For nearly fifteen years, James Abrenio has handled Virginia Domestic Assault cases across Northern Virginia. Having tried many of these cases before judges and juries, James has learned a lot about how these cases work. In this article, we’ve provided answers to some of the most common questions we hear from clients.
What is Domestic Assault in Virginia?
Virginia’s Domestic Assault statute is Va Code Section 18.2-57.2. In Virginia, you are guilty of domestic assault when:
1) The alleged victim is a spouse, former spouse, parent of a mutual child, household or family member; and
2) You either
- willfully touched the complainant, without legal justification, in a angry, rude, or vengeful manner; or
- you committed an overt act intended to harm the complainant with the ability to do so; or
- you committed an overt act meaning to place the complainant in fear of harm and that person was placed in fear of harm.
There are two things to think about based upon the above. First, you don’t have to hurt someone to be guilty of domestic assault. Merely touching someone in an inappropriate way may be enough. That means a push, shove, slap, or grab can be a domestic assault.
Second, you don’t even have to touch someone to be guilty. You may be guilty if you made movement towards a person intending to place them in fear. For example, throwing an object at someone, and not hitting them, may be sufficient.
What are the Consequences of a Domestic Assault Conviction in Virginia?
In Virginia, a domestic assault is a Class I Misdemeanor. A Class I Misdemeanor is any offense for which you can be incarcerated for a period of up to twelve (12) months, receive a fine of up to $2,500.00, or both. While these are maximums, the actual jail time and fine you receive depends on the underlying facts of your case. This will include your criminal record, the allegations against you, and other variables.
A domestic assault conviction carries additional consequences. If convicted, under federal law, you cannot own a firearm. Individuals in law enforcement, security, or military will clearly have serious issues if convicted.
A conviction will limit the contact you can have with the alleged victim for up to two years. Depending upon the circumstances, the prohibited contact may be no “assaultive or harassing” contact. In other instances, you can’t contact the victim at all. Consider how complex this can be for parents with children.
A conviction also requires probation, generally one to two years. During that time, you must avoid further violations of law. You must also complete a domestic violence course and, often, a domestic violence assessment that may require additional courses.
If you are not a US citizen, a domestic assault may have serious immigration consequences. If you have a security clearance, such a conviction may also cause issues. Finally, domestic assault carries with it the added stigma attached to such a charge. These consequences are not exhaustive and additional, unforeseen consequences may occur.
If this is your first domestic assault charge, the court may give you a “deferred finding.” This is permitted by Virginia statute under Code Section 18.2-57.3. A deferred finding is when you acknowledge sufficient evidence of your guilt, and the court finds the same. But it withholds an actual conviction for a period of time (usually two years). During that time, you will have to follow various conditions. These conditions include probation, a bar from possessing firearms, classes, and limited (or no) contact with the victim. If you comply with the court’s requirements, the charge will be dismissed.
In some cases, a deferred finding is very favorable. For instance, if you have a high risk of losing at trial, a deferred finding provides a path to avoid conviction.
Sometimes, a deferred finding is a poor outcome. First, as the law stands today, you cannot have a deferred finding expunged from your record. That means that the record of your arrest will always be maintained by law enforcement. Second, if you violated your conditions, you will be convicted. Third, a deferred finding may have collateral consequences. For non-US citizens, a deferred finding may affect their ability to stay in the US.
When determining whether to accept a deferred finding, at Abrenio Law, we urge you to hire an attorney. That way, you can receive specific advice about your case. It’s a big decision and, in our view, it must not be made alone.
In Virginia, the Commonwealth Attorney (CA) prosecutes domestic assault charges. Further, the CA represents the entire community. Given this relationship, they often disagree with their alleged victims. In some instances, the CA will force prosecutions over the alleged victims wishes.
To understand why, you must understand the unique nature of domestic violence. Domestic violence is a very serious matter. Domestic assault charges clog the Virginia court system. CAs deal with these charges daily. Their concern is that an accused has forced the alleged victim not to seek a prosecution through threatened or actual violence. However, in too many cases, we see CAs choose to prosecute cases simply because they believe they can win at trial. Regardless of whether it’s in the best interests of the alleged victim.
To win, often, the Commonwealth Attorney compels an alleged victim to testify by threat of contempt of court. Unfortunately, they compel testimony against the victim’s will. (For more information on the rights of alleged victims, check out our article here).
In cases in which the CA cannot force the alleged victim to testify, they will use other evidence to prove guilt. This happens most often when the accused made statements about the assault. Where an accused “confessed” to the assault, the CA needs only “slight corroboration,” for a judge or jury to convict. Therefore, you should tell your attorney what you said to police. (To learn more about why statements to law enforcement matter, click here).
Still have questions?
Virginia Domestic Assault Charges are very serious and complex. So, make sure to check out our Domestic Assault page for more useful articles and videos. Then give us a call at Ph. 703-570-4180 for your Free Consultation.