Domestic Assault: Is it a Misdemeanor or a Felony?

Domestic violence is taken seriously by society and the law alike. But how it’s classified, and consequently prosecuted, can vary from one state to the next. If you’ve been accused of domestic assault, you need to know the law, and a good domestic violence attorney to mount an effective defense.

How Washington State Classifies Domestic Assault

Similar to other crimes, domestic violence is not a single offense, but a series of them. There’s an extensive list of persons and definitions under state law, including RCW 26.50.010 and RCW 10.99.020. A domestic violence charge looks at the circumstances, the severity of the accusation, and the accused’s past conduct. Here’s a closer look at the typical sequence of events surrounding a domestic violence charge.

Mandatory Arrest for Domestic Assault

Vancouver requires police to arrest someone if there’s probable cause that they’ve committed an act of domestic assault. Probable cause is a low standard of evidence. It can result in an individual taken into custody even in cases where the facts of an accusation are open to dispute or a witness contradicts the charge. Following the arrest, authorities may issue a No Contact Order, which stops communication between the victim and the accused.

Charges for Domestic Assault


A fourth-degree domestic assault includes violations such as unwanted touching, the threat of violence, or violent contact. Fourth-degree domestic violence is a gross misdemeanor if the accused is guilty of two or more prior domestic violence offenses the charge is a felony. Previous domestic violence crimes can include first through third-degree offenses such as harassment, assault, and comparable out-of-state charges.


A second-degree domestic assault charge arises in cases with a serious but non-permanent injury. These offenses may be charged alongside other applicable offenses. Because choking is a felony offense, any offense that includes choking (or the mere placement of hands in the vicinity of the throat) is a second-degree domestic violence case.

Consequences of Prosecution: Why Hire a Domestic Assault Defense Attorney?

A prosecutor can bring up domestic violence charges in Washington, even if a victim recants. If a victim accuses someone of domestic violence to gain leverage in a divorce or custody dispute, a prosecutor can use this statement even if the victim withdraws their statement. A domestic violence charge of any degree can damage your reputation and future employment prospects, but you could also face charges such as these:

For Domestic Violence Assault in the 4th Degree

  • Up to 364 days in jail
  • A fine up to $5,000
  • Possible loss of firearm ownership rights
  • Potential home detention (house arrest)
  • Anger management or domestic violence counseling, as may substance abuse counseling where applicable
  • Issue a no-contact or victim protection order

For Domestic Violence Assault in the 2nd Degree

  • Loss of gun rights
  • A prison sentence up to ten years
  • A $20,000 fine
  • A “strike” on your criminal record

With so much at stake, it’s imperative to have an experienced defense lawyer working on your behalf. We’ll look at your history and the circumstances leading up to the incident in detail. We’ll also be combing through the police report for inconsistencies and inaccurate information. If you’re facing domestic violence charges in Vancouver, WA, get in touch with Philbrook Law immediately.