A domestic violence charge is a serious matter in Virginia with penalties that may include fines and jail time. The term “domestic violence” encompasses many different types of offenses such as assault and battery, and an individual may be charged with domestic violence even if the conflict was started by someone else in the family. Here is what you need to know about domestic violence crimes in Virginia and how you can fight back if you believe you have been falsely accused of domestic violence.

Is Domestic Violence a Felony in Virginia?

Domestic violence is the offense of using physical force, violence or threatening to harm a family member. Even if no physical injury is present, a victim whose physical well-being is threatened by the menacing behavior of a family member can accuse that person of domestic violence.

Many crimes other than assault and battery, such as stalking, may be considered domestic violence if it involves a family or household member as defined in Virginia Code § 16.1-288. A first domestic violence offense of assault and battery under Virginia code § 18.2-57.2 is a Class 1 misdemeanor. However, if there are two prior convictions for certain domestic violence offenses within 20 years any new assault and battery charge is a Class 6 Felony.

Can an Officer Make an Arrest for Domestic Violence Even Without a Warrant?

While most arrests require a warrant, Virginia laws make an exception for domestic violence calls. In this case, the police will almost always make an arrest whenever they have enough probable cause to believe that a person has committed a domestic violence offense. This also applies to someone accused of stalking or violating a protective order.

The law goes on to say that an officer may make an arrest for an alleged violation regardless of whether that violation happened in his presence or not. An officer can make the arrest simply based on his own observations and on witness reports that provide enough probable cause to take the main physical aggressor into custody. However, many times if the officer cannot determine who is the main physical aggressor they will arrest both parties if there is probable cause to believe each committed a domestic violence offense against the other.

What Are the Penalties for Domestic Violence Crimes in Virginia?

As explained above, domestic violence crimes can be either a class 1 misdemeanor or a class 6 felony. For those convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor, the penalties may include a $2500 fine and up to 12 months in jail. Class 1 misdemeanors also include stalking and violating a protective order. In most cases, in addition to being arrested and charged, an alleged aggressor will also have a temporary protective order issued against him or her.

Those who committed a third domestic violence offense within 20 years will be charged with a class 6 felony and required to serve one to five years in prison and pay a fine of up to $2500. Some cases may have aggravating factors that may result in penalty enhancements. A jury will likely prescribe harsher penalties for defendants with a record of having committed similar crimes in the past and for crimes that involved a higher degree of violence. In other words, the bigger the damage done to the victim, the more severe the penalties may be.

How Can an Attorney Help Me if I Am Being Charged With Domestic Violence?

If you have been charged with domestic violence, it is essential to get the help of an attorney as early as possible. A charge does not automatically mean you will be convicted, but there is a lot at stake. You are looking at the possibility of having a criminal record that may not only affect your life in the future (in situations such as finding a job or applying for rental housing), but it may weigh heavily against you in an ongoing or future child custody case.

An attorney can work with you to try and get charges dropped or de-escalated. He or she can start by questioning the circumstances of your arrest and may even argue you were acting in self-defense. Another possible defense strategy is to demonstrate that your use of force was in defense of someone else (and thus still falls into the self-defense category) and was only meant to protect that person from the threat of physical harm.

A good domestic violence attorney will know how to navigate the laws and question the evidence prosecutors are presenting against you. The prosecution carries the burden of proof and must have evidence that can help prove their accusation against you beyond a reasonable doubt. If a lawyer is successful at questioning the validity of the evidence, there may be a chance that charges will be dropped due to insufficient proof. Every case is different and no results are guaranteed, but hiring an attorney can give you a better fighting chance than simply giving in to the prosecution and pleading guilty.

Attorney Seth. C. Weston has helped many clients accused of domestic violence to negotiate a lesser penalty or have their charges dismissed when possible. If you are being charged with domestic violence, it is best not to wait and get in touch sooner than later. Contact us for a confidential case evaluation to learn your options.