Why won’t the Prosecutor drop a no contact order if I just ask, so my husband or wife can come home? I don’t want to press charges.

If the police get called to your home for suspected or alleged Domestic Violence, and end up removing someone from the home (arresting them), a Domestic Violence charge is usually filed against one or both people involved. Under the so called “four-hour rule” found in RCW 10.31.100(2)(c), if the police arrive within four hours of the 911 call made by one of the arguing people, a neighbor, a relative hearing it over the phone, they must arrest at least one person, but occasionally they arrest both ‘halves’ of the couple.  Assuming no weapon was used, and there was no serious bodily injury, or other aggravating factor this would usually be filed as a non-felony assault (Assault 4 DV).  That is a gross (major) misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of 364 days in jail and a $5000 fine.  (Note that the Washington RCW’s for the various degrees of assault, felony and misdemeanor, can be found at: RCW 9A.36 Assault – Physical Harm.)

At the defendant’s first appearance in court, which is most often their arraignment, various conditions of release will be imposed by the judge.  These will include, among numerous possibilities, showing up for all future court dates, keeping the court notified of any change of address, no further criminal law violations, the dreaded No-Contact Order (“NCO”).  That is a pretrial NCO which will last until either the court lifts it at the victim’s request (Protected Person’s Motion to Terminate NCO) or until the disposition (end) of the case via plea and sentencing or acquittal at trial.  However, if the person is found guilty, whether, by plea or verdict, a 5-year NCO will enter from the date of sentencing, for five full years.  This is clearly excessive and unnecessary in most, but not all, cases.  A good attorney is often needed to get this dropped or shortened.

In the past, approximately 30 years ago the victim could say they don’t want to press charges, or was unwilling to testify; nowadays this will not stop prosecution or get the NCO order lifted. Even if the alleged victim wants to testify that they were wrong, or even freely admits that they lied; the prosecution and the court (judge) will often give greater weight to statements record closer in time to the event (see: (a)(2) at Exceptions to Hearsay rule) and can convict based on statements made by someone who is in court saying they weren’t true!  A terrific treatise (14 pages) on this subject, written by City of Vancouver Prosecutor Kevin J. McClure in 2006, “Evidence – Using the rules of evidence to prove a domestic violence case,” can be found online at Evidence

The victim now technically includes not only the actual person victim but “The People of the State of Washington”, and all criminal complaints in this state will cite both the RCW allegedly violated, as well as that the criminal act was committed “against the peace and dignity of the people of the State of Washington,” or “against the peace and dignity of the City of Kirkland/Marysville/Everett,” etc.  Therefore it is no longer possible for the alleged victim to simply say they don’t want to press charges like in old TV shows.

In the past, the couple could reconcile and quickly get back together, however, some couples just can’t seem to get along, and the police would tire of being repeatedly called to the same house to deal with the same situation over and over disturbing the neighborhood.  So nowadays, in the name of keeping the peace, NCO’s are issued en masse by the courts, and the prosecutors usually fight getting them lifted very hard; even if it’s the first time the police ever came to your house, or if the NCO was issued on weak or questionable information.

Violating an NCO will trigger a new, serious additional criminal charge, violating also the conditions of release of the original charge, even if the victim invites the defendant to break the order, the victim is simply not allowed to decide that anymore. Moreover, only the defendant is punished for violating the NCO, so be careful.  Judges don’t like it when you violate orders they specifically gave to YOU to protect the safety of an alleged victim.