Yes, you may go to jail for a first offense. Misdemeanor domestic assault is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia. It can result in up to 12 months in jail. You may also receive a fine of up to $2,500. The exact sentence will vary based on the specifics of the case. More serious cases can result in harsher penalties. A felony offense may mean prison time. Hiring a skilled criminal defense attorney who can help explain your options is important.
Domestic assault covers any assault on a family or household member. This includes spouses, children, parents, and siblings. It can also include a mother-in-law, a grandchild, or anyone who cohabits with the accused. The definition of “domestic” is broad.
Avoid Jail Time With Deferred Disposition and Dismissal
It is possible to avoid going to jail for a first-time offense. Virginia Code Section 18.2-57.3 establishes a first-offender program. Under this program, the accused is found neither guilty nor not guilty. Instead, the court extends a deferred disposition. The accused is put on probation. Prosecution of the case is paused. If they satisfy the stated conditions, the domestic assault charge may be dismissed.
This means no jail time and no conviction. It is not a “get out of jail free” card. But, it could be a better outcome for many first-time offenders. Speak with a Virginia criminal defense lawyer to learn more about this option.
How to Qualify for the First-Time Offender Program
To be eligible for the program, the accused must:
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Have not been convicted of domestic assault
- Have not been convicted of other violent acts
- Have not had a previous assault charge dismissed under this code section
- Have not entered the first-time offender program before
- Consent to enter the program
- Promise to fulfill all the conditions of the program
Even if you meet all the eligibility requirements, the courts may not offer this option. If it is offered, it is worth considering. If you had been charged and participated in the program before, you cannot enter it again.
The exact conditions imposed as part of the first-time offender program may vary. Typical requirements may include:
- Completing assessment programs
- Participating in education and treatment programs
- Paying for all programs and services on a sliding scale
- Staying on good behavior for at least two years
- Avoiding all contact with the victim
- Not possessing any firearms
The program’s goal is to prevent repeat offenses through education and treatment. Failing to complete the program will have repercussions. Prosecution of the original charge will continue. Repeat offenses can result in severe sentences too.
Serious Charges With Serious Consequences
It is important to take even first-time domestic assault charges seriously. You will likely face an automatic emergency protective order (EPO) of 72 hours. During that time, you cannot contact the alleged victim. They may extend the EPO to a preliminary protective order. Even if you believe you are innocent, you must follow these orders. Violation can result in more charges.
It could be a misunderstanding over child discipline. It may have been a mistake. The reality is that following an arrest, you need to protect yourself. Prosecution can continue even if the accuser no longer wants to press charges.
If convicted, you may receive a criminal record. This can impact employment and immigration status. It may make it more difficult to rent a home. The courts may impose extended protective orders. This is in addition to jail time. The charge will likely impact child custody matters. Subsequent convictions can lead to a Class 6 felony and up to five years in prison.
How a Domestic Assault Defense Lawyer Can Help
There is a lot on the line when you’ve been accused of domestic assault. Even first-time offenders can face jail time. This is why it is so important to hire a criminal defense attorney who can fight on your behalf. An experienced lawyer can assess your case and explain your best options. They can advocate for the first-time offender program.
As the case proceeds to trial, an experienced attorney can develop possible defenses. The burden of proof is on the prosecution. They must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A skilled defense lawyer can introduce that doubt. It may have been self-defense or an accident. Or maybe it never happened at all.
The best shot at a positive outcome starts with hiring a knowledgeable attorney.