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Tacoma Man’s Domestic Violence Conviction Overturned Because Trial Court Improperly Limited Evidence of Self-Defense

On Behalf of | Jun 16, 2016 | Assault

When you’re facing a criminal domestic violence charge, there are many things that may go into your defense. If you took physical action because you reasonably feared for your safety and used only as much force as necessary, you may have a valid defense of self-defense. In a recent case from Tacoma, the Washington Court of Appeals threw out a conviction because the trial court’s refusal to allow the accused man to testify about two previous attacks, in which he was the victim and his alleged victim was the attacker, improperly limited the man’s constitutional right to put on a defense.

In this case, Tacoma police officers, responding to witness claims that a man was striking a woman with his knee, found the woman, Lisa Miles, with several injuries to her face. The man, Kenneth Driscoll, told officers he acted in self-defense.

The prosecution charged Driscoll with fourth-degree assault — domestic violence. At his trial, Driscoll tried to bring out evidence of three previous incidents in which Miles attacked him, with the intention that these incidents would strengthen his defense of self-defense. One event, which triggered a police response, involved Miles allegedly attempting to stab Driscoll with scissors. In two other incidents, Miles allegedly attacked Driscoll, once with a rock and once with a meat cleaver.

The trial court let the man use the scissors incident, since an official record of the incident existed, but it refused to allow him to use the other two alleged attacks. Ultimately, despite the man’s testimony regarding the scissors attack and his claim that he only kneed Miles after she “cold-cocked” him at the bus shelter, the jury found Driscoll guilty.

The man appealed, arguing that, when the trial court refused to allow him to testify about the rock and meat cleaver incidents, it denied him his constitutional right to mount a full defense. The appeals court agreed and reversed his conviction. In any case in which the accused person uses self-defense as a defense, Washington law requires that person to prove that he had “a subjective fear of imminent danger of bodily harm,” that this fear “was objectively reasonable,” and that he used “no more force than was reasonably necessary.” Incidents like the alleged rock and cleaver attacks were definitely relevant to Driscoll’s case, since they had the potential to show that he had a legitimate reason to fear Miles. Having evidence that Miles attacked him three times, not just one time, could possibly bolster Driscoll’s case that he subjectively feared Miles and had an objective basis for doing so.

The appeals court also rejected the trial court’s conclusion that the cleaver and rock incidents lacked sufficient accuracy and credibility to be admissible as evidence because the evidence, in the form of Driscoll’s testimony, had nothing to corroborate it. This lack of corroboration did not make the testimony inadmissible at trial. The lack of corroborating proof, while it would reduce the persuasive weight the testimony would carry, did not bar its admissibility.

In defending yourself against a domestic violence charge, there are many pieces involved in your case. These include presenting all legally available defenses, including self-defense, and making sure you are allowed to put forward all the necessary evidence to support your case. The Tacoma assault attorneys at Smith & White, PLLC have extensive experience helping accused people defend themselves in court to the fullest extent of the law. Call us today at 253-363-8662 to schedule your initial consultation. The first consultation is free.