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Washington Court Rules Statements Made Prior to Arrest are Admissible at Trial

On Behalf of | Dec 26, 2018 | Domestic Violence

Many criminal charges and convictions are based on eyewitness testimony and statements, such as statements made by the defendant or other parties. In some cases, individuals charged with a crime may be able to preclude any statements made before or after his or her arrest from being introduced into evidence and used against the individual. Not all statements made to the police must be precluded, however.

A Washington court recently held that statements made by a defendant before his arrest were admissible at the defendant’s trial for violating a no-contact order. If you are charged with a domestic violence crime, you should consult a seasoned Washington criminal defense attorney to help you protect your rights.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest and Trial

Allegedly, police officers were assisting in boarding up a residence subject to abatement when they observed the defendant and a female companion sleeping in a van outside of a residence. Police approached the vehicle and asked the defendant and the female to exit the vehicle and identify themselves. The defendant was agreeable and gave the police a name, and then the defendant and his companion walked away.

The police found there was an active warrant on the name the defendant provided the police, and subsequently located the defendant, arrested him and read him his Miranda warnings. The defendant then advised the police he had given them his brother’s name because he there was a no-contact order between him and his female companion. The officer then ran a search under the defendant’s true name and found the no-contact order. The state subsequently charged the defendant with a felony violation of a no-contact order and making a false statement to the police.

Reportedly, prior to the trial, a hearing was held to determine whether the statements the defendant made to the police were admissible. During the hearing, the defendant’s counsel did not object to the admissibility of the statements but stated he would leave it up to the court’s discretion. The court found the statements to be admissible, because the defendant was not detained when he provided the initial name, and he waived his right to remain silent when he made the second statement. During the trial, the state’s sole evidence was the testimony of the arresting officer, which included the defendant’s statements. The defendant was found guilty and subsequently appealed arguing ineffective assistance of counsel.

The Standard for Proving Unlawful Seizure

On appeal, the court stated that an attorney’s performance is ineffective if it is below an objective standard of reasonableness. On the issue of whether an attorney is ineffective for failing to file a motion to suppress certain statements, the defendant must show the motion to suppress would have been successful. Here, the defendant argued he was unlawfully detained when he provided the police with his brother’s name, and therefore a motion to suppress that statement would have been successful. The court declined to adopt this reasoning, stating that a person is only detained when his or her movement is so restrained that he or she reasonably believes he or she is not able to leave or decline an officer’s request and end the encounter. Factors weighed in considering whether a person has been seized include whether physical force was used, whether a weapon was displayed, and how many officers were present when the individual was allegedly detained.

The court specifically stated that when an officer approaches an individual to ask limited questions related to his function as a community caretaker, the officer has not seized that person. In this case, no force was used and no weapons were drawn. The court found the record showed the officer merely asked the defendant to exit the van and asked him questions. As the defendant did not have permission to be on the property where his van was located, the officer was performing functions of his duties by asking the defendant questions, to ensure he was not engaged in criminal activities. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Retain an Experienced Washington Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a domestic violence crime, it is in your best interest to consult an attorney experienced in defending individuals charged with domestic violence crimes to discuss possible defenses to the charges you face. The skilled criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith and White will assist you in your pursuit of a favorable result under the circumstances. Contact our offices at 253-363-8662 or via the online form to schedule a meeting.