West Virginia Domestic Violence Laws

Learn how West Virginia law defines and punishes domestic violence crimes.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated April 17, 2024

In West Virginia, acts of domestic abuse or violence can result in mandatory arrests, criminal charges, protective orders, jail time, fines, and firearm restrictions.

What Is Domestic Violence in West Virginia?

West Virginia defines "domestic violence" as physical harm, attempted or threatened harm, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, or unlawful restraint by or against a "family or household member."

The law broadly defines family or household members to include:

  • current and former spouses
  • current and former dating, sexual, or intimate partners
  • current and former co-residents
  • persons who share a child, and
  • persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption

West Virginia's laws seek to both prevent and punish acts of domestic violence, through arrest and bail policies, protective orders, and criminal penalties for acts of abuse.

(W.Va. Code §§ 48-27-202, 47-27-204 (2024).)

What Are Domestic Violence Crimes in West Virginia?

West Virginia has several crimes that are specific to acts of violence against family and household members, including domestic assault and battery and violations of domestic violence protective orders. General criminal laws also apply to domestic violence crimes, and some of these have enhanced penalties when the act is related to domestic violence or the defendant has a history of domestic violence.

Below we review crimes of domestic assault and battery, as well as crimes commonly associated with domestic violence.

Domestic Assault and Battery in West Virginia

West Virginia's domestic assault and battery crimes punish acts of violence committed against family and household members. Increased and mandatory penalties apply for repeat convictions.

What Are the Penalties for Domestic Assault?

A person commits domestic assault by attempting violence against a family or household member or placing them in fear of immediate violence.

For example, an ex-girlfriend who tries to slap or punch an ex-boyfriend but misses has committed domestic assault. It's also domestic assault for the ex-girlfriend to pull back her arm as if she meant to punch the ex-boyfriend and threaten to knock him to the ground.

First conviction. A first conviction carries misdemeanor penalties of up to six months of jail time and a $100 fine.

Second conviction. If the person has a prior domestic violence conviction, the misdemeanor offense imposes a mandatory 30-day jail sentence and increases the possible fine to $500.

What Are the Penalties for Domestic Battery?

A person commits domestic battery by unlawfully and intentionally causing physical harm or offensive physical contact against a family or household member.

Examples of domestic battery include striking, slapping, kicking, or shoving a family or household member. Hair pulling, forceful grabbing, shaking, or even poking a family or household member in an insulting manner is also domestic battery.

First conviction. A first conviction for domestic battery can mean up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.

Second conviction. If the person has a prior domestic violence conviction, the law imposes a mandatory 60-day sentence and increases the potential fine to $1,000.

Felony Penalties for Domestic Assault or Battery

A prosecutor can elevate a misdemeanor domestic assault or battery charge to a felony if the defendant has two prior domestic violence convictions. This felony offense carries one to five years of possible prison time and a $2,500 fine.

The charges can also increase to felony malicious or unlawful assault if the defendant shoots, stabs, cuts, or wounds the victim. A conviction for these more severe injuries carries one to 10 years in prison.

(W.Va. Code §§ 61-2-9, 61-2-28 (2024).)

Other Domestic Violence Crimes in West Virginia

Domestic violence crimes aren't limited to assault and battery. Other common crimes associated with domestic violence include (but are not limited to) strangulation, stalking, harassment, unlawful restraint, and violation of a protective order.

Penalties for Strangulation

Any person who unlawfully strangles, suffocates, or asphyxiates another and causes them to suffer bodily injury or loss of consciousness commits a felony.

This crime covers acts where a person tries to restrict another person's normal breathing or blood circulation by placing pressure on the neck, throat, chest, or torso or by blocking their nose or mouth. Bodily injuries don't have to be visible. Physical pain suffices as a type of bodily injury.

Strangulation is a felony, punishable by one to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

(W.Va. Code § 61-2-9d (2024).)

