Washington Court Must Enter Written Findings with Contempt Order

When a court enters certain types of Washington protection orders, it must also require the surrender of firearms and other weapons upon a proper showing that the respond used, displayed, or threatened to use a firearm or other dangerous weapon in a felony or that the respondent is not eligible to possess a firearm pursuant to RCW 9.41.040. RCW 9.41.800. An ex-husband recently challenged a court’s order of contempt for failure to surrender his weapons.

His ex-wife petitioned for a domestic violence protection order (“DVPO”) against him, alleging multiple instances of abuse.  She stated he put a laser on his gun and pointed the laser at her forehead, telling her that was “where the bullet is going to land.” In another incident, she stated he told her he would kill her if she left while holding a gun to her head.  She attached a photo of a firearm and another of the ex-husband with a firearm.

The court issued a temporary DVPO and an order to surrender weapons on November 20, 2020.

The ex-husband’s attorney filed a declaration denying the allegations.  The ex-husband stated he did not have weapons and had not pointed a firearm at the ex-wife.

The court held a compliance review two days later, finding the ex-husband was not in compliance.  The trial court set a review hearing for December 30.  The ex-husband filed a supplemental declaration containing a general denial that he did not own weapons.

The ex-husband was found not in compliance at the review hearing, with the hearing being continued to January 13. The court found the ex-husband’s testimony about the photos was not credible.  He was again found not in compliance on January 13.

The ex-wife filed a declaration the next week stating she had seen the ex-husband in the parking lot of the grocery store while she was shopping on January 15.  The husband filed a declaration in response stating he was in that parking lot because of a physical therapy appointment and attached an exhibit confirming the appointment.

The ex-husband was found not in compliance at two more hearings.  The court then scheduled a contempt hearing for April 21, 2021.

The state moved for civil contempt pursuant to RCW 9.41.801(7).  The ex-husband filed another declaration denying possession or ownership of any firearms.

At the hearing, the court entered an order finding the ex-husband was not in compliance with the order to surrender weapons.  The court granted the motion for contempt and ordered sanctions for the ex-husband’s failure to comply. The trial court did not enter any written findings.

The ex-husband appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in finding him in contempt without any supporting findings of fact and conclusions of law.

For an appeals court to review a contempt order, the trial court must enter written findings. The Washington Supreme Court has advised trial courts to thoroughly describe the relevant facts in a contempt order. The trial court ordered the ex-husband to surrender any firearms he owned or possessed and specifically the firearm in the photograph, but did not enter findings of facts or conclusions of law.

Although the court incorporated its oral ruling in its order, the oral ruling was not in the record before the appeals court.  Additionally, case law has held that an oral ruling is not a sufficient basis for an appeals court to review a contempt order. Furthermore, the appeals court noted that the fact the court incorporated its oral ruling indicated it had not issued written findings.

The appeals court found it could not perform a substantive review without written findings and remanded the case to the trial court to enter them.

In this case, the respondent denied having any weapons, but the court found him in contempt without issuing any written findings of fact.  If you are opposing a civil protection order that may result in an order to surrender weapons, a skilled Washington civil protection order attorney can help you protect your rights.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562.


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