What is a No-Contact | No Contact Order? Why are they issued? What can be done? A Criminal Defense Lawyer | Attorney’s Perspective.
What is a No-Contact | No Contact Order?
In the State of Washington, No-Contact | No Contact Orders are orders entered as part of the Release Conditions set by a judge in criminal proceedings that limit contact with specific person(s) or location(s). These Orders are generally entered as part of the arraignment in a criminal case to avoid further conflict, or the risk of conflict. However, also keep in mind that a No-Contact Order can be entered or modified anytime during a pending criminal case if the court is concerned about new conduct presenting a danger to others so do not think you are safe just because one was not initially entered at an arraignment. Any change in circumstances can be a basis for the prosecuting attorney requesting new conditions be added to a No Contact Order.
No-Contact | No Contact Orders always play a significant role in any case involving accusations of domestic violence. In a crime that involves an allegation of domestic violence, the judge who conducts the arraignment must, by law, consider entering a No Contact Order preventing contact with the alleged victim(s). Since domestic violence case arraignments cannot be waived, you and your criminal defense lawyer | attorney should plan on addressing a No Contact Order and should discuss relevant issues in advance. Your criminal defense attorney should also go over what civil standbys are.
Ok, so what is a No-Contact Order?
In criminal cases, the judge’s order that limits contact with an alleged victim(s), witness(es) and others who are at risk (it can include children, family and even friends) is called a No-Contact Order. By law, judges will consider limiting contact with the alleged victim or witness(es) as a condition of release from jail. In any criminal case, it is always a factor that must be anticipated as it cannot only limit contact with a person, but it can also limit access to places where the person may be, like schools, work or their residence. This law reflects our Washington legislature’s requirement that courts consider whether the alleged victim(s) or witnesses need protection from injury, harassment or influence during the pendency of any criminal case; and, this protection, at least temporarily, overrides the rights of anyone who happens to be charged with a crime. It is common knowledge among judges, prosecuting attorneys, the legislature and police that domestic violence cases rank very high on the lethality index. As such, it falls on you and your defense lawyer to know the statistics and speak to the prosecutor’s arguments and judge’s concerns about your case.
It is easy to confuse this criminal order with orders other called Protection Orders or Restraining Orders (used in Divorce actions) that are used in civil actions but they have different applications. People with budding or pending difficult divorce actions often find this most confusing and we regularly clarify the issues and give direction to them.
So what do No-Contact Orders Do?
These orders typically prevent the person accused and charged for a crime from being within a certain number of feet of an alleged victim or witness as well as the victim’s, residence, school, home or workplace, regardless of whether parties have children in common, share a residence or even attend the same work. They also typically limit all contact: in person, by phone, by text or by third person between the accused and victims or witnesses. Exceptions can be carved out for exchange of children or for other purposes on a case-by-case basis but without a defense lawyer proposing a sensible plan with supporting reasons, courts will not simply grant an exception based on hardship.
With the exception of one unique case, in every arraignment we have attended with our clients, a prosecuting attorney has always asked for a No Contact Order to cover at minimum, the alleged victim. We have seen no contact orders include more people than the alleged victim: we have seen them include children, family, witnesses and even friends of the alleged victim. In domestic violence cases, a judge is required to consider imposing this No-Contact order for the benefit of the victim(s) whether or not the alleged victim wants it. A judge may also consider, among other things, restricting access to firearms and surrender of a concealed firearms permit if the facts justify it. See RCW 9.41.800
We have successfully argued for exceptions for various active personnel on a case-by-case basis.
Knowledgeable counsel can file the necessary paperwork to argue for change, but simply secretly violating the order will put you in a very bad position; and, in our experience, a very vulnerable position. We have had our clients put in an uncomfortable position of negotiation in a family law case as the other party threatened to notify the prosecutor of the multiple agreed violations of the no contact order by our client when the divorce proceedings soured. This was the same client who told us the alleged victim would never use the violations against her. You do not want to be in this situation so follow the law and the advice of an experienced criminal defense lawyer | attorney, not your instincts.
These Orders can be in place for the entire criminal case or until the court’s jurisdiction ends. It is possible for your lawyer to mitigate the impact of these orders or shorten them, so it is essential you and your lawyer prepare for this possibility and you follow your attorney’s advice. A little forethought can help limit the impact on families, relationships, work and shared residences. Though No-Contact Orders can be changed later on in the case, it is common knowledge that judges do not like changing their Orders unless there has been a “change in circumstances” that justifies doing so. Our office can speak with you about what this means and what are commonly considered changes in circumstances. Typically they need to be substantial.
We have lost count of the number of clients who have called after arraignment saying, “What can we do now?” as they can’t go to their house or see their children or go to work because the victim is there. Though there are things that can be done after the fact, they take time and getting an effective and experienced lawyer in early, can avoid unnecessarily stressful situations.
Our firm has a strategic combination of courtroom experience, knowledge, skills and temperament. Our criminal defense lawyers | attorneys work as a unit and are highly experienced in dealing with no contact orders as part of larger criminal cases. Our lawyers know that criminal cases are rarely as simple as a police report claims and our clients retain us early on in the process to make sure their rights are protected. Consultations are free but a poor choice in counsel is not. The first step in evaluating counsel is an appointment.