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Washington Court Discusses a Defendant’s Right to Confront Witnesses

On Behalf of | Apr 17, 2019 | Assault

Criminal defendants are afforded the right to a meaningful defense by both the Washington and United States Constitutions. This means, in part, that a criminal defendant has the right to confront any witnesses who testify in support of the State’s position. If a criminal defendant is not afforded the right to a meaningful defense, it can be grounds for seeking a reversal of any conviction obtained by the State, as illustrated in a case recently decided by the Washington Court of Appeals. In that case, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction, due to the fact that the defendant was convicted of assault without being permitted to question witnesses regarding facts surrounding the alleged assault. If you are a Washington resident charged with assault you should speak with a capable Washington assault defense attorney to discuss your rights under the law.

The Alleged Assault

Reportedly, the defendant’s assault charges arose out of an altercation with the victim. The victim drove the defendant to the hospital due to an eye injury. When the defendant was discharged, he discovered the victim had left. The defendant had no money or cell phone, so he sold his watch to pay for a taxi to drive him home. He subsequently went to the victim’s house and demanded money from him, arguing that the victim’s abandonment forced him to sell his watch. The victim refused to pay, after which the defendant left.

Allegedly, a few days later the defendant returned to the victim’s house with a friend. What transpired at the victim’s house is disputed between the parties. It was conceded that the defendant and the victim engaged in an altercation, but it was disputed whether the victim had a knife during the altercation. When the friend was examined by the State’s attorney regarding what happened, he testified he believed the victim had a knife. He admitted he had previously told the police he did not think the victim was armed, however, and that he never saw the victim with a knife. When he was cross-examined by defense counsel regarding the inconsistencies in his account, the State’s attorney objected to the line of questioning and the court sustained the objection, halting any further testimony on the matter. Further, during closing arguments, the State stated multiple times that the friend testified that the victim did not have a weapon. The defendant was convicted of his charges, after which he appealed.

The Constitutional Right to a Meaningful Defense

Under the Sixth Amendment of both the Washington and United States Constitutions, a defendant has the right to a meaningful opportunity to present a defense. This right encompasses the right to cross-examine witnesses. Cross-examination is the main method of testing the credibility of a witness and the truth of his testimony. In the subject case, the friend was a meaningful witness, as his testimony regarding whether the victim had a knife was relevant to the issue of whether the defendant was acting in self-defense. Thus, the court’s refusal to let the defendant’s counsel question the friend as to whether he believed the victim was armed violated the defendant’s constitutional rights. As such, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction.

Consult a Skilled Washington Criminal Defense Attorney Regarding Your Assault Charges

If you live in Washington and are charged with assault you should consult a skilled Washington assult defense attorney to discuss the circumstances surrounding your arrest and the rights you are afforded under the law. The assault defense attorneys of the Law Offices of Smith & White have the skills and knowledge needed to provide you with a meaningful defense and will aggressively advocate on your behalf to help you retain your liberties. We can be reached at 253-363-8662 or through our online form to schedule a confidential and free meeting to discuss your case.