Neighbors and No Contact Orders

Washington State courts can issue an No Contact Order (NCO) as condition of sentence, but can they require a distance requirement that results in a hypothetical client being prohibited from living in his residence which is next door to the alleged victim? The statute authorizing a no contact order states that such a order must clearly be read to prohibit conduct as the principal legislative intent.  See e.g. RCW 10.99.040(2)(a)(“contact” mentioned 4 times before the single mention of “distance”).

So let’s say that hypothetically the client and alleged victim live in adjoining condos. The hypothetical client cannot afford to move, and has been staying in an alternative housing arrangement for the time being but cannot afford to do that forever. So what’s the hypothetical client supposed to do? One option is that the hypothetical client could sell or rent out his home. But what happens if the hypothetical client absolutely cannot afford to move under any circumstances?

Whenever this has become an issue, it is usually possible to craft NCO’s which control prohibited contact to also allow folks to continue residing at their current place of residence.  This is common for next door neighbors.  The order could allow for the hypothetical client to continue living in his home, but not allowed to have anything other than incidental contact with the alleged victim. For example, if the party whom the order is against and victim find themselves near each other, the restrained party must leave in the direction opposite of the protected party, etc.  Verbal exchanges are already forbidden, and “gesture” exchanges certainly can be.

The “distance” provisions have no meaning except insofar as they reinforce the order to avoid contact.  Enforcing distance limits to ruin either party’s life should never be allowed, as long as the complained of conduct is controlled.  A decision to enforce sale of the residence, especially with a time limit which naturally restricts the market, also tiptoes close to a constitutional “taking.”

Generally, judges will seek to accommodate the defendant in such cases, but, courts most definitely have imposed distance requirements that force someone to move. In post-conviction cases, this has only involved renters or perhaps someone who had to stay moved from a home they owned because they were formerly living with the victim.

Also, while it could seem that the distance restriction is put in place only insofar as a way to reinforce the order to avoid contact, it could also be intended to serve the purpose of providing some peace of mind to a victim who then doesn’t have to worry that the person who assaulted/threatened them is living right next door and could literally be at their home in 5 seconds.

If you have questions regarding a No Contact Order or on currently pending charges, you may want to discuss your circumstances with a Criminal law attorney.  At Blair & Kim, PLLC our attorney’s are experienced and dedicated to helping clients achieve positive resolutions in their cases.

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