No Contact Orders
Because of the likelihood of repeated violence directed at those who have been victims of domestic violence in the past, when any person charged with or arrested for a crime involving domestic violence is released from custody before arraignment or trial on bail or personal recognizance, the court authorizing the release may prohibit that person from having any contact with the victim. —
Although the key word here is “may” the practical effect is “will.”
Domestic violence is a catch-all for all wrongs – violent or otherwise – committed against a “family or household member ” which is further defined as “spouses, former spouses, persons who have a child in common regardless of whether they have been married or have lived together at any time, adult persons related by blood or marriage, adult persons who are presently residing together or who have resided together in the past, persons sixteen years of age or older who are presently residing together or who have resided together in the past and who have or have had a dating relationship, persons sixteen years of age or older with whom a person sixteen years of age or older has or has had a dating relationship, and persons who have a biological or legal parent-child relationship, including stepparents and stepchildren and grandparents and grandchildren.” RCW 10.99.020
This means individuals who have stayed a week under the same roof or had a brief open and uncommitted sexual relationship could subsequently fall under the DV enhancement. And this is not just theoretically possible, but a daily reality for those accused of these crimes.
Despite the heavy penalties for those who are convicted of DV crimes, the vast majority of convictions are not violent and take the form of No Contact Order Violations, often initiated by the party who the court has elected to protect. Although it is not uncommon for these persons to argue that they don’t want nor require any protection, Washington’s courts – bending to politically popular theories of the psychology of victimhood – nevertheless routinely impose these restrictions over the objection of the alleged victim on the theory that the victim is so dominated and controlled by the accused that they can’t make honest decisions which reflect their best interest. Nevermind that many if not most alleged victims of domestic violence have themselves been convicted of DV crimes.
WHAT BEING CHARGED WITH A DV CRIME & LIVING WITH A NCO MEANS FOR YOU
Forget conviction, just being charged with domestic violence is a horrendous experience.
Even though you have not even been convicted of anything yet, expect to lose your house because the No Contact Order will prohibit you from coming within a certain number of feet of the protected party’s residence.
Parental and childcare duties will also be disrupted because unless third party contact is authorized by the order, any steps you take to fulfill your responsibility as a mom or dad can land you in jail for up to 364 days.
Bills will also go unpaid unless you have a shared bank account because mailing a check to the protected party would be a no contact order violation. Too many people get charged for seemingly innocent technical violations like this.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
Your options depend largely on the culture of the Court in which you are charged. For example, it is very uncommon in Thurston County District or Superior Court to get a no contact order lifted unless the prohibited party first gets a domestic violence evaluation (which the government will not pay for) and unless the protected party has appeared before the court requesting the order to be lifted. Even then, it is still difficult as the prosecutors are likely to object. Judges in Thurston County often explain that the purpose of an NCO is two fold: to protect the individual & to protect the case (meaning, prevent witness tampering – a felony).
Nevertheless, with progress and skilled advocacy, modifications and removal of NCOs are possible.
By contrast, the culture of other courts is very different. In Tacoma Municipal, for example, there is an expressed understanding that domestic relations are complex. In courts like these, alleged victims are encouraged to watch videos on domestic violence or develop what is called a “safety plan” before the Court is willing to take action. It is not uncommon for these jurisdictions to grant “non-hostile contact” even before the case is resolved.
In either jurisdiction, those with private council are more likely to get a speedy removal or modification of the No Contact Order. This is because many public defenders consider modification/removal of NCOs to be outside the scope of their already taxed representation. Also, hiring private counsel often signals to the court that the Defendant is taking these proceedings seriously and overall is a more stable person.
CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATOR
The automatic blanket issuing of Domestic Violence No Contact Orders merely in response to filing a charge destroys families, drives a disproportionately low-income population deeper into poverty, and needlessly wastes precious tax revenue. If a domestic violence evaluation (sometimes called a batter’s assessment) is a pre-requisite for courts lifting these orders, State funds need to be made available to allow the indigent to be evaluated. Too often, the alternative for those persons who can’t afford the evaluation is homelessness or to violate the order.