Police, prosecutors, and courts in the state of Washington deal with allegations of domestic violence very seriously. The state’s criminal statutes allow prosecution of alleged domestic violence under a variety of criminal charges. While many different types of conduct may fall under the broad category of “domestic violence” in popular perception, the law limits domestic violence charges to a specific set of alleged acts. Prosecutors may try to bring other conduct into evidence, but Washington law requires proof of specific acts that cause or threaten injury. The assistance of a Washington lawyer with experience in domestic violence charges is critical to mounting a defense.

Legal Definition of Domestic Violence

Washington law generally defines domestic violence as the infliction of harm or injury, or the threat of harm or injury, by a person against a family or household member. Domestic violence therefore contains two essential elements: an alleged criminal act involving actual or threatened harm, and an alleged victim with a family or household relationship to the defendant.

Criminal offenses that may constitute domestic violence, according to the Criminal Procedure Code, include assault, kidnapping, rape, burglary, and protective order violations, to name a few. Every alleged offense that could involve domestic violence has bodily injury or threatened bodily injury as a key element of the crime.

A family or household member may include current or former spouses, an adult with whom the defendant has a child, other adults related by blood or by marriage, and adults involved in current or previous dating relationships. The gender of both the defendant and the alleged victim is not mentioned in any of the statutes, and it is not supposed to be relevant to a domestic violence charge.

Other Definitions of Domestic Violence or Abuse

In an effort to prove a charge involving domestic violence, prosecutors often try to use evidence of other aspects of the defendant and the alleged victim’s relationship, or evidence of the defendant’s behavior towards other people. Whether or not this evidence is relevant to the criminal charge is a crucial question in every case. We work extensively to review any possible evidence that may come up in a case to ensure that prosecutors do not create confusion between legally-defined domestic violence and other conduct.

Prosecutors may attempt to present evidence of alleged emotional abuse, which may include insults, name-calling, or other verbal acts. However one may characterize such behavior, it is generally not directly relevant to a question of physical injury in a domestic violence prosecution. Alleged financial abuse, such as one person’s control over another person’s money or property, may come up in a domestic violence case. Evidence of a defendant’s alleged views regarding some characteristic of an alleged victim, such as gender, race, or sexual identity, may also appear. This sort of evidence frequently has a greater likelihood of prejudicing a jury against a defendant than of providing relevant information about an alleged offense. It is therefore important for a criminal defense attorney to work to exclude such evidence.

If you have been charged with a domestic violence-related criminal offense in Seattle, Bellevue, Lakewood, or elsewhere in Washington, an experienced domestic violence defense attorney can help. For more than 20 years, we have protected the rights of defendants in criminal cases throughout Washington. Contact us today online or at 888-212-4824 for a confidential case evaluation.