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Court Discusses Requirement for Unanimity in Alternative Means Crimes in Washington

On Behalf of | May 14, 2019 | Assault

In Washington, a unanimous verdict is required to convict a defendant of assault. Thus, if less than all of the jurors agree as to whether a defendant committed the crime of assault, the defendant cannot be convicted. Although unanimity is required for a conviction, in cases where the defendant is charged with an alternative means crime, a unanimous finding as to the manner in which the crime was committed is not required to uphold a conviction. This was elucidated in a recent Washington appellate court case, in which the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction for assault in the second degree despite no unanimous finding as to how the assault was committed. If you live in Washington and are facing assault charges it is critical to confer with a trusted Washington assault defense attorney to discuss the facts of your case and what evidence the State may use against you.

Facts Regarding the Alleged Assault

Reportedly, the police met with the defendant’s wife who had bruises, black eyes, a disfigured nose, and a cauliflower ear. The defendant was subsequently charged with two counts of assault in the second degree, which is an alternative means crime, to which he pleaded not guilty. During the trial, numerous witnesses testified regarding the defendant’s alleged assault of his wife on several occasions, including the wife, the child of the defendant and his wife, and the wife’s treating physicians. The defendant was ultimately convicted of both charges. The defendant appealed, arguing that he was deprived of his right to a unanimous jury verdict because there was insufficient evidence of each of the charged means of committing assault in the second degree.

Jury Unanimity

Assault in the second degree is an alternative means crime, which means that although the statute defining the crime sets forth a single criminal offense, it delineates seven subsections as to how the offense may be committed. In the subject case, the defendant was charged with assault in the second degree committed by three alternative means. The defendant argued that the jury was required to agree unanimously as to the means used to commit the crime to support a conviction.

The court rejected this argument, finding that where the jury is instructed on one or more alternative means that is not supported by sufficient evidence, an expression of jury unanimity is required, to ensure that there is an adequate basis for the verdict. Where sufficient evidence supports each of the alternative means, however, there is no right to express unanimity. In other words, while the jury must unanimously find that the defendant committed the crime charged, the jury does not have to agree as o the means by which the crime was committed. Here, the court found that there was overwhelming evidence as to each of the means alleged for committing the crime. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Meet with a Skilled Washington Weapons Assault Defense Attorney

If you are charged with second-degree assault or any other alternative means crime it is important to meet with a skilled Washington assault defense attorney regarding your rights under the law and what evidence the State needs to produce to convict you. The seasons assault defense attorneys of the Law Offices of Smith & White will work diligently to set forth convincing arguments in your favor in hopes of helping you retain your rights and liberties. You can reach us at 253-363-8662 or through our online form to set up a meeting to discuss your case.