Penalties for Violating Domestic Violence Protective Orders (DVPO)

Victims of domestic violence can go to civil court and ask for a domestic violence protective order (DPVO) against an abuser. Judges can issue similar orders in criminal court as a condition of bail or pretrial release if the abuser faces criminal charges of domestic violence.

Violating either type of order carries misdemeanor penalties with minimum jail sentences and fines. For a first conviction, a defendant must spend at least one day in jail and pay a $250 fine. A second conviction requires a minimum of 30 days of jail time, plus a minimum $500 fine. A third conviction bumps the minimum jail sentence to six months. Defendants face up to a year of jail time and maximum fines top out at $2,000 to $4,000.

(W.Va. Code § 48-27-903 (2024).)

Penalties for Stalking and Harassment

A person commits a stalking offense by repeatedly engaging in acts that intend to cause the targeted person to suffer substantial emotional distress or fear for their or another's safety. Harassment involves repeated credible threats or conduct directed at a person, which would cause a reasonable person mental injury or emotional distress.

Examples of stalking or harassing conduct include:

  • monitoring, surveilling, following, or threatening a person
  • contacting or communicating with the person without consent, or
  • damaging the person's property or harming their pet.

Both stalking and harassment carry misdemeanor penalties of up to six months of jail time and a $1,000 fine. If the conduct violates an emergency DPVO, a mandatory 90-day jail sentence applies.

Stalking and harassment that involve violations of a final DVPO increase the penalty to a felony. Repeat stalking and harassment convictions are also felonies. A felony conviction carries one to five years of prison time and a $3,000 to $10,000 fine.

As part of a stalking or harassment sentence, the court can issue a restraining order prohibiting any contact with the victim for up to 10 years.

(W.Va. Code § 61-2-9a (2024).)

Penalties for Unlawful Restraint

A defendant who doesn't allow another person to leave their home or another place can face charges for unlawful restraint. Unlawful restraint can occur through a defendant's use of force, physical restraint, or threats of violence. A conviction carries misdemeanor penalties of up to a year of jail time and a $1,000 fine.

(W.Va. Code § 61-2-14g (2024).)

Domestic Violence Arrest, Bail, and Firearm Restrictions in West Virginia

West Virginia recognizes the high risk of harm in domestic violence cases. It allows for warrantless arrests, seizure of firearms, and no-contact orders in such cases.

Arrests in Domestic Violence Cases

Any officer who witnesses domestic violence or a DVPO violation must arrest the abuser. Officers who don't witness the acts but have probable cause of domestic violence may arrest the suspected abuser without a warrant.

If the allegations suggest a weapon was threatened or used to commit domestic violence, the officer must seize the weapon. Officers can also seize any weapons found in plain view or discovered after a consensual search.

(W.Va. Code §§ 48-27-1001, 48-27-1002 (2024).)

Bail in Domestic Violence Cases

When domestic violence charges are pending, a judge can impose no-contact orders as a condition of bail. If the judge decides the defendant poses a continued safety threat to the victim, the no-contact order must also prohibit the defendant from going to the victim's home, school, or work.

Violating these no-contact orders can result in an arrest, bail forfeiture, jail time, and a criminal conviction.

(W.Va. Code § 62-1C-17c (2024).)

Firearm Restrictions in Domestic Violence Cases

Anytime a judge issues a DVPO in civil court, it must prohibit the abuser from possessing any firearms or ammunition. A violation carries the penalties discussed above for violating a DVPO.

Defendants convicted of any felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor are also prohibited from possessing firearms under federal and state law. Under West Virginia law, a prohibited person who unlawfully possesses a firearm commits a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances. A defendant can also be prosecuted under federal law as a prohibited person.

(W.Va. Code §§ 48-27-502, 61-7-7 (2024); 18 U.S.C. § 922 (2024).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you face domestic violence charges or have been served with a DVPO, contact a criminal defense lawyer. An attorney can help you understand the charges or order, defend your rights, and advise you on your options.

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