Domestic violence in the District of Columbia is known as “intrafamily violence.” It is any criminal offense, such as an assault, committed or threatened to be committed against a person to whom the offender is related by blood, adoption, legal custody, marriage, or domestic partnership. The definition also includes situations where the offender and victim have a child in common. District of Columbia residents who are victims of intrafamily violence can obtain civil protective orders. The law also places certain duties upon law enforcement investigating allegations of intrafamily violence.
(D.C. Code § 16-1001)
Law Enforcement Duties
An officer is required by law to make an arrest wherever the officer has probable cause to believe that a person committed an intrafamily violence offense that resulted in physical injury, physical pain, or illness, regardless of whether the offense was committed in the officer’s presence. ("Probable cause" means that sufficient facts are known to the officer to enable him to conclude that the law was broken--evidence that amounts to more than a suspicion, but not as much evidence as would be required for a conviction.)
The law also requires an officer to make an arrest where the officer has probable cause to believe that an intrafamily violence offense was committed that caused or was intended to cause reasonable fear of imminent serious physical injury or death.
Officers also must make written reports of investigations of intrafamily violence offenses. The reports must be submitted to and maintained by the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police force.
(D.C. Code § 16-1031)
District of Columbia law provides temporary and final protective orders to persons claiming to be victims of intrafamily violence. The orders can contain a variety of provisions affecting the conduct of the parties, the disposition of property, and child custody and visitation.
Temporary protective orders
A judge may issue a temporary protective order where the judge finds that the safety or welfare of the petitioner (that is, the person seeking protection) or a household member is immediately endangered by the respondent (the person from whom the petitioner seeks protection). The temporary protective order may be issued ex parte (that is, without the respondent’s presence or input), but the order may not last longer than 14 days, except that the court may extend the temporary protective order if necessary to conduct a hearing on the petition.
(D.C. Code § 16-1004)
The hearing and final order
The judge will conduct a hearing where both the petitioner and respondent are present, in order to decide whether the respondent committed or threatened to commit a criminal offense against the petitioner (or against the petitioner’s animal or an animal in the petitioner’s home). The judge may issue a final protective order with any combination of the following provisions:
- prohibit the respondent from committing or threatening to commit crimes against the petitioner and other protected persons
- prohibit the respondent from having any contact with the petitioner or other protected persons
- require the respondent to participate in psychiatric or medical treatment or counseling
- require the respondent to vacate or refrain from entering a dwelling that is marital property or property that is owned, leased or rented and occupied by both parties (joint occupancy is not required if the respondent’s actions caused the petitioner to vacate the property), or property that is owned, leased or rented by the petitioner individually or jointly with another person other than the respondent
- direct the respondent to relinquish possession or use of property jointly owned with the petitioner or property owned by the petitioner individually
- award temporary custody of the parties’ minor children and provide visitation rights with restrictions necessary to protect the petitioner
- award costs and attorney fees
- order the Metropolitan Police Department to take certain actions to enforce the court’s orders
- require the respondent to relinquish possession of any firearms
- award care, control, and custody of a domestic animal that belongs to either party or lives in the household, and
- order the respondent to perform or refrain from other actions that the judge deems necessary to resolve the dispute between the parties.
A final protective order can remain in effect for up to one year. Either side may ask the court to modify, extend, or rescind it during that time.
(D.C. Code § 16-1005)
Violating a protective order
Any person who violates a temporary or final protective order can be fined up to $1,000, sentenced to 180 days in jail, or both.
Child Custody & Visitation
As explained above, judges can award temporary custody of minor children to other persons, and restrict visitation rights. But what if the abusive parent asks the court for custody or visitation rights? Judges can agree if they decide, by a “preponderance of the evidence,” that this parent committed an intrafamily violence offense. (A preponderance of the evidence is a “more likely than not” standard, which is not as high as the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.) But judges must explain these decisions in writing, stating the facts and the conclusions they drew from them that support their orders.
When judges grant visitation rights sought by abusive parents, they must also state their reasons for concluding that the child and custodial parent can be protected from harm from the abusive parent. The parent who committed intrafamily violence must prove that visitation will not harm the child or significantly impair the child’s emotional development.
(D.C. Code § 16-1005)
Consult With a Lawyer
Allegations of intrafamily violence can result in criminal charges as well as affect your parental rights. If you face allegations of intrafamily violence in the District of Colmbia, it is important that you speak with an attorney experienced in handling such matters. A skilled lawyer will protect your rights and guide you throughout the legal process. A skilled lawyer can evaluate your case, seek dismissal or a negotiated resolution, and represent you in front of a jury if your case proceeds to trial.