violence charges as well as facing a civil protection order request to seek representation by a defense lawyer who understands both of those and is able to provide appropriate advice and counsel on how one affects the other and how civil protection orders can potentially be used to a defendant’s advantage when challenging the evidence and allegations in a criminal domestic violence case.