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Washington Court Analyzes Admissibility of an Assault Victim’s Medical Records

On Behalf of | Dec 6, 2019 | Assault

In many domestic violence cases, the defendant will dispute the alleged victim’s account of events, arguing that the victim has an ulterior motive for making the accusations or that the victim’s account is unreliable. Thus, it is not uncommon for a defendant to seek to introduce evidence to impeach the victim, but not all evidence will be deemed admissible. In a recent Washington appellate case, the court analyzed when medical records indicating a victim had an altered perception of reality may be introduced to impeach the victim in a domestic violence assault trial. If you reside in Washington and are charged with a domestic violence crime, you should speak with a trusted Washington domestic violence defense attorney to discuss what you can do to protect your rights.

Factual and Procedural Background of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant and his wife, the reported victim, had an argument. During the argument, the defendant told his wife to kill herself, stated he would kill her himself and strangled her twice. The wife testified that during both times the defendant strangled her, she couldn’t speak or breathe, she had tunnel vision, and she thought the defendant was going to kill her. The defendant was charged with one count of domestic violence second-degree assault for each of the strangling instances, as well as a count of felony harassment for threatening to kill the wife.

Reportedly, the wife was diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly before the alleged assault. During the trial, the husband sought to introduce medical records regarding the wife’s diagnosis and alleged symptoms, to support his position that the wife had an altered perception of reality at the time of the alleged assault. The court deemed the records inadmissible. The defendant was convicted on all counts, after which he appealed, arguing, in part, that the trial court erred in excluding the victim’s medical records.

Right to Cross Examine a Witness

Under Washington law, a defendant has a right to present a defense and confront witnesses, but the right is not absolute. Rather, any evidence a defendant seeks to introduce must be relevant, meaning it must have a tendency to make the existence of a key fact more or less probable. Even if the evidence is relevant, however, it may nonetheless be inadmissible if the risk of confusing the issues, undue prejudice, or misleading the jury is far greater than the probative value of the evidence.

In other words, if the court excludes evidence the defendant seeks to introduce during cross-examination, the exclusion will only violate the confrontation clause if the evidence has at least minimum relevance, is not prejudicial to the extent that it disrupts the fairness of the fact-finding process, and the defendant’s need for relevant information outweighs the State’s interest in withholding the information.

In the subject case, the appellate court found that the trial court did not err in excluding the wife’s medical records. Specifically, the court found that there was a high risk the jury would misunderstand the importance and meaning of the wife’s diagnosis without having an expert witness to explain the diagnosis. Thus, the appellate court found that the trial court accurately ruled that the risk of prejudice greatly outweighed the minimal probative value of introducing the records.

Consult a Skillful Domestic Violence Defense Attorney

If you live in Washington and face charges of domestic violence, it is advisable to consult a skillful Washington domestic violence defense attorney regarding the evidence the State may introduce against you and what penalties you may face. The zealous criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White have the skills and experience needed to develop effective arguments on your behalf to help you seek the best outcome available. You can reach us at 253-363-8662 or through our form online to set up a consultation.