Domestic violence occurs when one individual in a relationship uses fear or violence as the means to control the other individual. This may include physical abuse or emotional abuse.
The individual who is accused of domestic violence may be part of a married couple, a dating couple, or individuals who are living together. In many states, domestic abuse includes any conduct that causes or threatens to cause injury between:
- Family members;
- Spouses; and
- Residents of the same household.
Domestic violence behaviors may occur all of the time or only on occasion. Specific examples of domestic violence may include, but are not limited to:
- Emotional abuse, for example, put downs or name calling;
- Preventing an individual from contacting their family or friends;
- Stopping an individual from obtaining or keeping employment;
- Actual or threatened physical harm;
- Stalking or intimidation;
- Harassment; and
- Economic and sexual abuse.
In the State of Washington, there are also laws against an individual attempting to interfere with reporting domestic violence.
Where Can You Get Help in a Domestic Violence Emergency?
If an individual is facing a domestic violence emergency where they fear for their safety, they should immediately call 911 or their local police number for assistance. Local law enforcement is trained for these types of situations, as they do occur often, and they will respond immediately.
Additionally, a victim may call a domestic violence hotline for assistance. If an individual fears an upcoming domestic violence emergency or they have already experienced one and know another can occur, they may prepare by finding a nearby domestic violence shelter.
It is important to be aware that many of these shelters only accept women and children. Therefore, a male victim of domestic abuse may not be able to obtain assistance there.
How Can I Protect Myself from Domestic Violence?
If an individual is facing domestic violence, there are steps they can take to protect themselves. Safety tips which may mean the difference between safety and being injured or killed include:
- Knowing the abuser’s red flags and coming up with several reasons on why they need to leave the house;
- Identifying safe areas in the house that they can go for protection or to call the police;
- Letting friends or family know when they are in danger for immediate help;
- Practicing how to escape or go to a safe spot;
- Making and memorizing a list of emergency contacts;
- Having a bag of clothes, toiletries, money, and anything else that may be needed in safe and secure place; and
- Considering getting a restraining order or a protective order.
A protective order or restraining order is typically easier to obtain if an individual has a police report. In the majority of states, domestic violence calls have a mandatory arrest requirement.
This means that if the police are called to a scene they must arrest at least one individual at the scene. Law enforcement will listen to each individual’s account, document any injuries, and decide which individual was the attacker or abuser.
Where are Domestic Violence Cases Handled?
There are three courts where domestic violence issues are handled, including:
- Criminal court: The perpetrator is prosecuted by the state;
- Civil court: Lawsuits regarding protective order violations and money damages; and
- Divorce or family court: To deal with child custody and visitation issues.
If an individual’s abuser was arrested, the individual will be in criminal court first. If the perpetrator is not arrested or the victim was removed from the situation, they can go to civil court to obtain a restraining order.
In many states, family courts are permitted to handle issues related to domestic violence as well, including restraining orders. It may be helpful to consult with an attorney to determine which court system an individual will be involved in.
What are the Legal Consequences of Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence cases may often involve numerous criminal charges, including:
- Sexual assault; and
If criminal charges are brought against a perpetrator, it may result in criminal penalties, such as incarceration and criminal fines. In addition to criminal consequences, a defendant who is found guilty of domestic violence may also face additional legal consequences, including:
- Damages: The defendant may have to pay monetary damages to cover the financial losses of the victim, for example, hospital bills or pain and suffering;
- Restraining orders: A court can issue a domestic abuse injunction, such as a temporary or permanent restraining order. These may require the defendant to stay a certain distance from the victim and may also prohibit communication with the victim;
- Rehabilitation courses: A court can also require the defendant to attend mandatory rehabilitation courses, for example, anger management classes;
- Custodial rights: The defendant may lose their rights to child custody or visitation;
- Criminal charges: Domestic assault can result in criminal charges, which are punishable by some jail time. In some cases, it can even result in criminal fines; and
- Loss of various other rights: Serious cases of domestic abuse may even result in the loss of various rights, including the right to own a firearm or the right to possess a driver’s license.
How Do I Obtain a Court Order of Protection for Domestic Violence?
One of the first steps an individual can take to obtain a court order of protection is to contact their local state district attorney or inform law enforcement. They can provide guidance.
The individual will also be required to attend a court hearing. There, the victim will have to show that they were abused or threatened with abuse.
The court will issue the order of protection, which will set limits on the behavior of the perpetrator. If the abuser violates this order, they may face serious consequences.
Because domestic violence is often a difficult and emotional situation, it may be helpful for a victim to consult with a family lawyer or to reach out to a domestic violence shelter or clinic that can walk the individual through the process.
What Does it Mean to Interfere with Reporting Domestic Violence?
Interfering with reporting domestic violence occurs when an individual attempts to prevent another individual from:
- Calling 911;
- Reporting the abuse to law enforcement; or
- Seeking medical assistance.
This also applies if the individual who is prevented from reporting the criminal act is a witness to the domestic violence or victim.
What Must the State Establish to Convict Me of This Crime?
To convict a defendant of interfering with reporting domestic violence, the state must show that the defendant committed domestic violence. The prosecution must show that the defendant either attempted to or actually prevented the witness or victim from:
- Calling the police;
- Obtaining medical assistance; or
- Filing a police report.
Is Interfering with Reporting Domestic Violence a Felony?
Interfering with reporting domestic violence is not a felony, it is classified as a gross misdemeanor. A gross misdemeanor is the most serious category of misdemeanor.
It is one step away from a felony because the defendant showed a blatant disregard for the safety of other individuals or was seriously reckless.
What is the Punishment for this Criminal Act in Washington State?
In the State of Washington, the punishment for interfering with reporting domestic violence may include:
- Up to 1 year in jail;
- Criminal fines up to $5,000; or
- A combination of both.
A defendant may also face probation and a no-contact order.
Should I Contact a Lawyer Regarding Domestic Violence Interference?
If you have been charged with interference with reporting domestic violence, it is important to consult with a Washington family lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you regarding what criminal punishments you may be facing as well as ensure your rights are protected in court.
As noted above, a conviction of this crime can lead to severe consequences and affect more than just your criminal record. Because of this, it is important to have a lawyer representing you.
If you are a victim of domestic violence or someone has interfered with you reporting domestic violence, your lawyer can assist you both with obtaining assistance and protection and making sure any instances of domestic violence get reported to the proper authorities.