As the ongoing pandemic rages across the world, people in every state in the United States are required, or have been required, to stay home as much as possible to slow the spread of the deadly Coronavirus. Being confined in the home has posed a litany of added stressors, including financial problems and mental health deterioration’s.
The additional problems and sources of stress, as well as the nature of being home far more than people are used to, have contributed to a subsequent rise in domestic violence (DV). Police have seen varying degrees of increases in DV calls across the nation, some as high as 20%. This trend is no different in the DMV. DC law enforcement has spoken about the fear of a rise in DV during the lockdown since March, and national trends seem to affirm that concern.
DC Domestic Violence Laws
The District of Columbia Criminal Code details what would constitute an arrest for DV as follows:
“A law enforcement officer shall arrest a person if the law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that the person: committed an intrafamily offense that resulted in physical injury, including physical pain or illness, regardless of whether or not the intrafamily offense was committed in the presence of the law enforcement officer”.
The term “intrafamily” refers to a domestic partner, which can be defined as “a spouse, lover, sibling, parent, child, or roommate”. The aforementioned definition of DV in DC would constitute simple assault, which is defined as “a misdemeanor offense involving either the threat of force or the actual use of force”.
Standard of Proof for DV Simple Assault
As with any criminal case, the government must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In the case of a DV simple assault case, the government must prove the following three elements:
- Either that the defendant intended to use force or violence against the other person or that he/she intended to put that person in fear of immediate injury.
- That the defendant’s actions were intentional and not the result of a mistake or accident.
- That at the time of the alleged incident, the defendant had the “apparent ability” to injure the other person.
Potential Punishments if Convicted
The maximum penalties for sentences for DV cases are the same as other simple assault cases, 180 days in jail and/or $1000 fine. However, judges typically sentence DV cases harsher due to their proclivity to reoccur. As with other cases, the Court will view a variety of factors when determining sentencing. Notably, however, many diversion options typically available to first-time offenders are not available in DV cases.
There may be an option of a Deferred Sentencing Agreement (DSA) which would entail the defendant entering a guilty plea, and then being given a particular amount of time to complete a set of requirements, which may include anger management training, mental health evaluations, or completion of a Domestic Violence Intervention Program.