In DC, domestic violence cases have their own separate court in the family division of Superior Court. Specific judges are assigned to the domestic violence calendar and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (“USAO”) has a separate division that prosecutes domestic violence offenses. Domestic violence prosecutors aggressively go after alleged domestic abusers. In addition, it does not take actual physical violence to qualify as a crime. Threatening or stalking someone with whom you have an intra-family relationship can lead to domestic violence charges and potential conviction.
What is an intra-family relationship?
DC criminal law makes an offense a “domestic violence” offense where an intra-family relationship exists between the person arrest and the complaining witness. The law defines intra-family relationship broadly to include, among others, parent/child, boyfriend/girlfriend, or husband/wife. In fact, DC Superior Court judges have interpreted intra-family relationship so broadly it includes roommates, siblings, cousins, former lovers, and even individuals who engaged in a one-night stand. That means you need not actually be in a romantic or familial relationship with someone to land in DV court. That means a fight with a roommate could escalate into a domestic violence offense. Individuals in an intra-family offense can also file for a Civil Protection Order (or “CPO”), which is like a restraining order.
Is a dv offense more serious than a regular misdemeanor?
A domestic violence conviction can carry greater consequences than regular criminal convictions. For example, someone charged with simple assault in DC faces a maximum penalty of 180 days and/or a $1,000.00 fine. However, if someone is charged with simple assault in domestic violence court, the prosecutors will prosecute the case more aggressively, the judge may look at the facts with greater scrutiny, and additional consequences can result. One such consequence is that federal law prohibits individuals who are convicted of a domestic violence offense from owning or possessing a firearm.
Unlike most misdemeanor cases in DC, prosecutors rarely offer diversion for DV offenders. The only type of diversion DV prosecutors offer are a Deferred Sentencing Agreement (or “DSA”). However, unlike most other types of charges DSA’s for DV offenses go beyond just community service. Individuals who enter a DV DSA get assigned to a probation officer and has to comply with additional conditions like drug testing, alcohol or drug treatment, and completing the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (“DVIP”). The requirements are much more intrusive than a normal diversion agreement where the defendant agrees to just not get rearrested for a period of time and complete a set amount of community service.
What type of offenses are domestic violence charges?
In addition, its not the criminal conduct that make a charge get assigned to DV court. It’s the nature of the relationship between the complaining witness and the defendant. Accordingly, you could steal your roommate’s phone and end up in DV court charged with theft based on the relationship. A couple could get into a fight and one could break some of the other’s property and find themselves in DV court charged with destruction of property. Felony DV offenses, like assault with significant bodily injury, are prosecuted even more aggressively than their already aggressively prosecuted misdemeanor counterparts.
What if the alleged victim does not want to press charges?
“Pressing charges” does not actually mean anything in the context of criminal law. In DC, the prosecutor decides whether to file charges or “paper” a particular case after an arrest is made. Prosecutors will often paper cases regardless of the victim’s wishes. Accordingly, its not the witness who “pressed” the charges but the prosecutor who makes the decision based on what they think is in the public interest—not the individual victim’s interest.
Because witnesses in DV cases often do not show up, DV prosecutors in DC sometimes try and prosecute cases even where the purported victim does not want to go forward. In addition, the prosecutors often attempt to get hearsay and other evidence in to secure convictions where they do not have a complaining witness voluntary testifying. DV prosecutors have also been known to request and obtain what are called “material witness warrants” where victims of domestic violence refuse to come to court despite getting subpoenaed.
Should I hire a lawyer for a domestic violence charge?
Absolutely. Domestic violence charges are serious for a number of reasons. They can lead to jail time, probation, loss of liberty, and collateral consequences like not being able to possess a firearm. An experienced domestic violence attorney can help you navigate an unforgiving court system. Because the penalties can be severe, its important to have an experienced professional in your corner who can tell you what to expect, advocate on your behalf, and protect your constitutional rights.
If you are charged with a domestic violence offense, its important to consult an experienced DC criminal defense lawyer who will fully investigate the charges against you and help you put on an effective defense. At Scrofano Law PC, we aggressively represent individuals charged with domestic violence offenses. Contact us today for a full case evaluation.