Representation for Domestic Violence Assault in the Fourth Degree

A domestic violence assault charge is a scary thing. It can also be a confusing and misleading charge, as there are several degrees of assault with varying definitions, severities, and penalties. While a fourth-degree assault charge is the least “severe” of them, it still comes with severe enough penalties, as well as a lasting mark on your criminal record that could affect you throughout your life, if not handled properly with the help of a domestic violence assault defense attorney.

What is considered assault in Washington State?

In Washington State, assault is legally considered as the intentional causing of bodily harm to another person or placing them in apprehension of imminent bodily harm. There are different degrees of assault, each with its own set of criteria:

  • Assault in the First Degree. Intentionally causing serious physical harm or using a deadly weapon.
  • Assault in the Second Degree. Intentionally causing substantial bodily harm, or assaulting someone with a deadly weapon.
  • Assault in the Third Degree. Recklessly causing substantial bodily harm or assaulting someone with a deadly weapon, or assaulting certain protected professions (like law enforcement officers).
  • Assault in the Fourth Degree. Any intentional harmful or offensive touching, or intentionally causing apprehension of harm. Assault in the fourth degree is considered when the unwanted and intentional harm does not meet the criteria for first-, second-, or third-degree assault.

While assault in the fourth degree is the least severe form of assault, it still comes with significant penalties, and is considered a gross misdemeanor.

When you harm or threaten to harm someone in your family, that is considered domestic violence assault in the fourth degree.

What are the penalties for domestic violence assault in the fourth degree?

According to Washington state law, someone who is guilty of a gross misdemeanor such as assault in the fourth degree can be penalized with up to 364 days in jail or a fine of up to $5000. In some cases, the court might decide on a combination of both imprisonment and a fine.

When it comes to domestic violence assault in the fourth degree, the court may decide on enhanced penalties, may order you to take domestic violence treatment programs, restrict your ability to contact or see your family (no contact order), and remove your rights to any firearms.

When can I be arrested for domestic assault in Washington state?

If the police are called to your home by someone who believes there is domestic violence happening, it takes very little for an arrest to be initiated. According to the Seattle Municipal Court,

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.

Because of the nature of the alleged crime, police are sensitive to making an arrest during these calls, as not doing so could be a deadly mistake. Unfortunately, that means that a simple argument between you and your spouse could be taken out of context, and you could find yourself in jail.

It is important to note that, in Washington State, domestic violence charges cannot be dropped by the person who filed them in the first place. Only the prosecutor can drop the charges.

Can I have my domestic violence charge vacated?

In Washington, as per RCW 9.96.060, you may be eligible to have your domestic violence conviction vacated (clear your name of the conviction) if certain conditions are met.

Key factors in vacating your domestic violence conviction include:

  • Eligibility. You can apply to the sentencing court to vacate your record of conviction for a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor offense related to domestic violence.
  • Conditions for eligibility. You generally cannot have the record vacated if:
    • You haven’t completed all the terms of the sentence.
    • There are pending criminal charges against you.
    • The offense was a violent offense, a DUI, certain sex offenses, or other specific offenses.
    • You have two or more domestic violence convictions stemming from different incidents.
    • Less than five years have passed since completing the terms of the original conditions of the sentence.
  • Application process. You need to apply to the sentencing court, and the court may, at its discretion, vacate the record if you meet the requirements.
  • Effect of vacating record. If the court vacates your record, you are released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense. You can legally state that you have never been convicted of that crime in certain situations.
  • Firearm rights. Vacating a domestic violence conviction does not automatically restore your firearm rights, but typically if you are eligible to vacate a domestic violence conviction, you may also be eligible to restore your firearm rights.
  • Notification. Once vacated, the court notifies law enforcement agencies, and the conviction should not be disclosed except to other criminal justice enforcement agencies.

There is a lot to consider when you are involved in a domestic violence charge. There are a lot of moving parts in the legal process, and it is easy for you to be penalized harshly. That is why it is important to have an experienced and knowledgeable domestic violence defense attorney on your side.

At Philbrook Law, we know the intricate ins and outs of the court system. We also understand that this is a stressful and emotionally traumatic time for you and your family. We will ensure that your case is handled with fairness and diligence. If you have been charged with domestic violence assault in the fourth degree, give us a call at our offices in Battle Ground and Vancouver, WA, or use our contact form. We also serve clients throughout Oregon.