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How federal laws affect domestic violence charges and convictions

Many cases of domestic violence in Washington erupt out of spousal abuse or other conflict between family members. Because domestic abuse can threaten the safety of spouses and children, the federal government has considered acts of violence arising from domestic conflict as crimes. Any person who perpetrates such abuse is likely to face criminal charges.

Although domestic violence incidents were previously only state crimes, the U.S. Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 to make these crimes federal offenses. Amendments passed in 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2013 have all affirmed that domestic violence is a national crime. Congressional amendments to the Gun Control Act also elevate penalties in domestic violence cases when defendants use guns.

Most domestic violence cases are prosecuted by the states except in certain circumstances when federal law supersedes state law such as when the defendant crosses state lines to commit violence or uses a gun in violation of a restraining order. Conviction of federal felony charges usually means harsher penalties.

In state courts, a person can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony domestic violence charge. A misdemeanor domestic violence charge can become a federal crime, however, if the defendant possessed a firearm or ammunition during the incident. A state misdemeanor charge can also qualify as a federal offense if the defendant has a previous conviction associated with the use or attempted use of a weapon to threaten a family member or intimate partner. Possession of a firearm or ammunition while a person is under a restraining order also can result in a federal charge.

If you have been accused of domestic violence, you need an aggressive defense to fight the charges. An experienced Spokane criminal defense attorney will scrutinize every aspect of the government's case and point out any weaknesses or inconsistencies in the alleged victim's story.

Source: Justice.gov, "Federal Domestic Violence Laws", accessed on Oct. 29, 2014

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