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Washington Court Explains When a Unanimous Guilty Verdict is Required

On Behalf of | Jul 26, 2019 | Domestic Violence

Under Washington law, for a defendant to be found guilty by a jury in a criminal case, the jury’s decision must be unanimous. There are exceptions to the rule, however, such as cases involving a continuing course of conduct. This was elucidated in a recent Washington appellate court case, in which the defendant was convicted of domestic violence stalking. If you live in Washington and are charged with stalking or another crime of domestic violence you should consult a skilled Washington domestic violence defense attorney to discuss your options for protecting your liberties.

Pertinent Facts and Procedure

Allegedly, the defendant and his victim were married for eighteen years. During the pendency of their divorce, the victim obtained a no-contact order, that prohibited the defendant from coming within 500 feet of her home. The defendant was observed driving around the victim’s property on numerous occasions, after which he was charged with felony stalking and a gross misdemeanor offense of violating a civil antiharassment protect order, both of which were crimes of domestic violence. The case proceeded to trial, and the jury convicted the defendant of both charges. He was sentenced to twelve months and one day in prison for the stalking charge. The defendant subsequently appealed arguing, in part, that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury that it needed to unanimously agree that his actions constituted a crime.

Unanimity Requirement

Under Washington law, only a unanimous jury can issue a guilty verdict in a criminal case. If the evidence shows numerous acts occurred that could constitute the charged offense, either the State must elect which act it relied upon in issuing the charges or instruct the jury that it must choose which act it found the defendant committed that constituted a crime. If the State does not elect an act or provide the jury with a unanimity instruction, it is a constitutional error that requires a new trial, unless it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the error was harmless.

In cases in which the defendant’s acts were part of a course of continuing conduct, however, the State does not have to elect an act or issue an instruction as to unanimity. A continuing course of conduct will exist when the behavior is part of an ongoing enterprise. A continuing course of conduct also promotes a single objective and occurs at the same time and place.

In the subject case, the court noted that the crime of stalking occurs when a person repeatedly and intentionally harasses or follows another person. Further, repeatedly means on more than two occasions. Thus, the court found that only harassing actions are committed on a recurring basis can the State establish stalking. As such, the court found that the unanimity instruction was not required and affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Meet with a Trusted Washington Domestic Violence Defense Attorney Regarding Your Charges

If you are convicted of a crime of domestic violence it can result in significant penalties including a lengthy prison term. If you are a Washington resident and are charged with a crime of domestic violence it is crucial to meet with a trusted Washington domestic violence defense attorney regarding your charges.  The knowledgeable domestic violence defense attorneys of the Law Offices of Smith & White will work diligently to craft an effective defense to help you seek a favorable result. We can be reached at 253-363-8662 or via our form online to schedule a confidential and free meeting regarding your charges.