Domestic Violence Court

A dedicated Domestic Violence court allows judges to ensure follow-through, aid domestic violence victims, and hold offenders accountable, with the assistance of justice partners and social service agencies.

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence offenses are any criminal act committed by one "family or household member" against another.

A "family or household member" includes:

  • Persons who are currently or have been married or resided together.
  • Persons who are currently or have been in a dating relationship (both parties must be at least sixteen years of age).
  • Persons who have a child together.
  • Parent/child, step-parent/step-child relationships, and grandparent/grandchild (including step-grandparents) and siblings.

Seattle Municipal Court hears misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor domestic violence offenses.

Offenses include:

  • Assault
  • Property destruction
  • Harassment and telephone harassment
  • Intimidation with a weapon
  • Reckless endangerment
  • Violation of no contact or domestic violence protection orders

Felony domestic violence offenses occurring in King County, such as a no contact order violation involving an assault, a third violation of a no contact order, assault with a deadly weapon, or even murder, are heard in King County Superior Court. Felony domestic violence offenses are punishable by more than one year in jail.

What Happens in Cases of Domestic Violence

Mandatory Arrest

The law requires a police officer responding to a domestic violence incident to make an arrest if the officer has probable cause to believe that a domestic violence offense was committed within four hours prior. If the officer determines that assault is involved, they will arrest only the person they believe to be the primary aggressor. State law also requires mandatory arrest for violations of no contact orders and civil protection orders.

A person arrested for a domestic violence offense will usually be held in jail until they appear before a judge, usually the following day. The court may require a no contact order as a condition of release from jail prior to trial.

No Contact Order

A no contact order prohibits a defendant from contacting a protected party after their arrest or conviction for a domestic violence offense. This order also includes contact by phone, through writing or through a third party. After an order has been issued, only the court has the authority to remove it.

Prior to conviction, Probation Counselors will attempt to contact the victim to see if they want a no contact order to be issued. The court is authorized to issue a no contact order without the request or permission of the protected party. Violation of a no contact order NOT involving assault is a gross misdemeanor offense. Violation of a no contact order involving assault or reckless endangerment may be filed as a felony offense. A third conviction for violation of a no contact order may also be filed as a felony offense.

Pressing or Dropping Charges

A police officer responding to a domestic violence incident must complete a police report even if no arrest occurs. The Seattle City Attorney's Office will review the police report to decide if charges should be filed.

If charges are filed, only the prosecutor has the authority to drop them. A judge must approve the prosecutor's request to dismiss a case. The victim is a witness and has no authority to drop charges even if they refuse to testify.

If charges are not filed, the victim will be notified of that decision.

Interfering with Reporting Domestic Violence

A person who commits a domestic violence offense may be charged with a separate crime of interfering if that person prevents or attempts to prevent a victim or witness from calling 911, obtaining medical assistance, or making a report to any law enforcement official. Interfering with reporting is a gross misdemeanor crime.

For Individuals Accused or Convicted of Domestic Violence

Individuals convicted of domestic violence offenses are usually placed on supervised probation for two years. Seattle Municipal Court Probation Services has a specialized Domestic Violence Unit. Probation Counselors monitor the completion of court ordered treatment programs or counseling. Domestic violence probationers must report in-person each month until compliance with treatment is well established. The judge may also order domestic violence treatment, alcohol or drug counseling, parenting classes or sexual deviancy treatment.