A recent decision by the Washington Court of Appeals, which upheld a man’s conviction for assault, offers some useful insight on two separate aspects of criminal trials. In deciding to uphold the trial court’s decision, the appeals court ruled against the accused man because it determined that the way the state made challenges to certain potential jurors was not improper, and that the accused man did not follow the right procedure for contesting the legal financial obligations imposed by the trial court.
In the case, the state accused Jeremy Brinson of committing second-degree assault (domestic violence) on his girlfriend. In any criminal trial, both the state and the accused can reject certain potential jurors without having to offer a reason. In Brinson’s case, each side conducted these peremptory challenges at sidebar, meaning they orally communicated each challenge off the record. The court was open to the public while this took place. The court eventually found Brinson guilty, sentenced him to eight months in custody followed by a year of community custody, and also imposed $400 in legal financial obligations. Those obligations included a $250 fee for Brinson’s jury demand and a $150 incarceration fee.
Brinson appealed, challenging both the conduct of his trial and the sentence that was imposed, but he was not successful. The appeals court rejected the man’s contention that the process of communicating peremptory challenges at sidebar violated his right to a public trial. Last year, the Washington Supreme Court decided that written peremptory challenges were acceptable as long as those written documents were filed as part of the case’s public record. In Brinson’s case, the state and the defense attorney maintained a “Struck Juror List” that was eventually handed to the judge and included in the public record of his case. Based upon the maintenance of that written list (and its inclusion in the record), along with the fact that the jury selection took place while the courtroom was open, Brinson’s public trial violation argument failed.
The man’s second argument, that the trial judge improperly imposed legal financial obligations, also was unsuccessful. Washington law allows a court to make a defendant who has been convicted in Superior Court pay certain costs, but the statutes prohibit this if the defendant is unable to pay. Last year, the Supreme Court determined that the law required trial judges to make “an individualized inquiry into a defendant’s ability to pay.” The judge in Brinson’s case did not make such an inquiry. So, why did Brinson lose? Because he failed to object to the imposition of the obligations at sentencing. The first time he raised this argument was on appeal, and the appeals court decided that was too late. “Generally, this court declines to review issues raised for the first time on appeal,” the court stated when explaining why it did not even consider the man’s argument about the fees.
If you are accused of assault, especially in a domestic violence context, you can face very substantial penalties. That is why it is of utmost importance to retain counsel who can help you defend your rights. The Pierce County/Tacoma domestic violence defense attorneys at Smith & White, PLLC are ready to put their skills and experience to work for you, aiding you effectively through every step of the legal process. Call us today at 253-363-8662 to schedule your initial consultation. The first consultation is free.