Recently we have received many questions about domestic violence and the impact on a person’s right to possess a firearm. In short, a person convicted of a crime involving domestic violence will lose (for at least a period of time) his/her right to possess a firearm. Additionally, both law enforcement and the courts can possibly order forfeiture of firearms in the possession of a person allegedly involved in committing domestic violence.
Washington State law defines domestic violence offenses as virtually any criminal act committed by one “family or household member” against another. Washington District and Municipal Courts hear misdemeanor domestic violence offenses including: assault, property destruction, harassment and telephone harassment, intimidation with a weapon, reckless endangerment and violation of no contact or domestic violence protection orders. Felony domestic violence offenses, such as a No Contact Order violation involving an assault, a third violation of a No Contact Order, assault with a deadly weapon, or even murder, are heard in Washington’s Superior Courts.
A “family or household member” includes persons who are now or have been married or resided together, who have been or are presently in a dating relationship so long as both parties are at least sixteen years of age, and persons who have a child in common. In addition, parent-child and step-parent, step-child relationships, grandparent-grandchild (including step-grandparents) and siblings come within the definition of a “family or household” relationship.
Domestic violence offenses in Washington District and/or Municipal Courts are either misdemeanors, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, or gross misdemeanors, punishable by up to 365 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. Domestic violence offenses in Washington Superior Courts are felonies, punishable by more than one year in jail.
A person who has been convicted of a domestic violence assault cannot possess a firearm or get a concealed weapons permit in the State of Washington. A violation of this provision is a felony.
Below following is the Seattle Police Department’s policies on domestic violence related crimes and gun possession.
Seattle Police Manual, Section 15.215 – Domestic Violence Firearms
With the potential for violence in domestic relationships, courts may order parties involved in criminal or civil domestic violence cases to surrender firearms to local law enforcement officers. At the scene of a domestic violence call, officers may encounter consenting parties requesting, for personal safety reasons, to surrender non-evidentiary firearms. Officers may also confront circumstances at the scene of a domestic violence call where, in the officers’ judgment, removal of firearms is warranted in the interests of public safety. The following policy addresses the procedures in accepting and storing these firearms.
In light of the Department’s Mission Statement to “prevent crime…and support quality public safety,” officers are to take custody of domestic violence surrendered firearms and place them into the SPD Evidence Unit. This policy applies to firearms (not other weapons) surrendered by parties involved in SPD misdemeanor or felony domestic violence investigations and firearms forfeited or surrendered by court order. Evidentiary and loaded firearms are to be handled per Department firearms evidentiary procedures.
A. Consenting party – a party involved in an SPD domestic violence incident who resides at the dwelling or works at the premises, and has dominion and control over areas in which domestic violence surrendered firearms are located. When two or more such parties are present at the scene, all such parties should provide consent for officers to accept voluntarily surrendered domestic violence firearms (State v. Leach 1989).
B. Domestic Violence Surrendered Firearms – Firearms that are voluntarily surrendered by a party involved in an SPD domestic violence investigation and are not known to be evidence of a crime, firearms removed in the interests of public safety, and domestic violence firearms that are surrendered or forfeited per court order.
C. Evidentiary Firearms – Firearms that are evidence of a crime and may be required for future criminal prosecution.
D. Non-evidentiary firearms – A domestic violence surrendered firearm that has no value as evidence. It appears to be legal to possess and ownership of the firearm is established.
II. Court Orders
Courts may order parties who were involved in domestic violence incidents to forfeit or surrender their firearms. Parties who are ordered by a court to forfeit or surrender domestic violence firearms will receive written instructions from the court informing the parties how to schedule an appointment with the SPD Evidence Unit to arrange the transfer. Parties with these court orders, who attempt to transfer domestic violence firearms at any other SPD facility, are to be directed to the SPD Evidence Unit. The following addresses the forfeiture or surrender of domestic violence firearms by civil order:
A. Municipal Court Civil Orders.
1. The SPD Evidence Unit will accept domestic violence surrendered firearms pursuant to civil orders only when issued by Seattle Municipal Court.
B. Superior Court Civil Orders
1. The SPD Evidence Unit does not accept domestic violence surrendered firearms pursuant to Superior Court civil orders. Concerned parties are to be directed to the law enforcement agency with jurisdictional authority.
