Sometimes when couples fight, things get broken. Accusations of domestic violence are serious on their own but are made worse when one partner accuses another partner of property damage. Washington law allows property owners to press criminal charges for damage of property such as doors, windows, furniture, automobiles, electronics, or other items.
Attorney Jennifer Horwitz understands relationships are complicated. That’s why she works diligently with her clients, whether they be the victims or the accused, to understand all the facts when taking on a case. Her skill in assessing the situation and uncovering the issues is why Seattle area clients have trusted Jennifer Horwitz with criminal and domestic violence cases for over 25 years.
The Link Between Domestic Violence and Property Damage
Like many states, Washington strongly favors protecting the victims of domestic violence.
Domestic violence is loosely defined as bodily injury, threats of bodily injury, sexual assault, stalking, or other harassment by a partner, family member, or household member. This definition includes behaviors that are often crimes by themselves. Causing bodily injury through punching and hitting is a form of criminal assault while sexual assault can include rape and inappropriate and unwanted touching.
In situations where one person acts violently or aggressively toward another, property damage often results. When objects are thrown, things are hit, or residences are broken into, someone is responsible for the destruction of property. In Washington, anyone who damages property can be punished criminally.
Criminal Punishment for Destruction of Property
The Revised Code of Washington identifies damage to property as malicious mischief. Malicious mischief occurs when a person knowingly and maliciously causes damage to property that belongs to another person. The crime is sometimes referred to as destruction of property.
Malicious mischief involves intentionally causing damage to property. Examples include breaking personal items such as a mobile phone or computer, intentionally harming personal possessions and mementos, causing harm to animals, breaking into a home or apartment, or purposefully damaging or wrecking an automobile.
All of these acts can occur in the context of a relationship between romantic partners, family members, or people who share a house or apartment.
Degrees of Malicious Mischief
- Malicious mischief in the first degree involves causing physical damage to property exceeding $5,000. First-degree malicious mischief is a class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
- Malicious mischief in the second degree involves causing between $750 and $5,000 in physical damage to property. Second-degree malicious mischief is a class C felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
- Malicious mischief in the third degree involves causing up to $750 physical damage to property. Third-degree malicious mischief is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
When Malicious Mischief Merges with Domestic Violence
In addition to being a crime by itself, the destruction of property or malicious mischief can also occur in domestic situations. Fits of violence that result in damage to property can also result in domestic violence by causing harm to a person or causing fear of bodily harm.
Washington law offers protection that goes beyond criminal punishment. In addition to pressing criminal charges for damage to property, victims of domestic violence can also seek a civil domestic violence order for protection that requires the accused to stay away from the victim.
A domestic violence order for protection is a court order that allows a judge to issue many types of relief to the requesting party, which may include:
- prohibiting acts of domestic violence;
- prohibiting someone accused of domestic violence from being in a specified location;
- limiting contact between the accused and an accuser;
- requiring the accused to surrender firearms and weapons;
- requiring the turnover of property or repayment for property damage
Violating a domestic violence order for protection can result in arrest and jail time.
Representation in Criminal and Civil Cases
If You Are the Victim
If you are a victim of domestic violence there are several ways you can go about ending the situation. You may choose to file criminal charges against the accused, seek a civil domestic violence order for protection, or do both.
If you file criminal charges, you will file a complaint with law enforcement. Law enforcement will refer the complaint to the prosecutor’s office, which will pursue criminal charges on your behalf. Unless you think you may also have committed a crime, you do not need legal representation to press criminal charges against someone for crimes related to domestic violence.
If you pursue a civil order for protection, you may need the assistance of a lawyer to present your case to the court in order to obtain a protective order. An experienced attorney can assist you in meeting the requirements under the law to obtain a protective order.
If You are the Accused
If you are accused of domestic violence or a crime associated with domestic violence, you should seek the advice of an attorney before responding to any claims or charges. Criminal charges for acts such as assault or malicious mischief can result in jail time and may impact other aspects of your life such as your job, parental rights to children, and civic rights such as voting.
An attorney experienced in criminal defense will make the prosecution bear its burden of proving all charges beyond a reasonable doubt. In the case of malicious mischief, that means the prosecution must show the accused knowingly and maliciously caused damage to property belonging to another. In domestic situations, it is often difficult to prove the ownership of property. Sometimes one party believes an item is a gift when it was not or property is owned jointly, meaning the elements of the crime are not met. Depending on the case, clarifying the facts may result in lesser charges or dismissal of charges.
In cases where the accused must answer a petition for a domestic violence order for protection, it is also helpful to have a lawyer on your side. A protective order can have drastic consequences on your life and personal freedoms. In a protective order, a judge can restrict the places you can go, people you can have contact with, and your right to own firearms or weapons. Just as in a criminal case, a knowledgeable attorney can represent your interests and assist the court in understanding all the facts before taking away your rights.
Discuss Your Claims for Damaged Property with a Domestic Relations Attorney
Whether you are a victim of domestic violence or crimes involving a domestic relationship or have been accused of domestic violence or a crime, attorney Jennifer Horwitz has over 25 years of experience protecting her client’s interests on both sides of a domestic issue. In the Seattle or King County, Washington area, contact Jennifer Horwitz Law to discuss your case and assess your rights.