As criminal defense lawyers | attorneys who have handled a wide variety of domestic violence disputes, we have seen more than our fair share of belongings being destroyed out of anger, resentment or frustration. Pictures, clothing, cars, phones, computers and other belongings can be used by to try to harm the other party or they can simply be destroyed in frustration. Trying to stop someone from doing this can result in a physical dispute and charges if a criminal investigation happens to not go your way. RCW 9A.16.020 provides a number of ways you can prevent someone from destroying your personal property. The section we have most frequently used is:
“Whenever used by a party about to be injured, or by another lawfully aiding him or her, in preventing or attempting to prevent an offense against his or her person, or a malicious trespass, or other malicious interference with real or personal property lawfully in his or her possession, in case the force is not more than is necessary;”
RCW 9A 16.020(3)
This statute stands for the idea that you can use reasonable force to prevent someone from interfering with your personal possessions if it is lawfully your possession. So if someone tries to take your laptop away or destroy it, it is reasonable to use force to stop him or her, but not more force than necessary.
However, what if you destroy property that is not your possession? We have seen divorce cases where spouses have a dispute and one of them breaks a wedding picture frame and is charged with criminal mischief along with an alleged domestic violence assault. As the picture frame was considered marital property and therefore ½ the other spouses, legally ½ the property destroyed was not theirs to destroy. Though this case eventually went away, this issue caused a lot of headache as it gave the prosecuting attorney leverage on an otherwise bogus case. If you had to defend yourself in this process, read our section on self-defense.
The lawyers in our office have dealt with a wide variety of domestic violence cases where personal property is destroyed. Our lawyers know criminal cases are rarely as simple as the police reports claim and our clients hire us to make sure their rights are protected. Our firm has a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge and temperament. Consultations are free but a poor choice in counsel can be expensive.. The first step is an appointment.