Virginia Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is a grave criminal charge in Virginia. A conviction for a domestic violence-related offense can result in fines, jail time, and other adverse repercussions having to do with background checks, possessing firearms, security clearances and immigration status changes. Because even innocent people can be falsely accused of domestic violence and end up being arrested or charged with a crime, it is imperative that you consult a Virginia domestic violence lawyer as soon as you find yourself faced with any kind of allegation related to domestic violence. An experienced criminal defense attorney knows how the police, prosecutors and judges handle domestic violence cases and can help you clear your name and possibly prevent a life-altering criminal conviction.
Virginia Domestic Violence Laws
While most people think of domestic violence as a physical assault against a spouse or live-in partner, Virginia domestic violence laws extend much further than that. Va. Code § 16.1-228 defines “family abuse” as any behavior involving force, violence, or threat that results in physical injury to a family or household member or places that person in reasonable fear of bodily injury, sexual assault or death. That means anyone accused of committing family abuse can face criminal charges so long as there is reasonable cause to believe that the defendant intended to harm a family or household member, regardless of whether there was any physical injury or actual contact. Under Virginia law, a family or household member includes:
- The defendant’s current or former spouse, whether the two currently live together or not,
- Any person who has a child in common with the defendant, regardless of whether the two have been married or lived together in the past,
- The defendant’s children, parents, brothers, sisters, stepparents, stepchildren, half-brothers, half-sisters, grandparents, and grandchildren, whether living in the same residence or not,
- The defendant’s mother-in-law, father-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law sons-in-law, and daughters-in-law who live in the same residence as the defendant, or
- Any person who is currently living with or who previously lived with the defendant, and any children of either of them residing in the same home as the defendant.
Discretionary Arrest of the Predominant Physical Aggressor
Domestic violence claims are taken very seriously in Virginia and every effort is made to guarantee a domestic violence victim’s safety and security. Any time the police respond to a domestic disturbance call, Va. Code § 19.2-81.3 gives the officers discretionary authority to make an arrest without a warrant, provided that there is credible reason or evidence indicating that the accused has committed an act of domestic violence. In almost all cases, the person believed to be the predominant physical aggressor will be arrested and taken into custody. Upon being arrested for domestic violence, you can expect aggressive prosecution if there is sufficient evidence that you committed the crime, even if the alleged victim fails to cooperate or wishes to have the charges against you dropped.
Penalties for Domestic Violence in Virginia
The most common domestic violence-related crimes in Virginia are assault and battery against a family or household member. A battery refers to any unwanted, harmful, or offensive touching (not necessarily involving visible injuries) done in a rude and angry manner while assault involves a threat to commit a battery or attempting to commit battery. If you have been accused of assault and battery against a family or household member, you could be found guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor (Va. Code § 18.2-57.2) and face up to one year in jail, up to $2,500 in fines, or both. However, if you have previously convicted of two family abuse-related offenses against a family or household member within a period of 20 years, you may be charged with a Class 6 felony for the new offense, punishable by imprisonment for a term not less than 12 months nor more than five years (Va. Code § 18.2-10 (f)).
Domestic Violence Protective Orders in Virginia
Any family or household member who levels a family abuse complaint against you may petition the court for a protective order. A protective order is a court order intended to stop violent behavior and keep the alleged offender (the respondent) away from the victim (the petitioner). The state of Virginia has three distinct kinds of domestic violence protective orders:
- Emergency protective order – expires the next day court is in session or at the end of the third day following issuance, whichever is later (Va. Code § 16.1-253.4)
- Preliminary protective order – may last 15 days or until a full hearing (Va. Code § 16.1-253.1(B))
- Full Protective order – can remain in effect for two years (Va. Code § 16.1-279.1)
Depending on the type of domestic violence protective order issued against you, you may be required to leave your residence (regardless of who owns the home), refrain from abusing the petitioner further and avoid any contact with the petitioner. The order may also grant the petitioner exclusive temporary possession or use of a shared vehicle, order you to participate in treatment or counseling, grant the petitioner temporary custody or visitation of a minor child, and require you to pay temporary child support.
Hire a Skilled Domestic Violence Attorney in Virginia
Being accused of a family abuse crime in Virginia can be frustrating and confusing, but you don’t have to face these accusations alone. In fact, we highly recommend retaining the services of a skilled Virginia domestic violence defense attorney the moment you are arrested or accused of abuse in a protective order. Domestic violence crimes are serious offenses and a conviction on charges of assault and battery against a family or household member can adversely affect your personal and professional life for years to come. Even false allegations of family abuse can affect your family relationships and your reputation in the community, not to mention any ongoing divorce or child custody proceedings. A criminal defense attorney with extensive experience handling Virginia domestic violence cases will be familiar with the court procedure and can protect your legal rights and represent your best interests throughout the duration of your criminal case.