DC Domestic Violence Lawyer
The District of Columbia Superior Court has a separate division within the Family Court system that handles domestic violence cases. The government prosecutes domestic violence cases in DC aggressively. In fact, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (“USAO-DC”) also has as separate division within the agency that specifically prosecutes these types of cases. In domestic violence cases, the prosecutors have more limited diversion options than with other non-DV misdemeanors.
The only diversion the USAO-DC will offer in a domestic violence case is something called a deferred sentencing agreement (“DSA”). In a domestic violence DSA, the defendant must plead guilty and then complete a rigorous anger management course called the Domestic Violence Intervention Program.
Other conditions like community service and fines may be also required. While a DSA does not constitute a conviction, the probation office does supervise the defendant while completing the requirements when its entered in domestic violence court.
If a defendant successfully completes the terms of the DSA, instead of getting sentenced on the charge, the defendant can withdraw his guilty plea and the government will dismiss the case. Unfortunately, the government will only offer DSA in a limited amount of cases where it’s the defendant’s first offense and the allegations are not serious.
The main difference between domestic violence cases and other criminal law in DC is that a DV case must involve an “intra-family relationship.” When you hear that term, intra-family relationship, you tend to think brother/sister, spouses, domestic partners, etc. However, the statute defines the terms so broadly it can encompass anyone you have ever had a romantic relationship with, in-laws, any familial connection, and even roommates.
That’s right getting into a scuffle with your roommate can land you in court facing a domestic violence charge in DC. Accordingly, its not the type of crime that dictates whether you face a domestic violence charge. What matters in deciding whether you get a DV charge is the relationship you have with the person alleging you committed a crime against them. The most common crimes charged in DV cases in DC are assault, threats, destruction of property, stalking, and theft.
Often times, the complainant in a domestic violence case will also simultaneously with pressing charges, file for a civil protection order against the defendant. A civil protection order is basically the same thing as a restraining order. It usually requires that the defendant have no contact with the complaining witness. In addition, during the arraignment process in a DV case, the judge will often impose as a pretrial condition an order that the defendant stay away from the complainant. It can be particularly difficult when these court orders are imposed when the parties live together. Because of the court order, the defendant may be required to move out of their home to avoid being found in contempt of court. It often also requires the defendant to get a police escort to collect their belongings upon moving out.
Evidence in Domestic Violence Cases
Because domestic violence offenses are prosecuted by a separate division within the United States Attorney’s Office, prosecutors will often treat these cases more aggressively than regular misdemeanors. In fact, often times in a domestic violence situation, the complaining witness may ultimately not wish to go forward. However, domestic violence prosecutors will often go forward in prosecuting these cases even when the complainant does not want to go forward. That means the prosecutors may seek a material witness warrant if the complainant doesn’t show up. That occurs when the government properly serves a subpoena on the witness and the witness fails to show up for the trial date. Judges may send out the United States Marshall Service to arrest the witness.
In other instances, the government may go forward in trying to prove their case at trial even without the complainant’s testimony. Normally, prosecutors cannot get what is called “hearsay” evidence into trial. Hearsay is basically a statement made out of court that the proponent tries to get in as evidence without having a live witness testify to the fact asserted in the statement. There are some exceptions to the rules of evidence that allow for hearsay statements to be admitted in trial. In domestic violence cases, the government may try to get those statements in through hearsay exceptions to prove their case even without the alleged victim’s testimony.
Penalties for Domestic Violence Offenses
Misdemeanor charges for domestic violence offenses all carry the same maximum penalty as if you were charged in normal criminal court. Most misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of 180 days and/or a $1,000.00 fine. However, the big difference is the more aggressive prosecutions in DV cases and the collateral consequences that can arise from a domestic violence charge. If you are charged with a felony offense involving someone you have an intra-family relationship with, the maximum penalties will be much higher. All felony offense in DC carry a maximum penalty greater than one year in prison. Common felony domestic violence offense include assault with significant bodily injury and felony threats.
Domestic violence offenses can also carry a number of collateral consequences. Arrest and/or conviction for a domestic violence charge can make it illegal under federal and DC law to possess a firearm. In addition, the general stigma of going through domestic violence court and having that charge on your record is also more serious than a normal misdemeanor criminal offense in DC. Having a domestic violence charge or conviction can cause problems for an individual’s security clearance as well.
Hiring a Domestic Violence Lawyer
Because these cases can be more serious than regular non-DV criminal offenses in DC, its important you find and hire a skilled and aggressive criminal defense and domestic violence attorney to represent you.