Difference Between Domestic Violence and Assault in DC

Domestic violence can include many criminal offenses and is not one specific criminal offense. A criminal charge will be considered domestic violence if the relationship between the alleged victim and the alleged offender is of a certain nature. For instance, a criminal offense committed against the person’s husband, wife, former spouse, intimate partner, romantic partner, dating partner, family member, or roommate would make that criminal offense a domestic violence offense. Depending on the facts of the case, the person would be charged with a specific offense such as assault or threats to do bodily harm and that offense would be characterized as domestic violence and thereby warrant contact with a DC domestic violence lawyer.

Why Assault is Charged Separately From Domestic Violence

Domestic violence and assault are not necessarily charged differently in DC. In DC, assault is a specific criminal offense. Domestic violence is a broad category that can encompass many different criminal offenses if the parties involved are of a certain relationship. For example, if a person uses force in attempting to injure a co-worker, that person could be charged with simple assault. If a person uses force in attempting to injure his wife, that person would also be charged with simple assault; but it would also be considered a domestic violence offense because of their relationship.

Contrast in Enforcement

An assault case can be classified as a domestic violence case because of the relationship of the people involved. The person who is charged will face the same potential statutory penalties he or she would face if it was not a domestic violence case. However, it will be handled by the court and prosecutors differently.

For example, criminal misdemeanor domestic violence cases are all heard by judges who are assigned to the domestic violence unit in the DC Superior Court. The prosecutors’ office also has a specific domestic violence division of prosecutors who only handle domestic violence cases. In DC, domestic violence cases are considered to be serious cases by prosecutors and, sometimes, the accused is treated more harshly in a domestic violence simple assault case than a simple assault case that does not involve people who share a relationship.


A person facing a non-domestic violence case and a person facing a domestic violence case will be subject to the same statutory penalties provided they are charged with the same offense. For instance, if a person is charged with simple assault they will face a maximum potential penalty of 180 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.

Similarly, if a person is charged with simple assault and it is considered domestic violence because of the relationship of the parties, that person will also face the same maximum potential penalty of 180 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. The penalties all depend on the actual offense that is charged.