III. Patrol Officer
A. Patrol officers may be dispatched specifically to domestic violence surrendered firearm calls or be requested at a domestic violence scene to accept such firearms by a party involved in the investigation. In these cases, patrol officers shall perform the following:
1. Accept the domestic violence surrendered firearms when involving an SPD misdemeanor or felony domestic violence investigation. If the firearms are involved in a non-SPD investigation, direct the party to the law enforcement agency with jurisdictional authority.
2. Draw a General Offense Number, write a General Offense Report listing “Gun-Surrender-DV” in the Offenses block, and complete a Property Report. If a related General Offense Report for a domestic violence offense is taken at the scene, “Gun-Surrender-DV,”may be added as an additional offense and a separate General Offense Report will not be written.
3. Complete a Property Report listing only the firearm(s). Print and mail it to the party surrendering the firearm(s) as a receipt before the completion of shift.
4. Ensure the firearms are entered into the Evidence Unit prior to the completion of shift.
B. Patrol officers responding to a domestic violence call may also confront circumstances at the scene that, in the officers’ judgment, warrant removal of firearm(s) from the premises. Such circumstances may include the parties’ demeanors, criminal history, or past use of firearms, or the illegal status of firearms based on their nature, possession or use. In these cases, patrol officers shall take the following actions:
1. Contact a patrol sergeant and relay the circumstances and factors that appear to warrant removal of firearms.
2. With sergeant approval, take custody of the firearm(s).
3. Draw a General Offense Number, write a General Offense Report listing “Gun-Surrender-DV” in the Offenses block and complete a Property Report. If a related General Offense Report for a domestic violence offense is taken at the scene, “Gun-Surrender-DV” may be added as an additional offense and a separate General Offense Report will not be written.
4. Complete a Property Report listing only the firearm(s). Print and mail it to the party surrendering the firearm(s) as a receipt before the completion of shift.
5. Ensure the firearms are entered into the Evidence Unit prior to the completion of shift.
IV. Patrol Sergeants
A. Patrol sergeants may contact Domestic Violence Sergeants on a 24-hour a day basis regarding this policy, either during office hours or via Communications during non-business hours.
B. When contacted, consult with patrol officers at domestic violence calls about non-evidentiary firearms at those scenes and the circumstances that may warrant their removal in the interests of public safety.
V. Evidence Unit Duties
A. Receive and store all domestic violence firearms pursuant to an SPD domestic violence investigation when:
1. Surrendered by a party to an SPD officer or removed from a domestic violence scene in the interests of public safety.
2. Surrendered or forfeited pursuant to a criminal court order.
3. Surrendered or forfeited pursuant to a Municipal Court civil order.
4. Having evidentiary value.
B. Route copies of all General Offense Reports or Supplemental Reports involving domestic violence (surrendered and forfeited) firearms to the Domestic Violence Unit. For court ordered surrendered or forfeited domestic violence firearms, print the Property Reports and fax them to the appropriate prosecutor or city attorney designee.
C. Complete Record Check for Firearm Release.
VI. Domestic Violence Unit Duties
A. Receive copies of Municipal and Superior Court orders related to the surrender, forfeiture, or release of domestic violence firearms from the concerned prosecutors. The Domestic Violence Unit will forward copies of these court orders to the Evidence Unit.
B. Conduct criminal history background checks on the parties to whom the firearms may be released. Verify the claimants to the domestic violence firearms are authorized to possess and receive the firearms.
C. Authorize the disposition (or release) of domestic violence firearms that are no longer required for investigative or prosecutorial purposes. The Domestic Violence Unit will send facsimiles and standard copies of dispositions to the Evidence Unit.
Domestic violence allegations are extremely serious in Washington State. Anyone charged with domestic violence in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle domestic violence defense lawyer. The Seattle criminal attorneys that make up the criminal defense team of SQ Attorneys are highly qualified and reputable Seattle domestic violence defense lawyers that are dedicated to providing top notch, aggressive representation for those arrested for domestic violence in Western Washington. The team creates success by working with law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney’s office to ensure that all facts and circumstances related to the criminal allegations are considered in creating the fairest, most equitable and just resolution possible in light of all the surrounding circumstances.