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Court Discusses the Admissibility of Motive Evidence in Washington Assault Cases

On Behalf of | Oct 30, 2020 | Assault

Assault crimes are often committed in the heat of the moment, in response to an emotionally charged event. Thus, if the State can produce evidence that demonstrates motive, it may be able to persuade a jury that a defendant is guilty of the offense charged. The admissibility of motive evidence was recently discussed in a Washington assault case in which the court denied the defendant’s appeal of his conviction. If you are charged with assault or another crime, it is smart to talk to a trusted Washington assault defense attorney to determine what evidence may be used against you.

The Alleged Assault

It is alleged that the defendant and his victim were engaged and lived together. The victim confronted the defendant regarding his drug use, and they became embroiled in a physical argument. The defendant choked the victim, who broke free and ran outside. The defendant then followed the victim and hit her and proceeded to drag her back into the house. A motorist passing by observed the incident and allowed the victim to call 911. The defendant then fled.

Reportedly, the defendant was arrested two days later. He was ultimately charged with second-degree assault, witness tampering, and other crimes. A trial was held before a jury, and the defendant was convicted as charged, and his offenses were deemed crimes of domestic violence. Following his sentencing hearing, he appealed.

Admissibility of Motive Evidence in Washington Assault Cases

On appeal, the defendant argued, in part, that the trial court erred in permitting the victim to testify as to the defendant’s drug use. The defendant’s attorney objected to the testimony as prejudicial, but the trial court permitted limited testimony on the issue.

Under Washington law, an evidentiary ruling will be reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Pursuant to that standard, a court will abuse its discretion if it issues a ruling for untenable reasons or on untenable grounds. The appellate court explained that allowing evidence to be admitted pursuant to the rules of evidence is not a constitutional issue. Further, the court elaborated that non-constitutional errors are harmless if it is reasonably probable that such errors did not affect the ultimate verdict.

In the subject case, the defendant argued that the victim’s statement that the argument regarding the defendant’s drug use was the motivating factor for the assault was inadmissible under the Washington rules of evidence. The court declined to address whether the defendant’s claim had merit, noting that there was no reasonable likelihood that the victim’s single statement affected the outcome of the trial. Specifically, the court explained that the medical evidence supported the victim’s assertion she was choked. Thus, the court found the admission of the victim’s motive testimony to be a harmless error, and affirmed the defendant’s convictions.

Speak to a Skilled Washington Attorney

Precluding prejudicial evidence is crucial to obtaining a fair criminal trial. If you are charged with an assault offense, the skilled Washington assault defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White can fight to preclude any unjust evidence from being introduced at trial to provide you with a strong chance of a good result. You can contact us at 253-363-8662 or via the form online to set up a conference.