District of Columbia Domestic Violence Laws

Domestic violence in the District of Columbia is labeled as an "intrafamily offense," applicable to any interpersonal, intimate partner, or intrafamily violence. "Interpersonal violence" is a criminal act committed by an offender upon a person with whom the offender shares or has shared a mutual residence, or with whom the offenders is or was married or in a romantic relationship. "Intimate partner violence" is a criminal act committed by an offender upon a person to whom the offender is or was married, with whom the offender is or was in a domestic partnership, or with whom the offender is or was in a romantic relationship. "Intrafamily violence" is a criminal act committed by an offender upon a person to whom the offender is related by blood, adoption, legal custody, marriage, or domestic partnership, or with whom the offender has a child in common.

All of these are types of domestic violence recognized by Washington, D.C. criminal laws.

Arrests of Domestic Violence

A law enforcement officer must arrest a person if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person committed an intrafamily offense that resulted in physical injury, including physical pain or illness. An officer can also make an arrest if he has probable cause to believe that a person committed an intrafamily offense that caused or was intended to cause reasonable fear of imminent serious physical injury or death.

Domestic Violence Protective Orders

A petitioner may file a petition for civil protection against an offender who has allegedly committed or threatened to commit one or more criminal offenses against the petitioner. See District of Columbia Protective Orders Laws for more details.

Notice and Hearing

Upon a filing a petition for civil protection, the court must set a time for a hearing. The offenders must be properly served with a notice before the date of the hearing. After a hearing, if the court finds that there is good cause to believe the offender has committed or threatened to commit a criminal offense against the petitioner or an animal in the petitioner's household, the judicial officer may issue a protection order that:

  • Directs the offender to refrain from committing or threatening to commit criminal offenses against the petitioner;

  • Requires the offender to stay away from or have no contact with the petitioner;

  • Requires the offender to participate in psychiatric or medical treatment;

  • Directs the offender to refrain from entering, or to vacate, a shared dwelling unit with the petitioner

  • Directs the offender to relinquish possession or use of certain personal property owned jointly by the parties;

  • Awards temporary custody of a minor child of the parties;

  • Provides for visitation rights with appropriate restrictions to protect the safety of the petitioner;

  • Awards costs and attorney fees;

  • Directs the offender to relinquish possession of any firearms;

  • Directs the care, custody, or control of a domestic animal that belongs to petitioner or offender; and/or

  • Directs the offender to perform or refrain from other actions as may be appropriate to the effective resolution of the matter.

A protection order will remain in effect for up to one year as the court may specify. The court also may extend, rescind, or modify the order upon the showing of good cause.

Emergency Temporary Order

If, at the time of the filing of a petition, the court finds that the safety or welfare of the petitioner is in immediate danger, the court may issue a temporary emergency protection order.

An initial temporary protection order may not exceed 14 days. However, if the last day of the order falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or a holiday, the last day of the order will be the following day the court is open. The court may extend a temporary protection order in 14 day increments with the consent of the parties, as necessary until a hearing on the petition is completed. If an offender fails to appear for a hearing, the temporary order shall remain in effect until the civil protection order is served.

Penalties for Violations of Protective Orders

Any person who violates an protection order issued by the District of Columbia or any valid foreign protection order will be charged with a misdemeanor and will be subject to certain penalties. Upon conviction, the offender will be punished by a fine up to $1,000, up to 180 days in prison, or both.

Getting Help

If you are a victim of domestic violence, immediately call 911 during any emergency. If you're facing a domestic violence charge and require additional legal assistance, you should contact an experienced District of Columbia criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Remember to tell your attorney what happened, whether there's a protection order, and if you have guns.

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