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Washington Court Discusses Admissibility of Prior Bad Act Evidence

On Behalf of | Mar 14, 2020 | Assault

It is a well-established rule of law in Washington that the State cannot introduce evidence of a defendant’s prior bad behavior to establish that the defendant committed the crime for which he or she is currently charged. While evidence of prior bad actions cannot be used to prove guilt, it is admissible for other reasons. This was discussed in a recent domestic violence case decided by a Washington appellate court, in which the defendant argued that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of verbal abuse. If you are faced with domestic violence charges, it is in your best interest to retain a skilled Tacoma domestic violence attorney to assist you in formulating a defense.

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the defendant became romantically involved with the victim, and shortly thereafter moved into her home with his five-year-old son. The victim alleged that the defendant punched her in the face multiple times, after which she advised him that she no longer felt safe and wanted to end the relationship. In response, the defendant kicked her in the head and punched her in the face, causing her face to split open. The victim was then afraid to leave her home due to an implied threat from the defendant. She was also worried that if she left, the defendant would harm his son. She eventually called 911, which resulted in the defendant’s arrest. He was ultimately charged with second-degree assault, fourth-degree assault, and unlawful imprisonment. He was convicted of second-degree assault and appealed on numerous grounds, including the assertion that the trial court erred in allowing the State to admit prior bad act evidence.

Evidence of Prior Bad Acts

Under Washington law, the State is prohibited from introducing evidence of prior bad acts to demonstrate that the defendant had the propensity or character to commit crimes. Evidence of prior bad acts may be introduced for other purposes, however. For evidence of prior bad acts to be admitted for other purposes, the court must find that misconduct occurred, and assess the purpose for admitting the evidence, and whether the evidence is pertinent to an element of the current crime. The court must also find that the evidence’s probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect.

In the subject case, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in allowing the state to introduce evidence that he verbally abused his son. The appellate court disagreed, finding that the evidence was properly admitted establishing why the victim felt restrained, in that it showed that she feared the defendant would harm his son if she left her home. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Trusted Washington Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a crime of domestic violence, it is advisable to meet with a trusted Washington domestic violence attorney to discuss what evidence the State may be permitted to use against you at trial. At the Law Offices of Smith & White, our dedicated criminal defense attorneys will work tirelessly to craft compelling arguments in your favor to help you strive for a successful outcome. You can contact us through our online form or at 253-363-8662 to set up a consultation.