Frequently Asked Questions About Domestic Violence in DC

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.  Let’s look at what exactly domestic violence is, how is it charged in the District of Columbia, and what penalties are included in a domestic violence conviction.

What is the legal definition of domestic violence in DC?

Domestic violence is a specific type of assault and considered an “intrafamily” crime in Washington DC.  Intrafamily does not necessarily mean that the parties are related.  An intrafamily offense consists of three categories: interpersonal, intimate partner, or intrafamily violence.  The offenses can be committed between immediate and/or extended family members, non-married, intimate partners, non-blood relatives, and even totally unrelated people who share an interpersonal connection, like roommates.

What constitutes an intrafamily relationship?

An act is considered domestic violence when one of the following people commits or threatens to commit an assault against you:

  • A person you are married to
  • A person you were married to
  • A person in which you are in a domestic partnership
  • Someone you are dating or with whom you’ve had or are having a romantic relationship
  • A person with whom you’re having a sexual relationship, even casually
  • A person with whom you have a child in common
  • Someone with whom you share a home, even if you are not related
  • Someone who is currently or was in the past in an intimate relationship with a person that you also are or were in a relationship with. For instance, you are dating a man and his ex-girlfriend or ex-wife assaults you.

What acts or crimes are considered to be domestic violence in DC?

In the District of Columbia even a single instance, or the threat of a crime, can be considered an act of domestic violence.  The following acts, or threatened acts, can fall under the definition of a domestic violence offense:

  • Assault
  • Sexual assault/rape
  • Stalking
  • Spousal abuse
  • Cruelty to children
  • Kidnapping
  • Trespassing
  • Coercion
  • Violence towards a roommate
  • Possession of a prohibited weapon
  • Destruction of property
  • Threats

Is domestic violence a felony or misdemeanor charge?

Most domestic violence cases are considered misdemeanors and if found guilty, the defendant will usually face a maximum penalty of up to 180 days in jail.  But, more serious cases, including assault with a weapon, assault with significant bodily injury, and excessive property damage, they may be charged as a felony.  In either case, it is important to consult with and be represented by an attorney with knowledge and experience in DC Domestic Violence court.

A domestic violence conviction is serious and may affect other areas of your life.  It can affect employment since you will now have a criminal record.  Besides imprisonment and fines, you may also:

  • Lose custody of your children and/or your parental rights
  • Have to have supervised visitation with your children
  • Attend anger management or other court mandated programs
  • Submit to drug testing
  • Lose the right to own a firearm
  • Lose your voting rights
  • Be served with a protective order

Can the victim stop an arrest or have the charges dropped?

In DC, it is up to the prosecutor at the United States Attorney’s Office, not the accuser, as to whether the criminal charge will go forward or will be dropped.  The victim of domestic violence has no power to drop the charges.  Both prosecutors and law enforcement are working hard to deter domestic violence in Washington DC, so it is unlikely that charges will be dropped.  In addition, when the police are called, an officer is required, by law, to make an arrest if the responding officer witnesses, first-hand, or reasonably believes that the domestic violence act occurred with the intention of causing fear or harm.  Even if the accuser or victim objects, the police are required to make the arrest.

Domestic violence allegations and charges are serious and may affect many areas of your life both now and into the future.  If you are arrested and charged with domestic violence, it is important to get expert advice from an experienced domestic violence attorney. Contact Jay P. Myktyiuk today for a consultation at 202.505.6014 to discuss your case.

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