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Court Rules a Mid-trial Change to the Charging Information is Improper

On Behalf of | Apr 13, 2019 | Domestic Violence

Under Washington law, a defendant can only be convicted of the crime for which he or she was charged, or a lesser included offense of that charge. Thus, if the State charges a defendant with violation of a protective order but fails to offer proof to establish the defendant committed the crime as charged, the State cannot then modify the information to change the elements of the alleged crime. This was illustrated in a case recently decided by the Washington Court of Appeals in which the court reversed a defendant’s conviction for violation of a protective order, following the State’s mid-trial amendment of the information charging the defendant. If you live in Washington and are charged with violation of a protective order it is in your best interest to consult a skilled Washington domestic violence defense attorney to discuss potential defenses to the charges you face.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Charges

Reportedly, the defendant and his wife were in the process of divorcing when the wife obtained a protective order against the defendant. The order prohibited the defendant from contacting the wife or entering either of the two properties they previously inhabited together. However, the defendant was advised he could contact the sheriff’s department to assist him in obtaining his belongings from one of the properties. The defendant was also personally served with the order. The defendant was subsequently arrested after his truck was seen at one of the properties. The truck was searched at it was found that both the defendant’s and the plaintiff’s belongings were in the truck. The defendant was found on the property charged with violating the protective order and second-degree burglary.

It is alleged that after the State rested its case at trial, the defendant testified that he was at the property to return the plaintiff’s belongings and pick up his belongings. Further, he admitted the property was subject to the protective order. The defendant moved to dismiss the violation of the protective order charge, however, due to the fact that the information alleged he violated the order by contacting the wife. The State then moved to amend the information to allege that the defendant violated the order by entering a protected property. The State’s motion was granted and the defendant was found guilty, after which he appealed.

Amendments to the Charging Information

Under Washington law, a defendant has a right to be informed of the charges he or she faces and to only be tried for the offenses charged. Thus, an amendment to the charging information in the middle of a trial is a reversible error as a matter of law, even if the defendant does not show prejudice. In other words, the State cannot amend the information after it rests its case unless the amendment is to a lesser included offense. The court noted that in the subject case, the amendment was to include an alternate method of committing the alleged crime and therefore, was improper. As such, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction.

Consult a Seasoned Washington Domestic Violence Defense Attorney

If you are a Washington resident charged with violating a protective order or another domestic violence crime you should consult a seasoned Washington domestic violence defense attorney to discuss the facts of your case and to develop a defense. The domestic violence defense attorneys of the Law Offices of Smith & White have ample experience defending parties charged with crimes of domestic violence in  Washington and will provide you with a thorough and assertive defense. You can contact us at 253-363-8662 or through the online form to schedule a free and confidential meeting.