In Virginia, domestic violence is broadly defined to include any act of physical abuse between two members of the same household. Typically this will be an act between two family members, but it can also be between two residents of the same home who are not related. Most acts of domestic violence are assault and battery charges and are Class 1 misdemeanors. However, some acts such as sexual assault or assault with a deadly weapon are more serious and are classified as felonies.
Virginia is known as a “no drop” state.
This means once an accusation of domestic violence has been made, neither the Commonwealth’s attorney nor the police can drop the charges even if the alleged victim decides he or she does not want to proceed with the charges. This is to protect the victim from being pressured by the accused to either drop the charges or to change the testimony that would be given.
All domestic abuse charges are originally heard in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court (or J&DR) of the city or county in which the incident occurred. If the charge is a misdemeanor, the J&DR judge has the authority to enter findings of guilt and to sentence the accused accordingly. If the charge is a felony, the J&DR judge only has the authority to hear evidence to determine if the evidence is sufficient for the individual to be held over for trial in Circuit Court. The Circuit Court of that jurisdiction will then hear the evidence and make its ruling on the evidence. Trials in Circuit Court may, at the election of the accused, be conducted as a jury trial.
For certain misdemeanor charges, an accused party may enter a guilty plea in exchange for a later finding which could ultimately result in a dismissal of the charges. The incident must be a first offense, meaning the accused had not been previously accused of this charge or any similar charges. The accused then acknowledges that if the facts were heard, the evidence would be sufficient for a finding of guilt. The accused is required to attend courses and counseling on anger management and domestic violence as monitored by state social services and he/she must remain on uniform good behavior for one year. The individual is ordered to appear again before the court once the year has passed. If the accused completes the course required by social services and remains on good behavior, the charges are dismissed.