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Washington Court Discusses the Right to Confront Witnesses in Criminal Cases

On Behalf of | Aug 19, 2019 | Assault

Criminal defendants have numerous rights under state and federal law, including the right to confront a witness. In other words, a person charged with a crime has a right to question the anyone testifying on behalf of the State, and if a person is denied that right it may result in an unjust conviction. A Washington appellate court recently explained what constitutes a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to confront a witness in a case in which the defendant was charged with assault. If you are a resident of Washington facing assault charges it is critical to meet with a seasoned Washington assault defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss your rights.

Facts and Procedures of the Case

It is reported that the defendant’s mother was awoken by screams in the early morning, after which she went into the room her son shared with his girlfriend, where she encountered the girlfriend  who had a swollen eye and blood on her face and appeared frightened. The defendant and his mother were the only other two people in the house. The defendant’s mother called 911 and reported that the defendant struck the girlfriend in the face. The mother handed the girlfriend the phone and the girlfriend stated that she thought her jaw was broken. When the police arrived the girlfriend told the officer that the defendant punched her in the face. EMS arrived as well, and transported the girlfriend to the hospital, where she told the emergency room doctor that the defendant hit her.

It is alleged that the defendant was arrested and subsequently charged with assault in the second degree. The police could not find the girlfriend prior to the trial and the case was tried without her. The defendant was convicted and appealed, arguing that the admission of the girlfriend’s out of court statements that he hit her violated his right to confront witnesses.

Right to Confront a Witness

The confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution states that in criminal cases the person accused of a crime has the right to confront the witnesses against him or her. The clause is meant to protect defendants from out of court statements and affidavits being used in the place of live witnesses at trial. An admission of a testimonial statement violates a defendant’s right to confront a witness, except in cases where the witness is inaccessible and was previously cross-examined by the defendant. A statement is not subject to the confrontation clause if it is not testimonial, however. Whether a statement is testimonial depends on its context and primary purpose a reasonable person would understand the statement to have.

In the subject case, the court found that the girlfriend’s statement to the emergency room doctor was for diagnosis and treatment, and the statements made to the police officer were contemporaneous and the purpose of obtaining a statement was to address an ongoing emergency and therefore, they were not testimonial. Thus, the court affirmed the verdict.

Meet with a Skilled Attorney to Discuss Your Case

If you live in Washington and are charged with assault it is essential to meet with a skilled Washington assault defense attorney to discuss your case and what steps you can take to protect your rights. The proficient criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White have the knowledge and experience needed to present a strong defense to help you seek a favorable outcome. You can reach us through our online form or at 253-363-8662 or via our form online to schedule a meeting to discuss your case.