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Court Explains Aggravated Domestic Violence Crimes Under Washington Law

On Behalf of | Oct 21, 2020 | Domestic Violence

Under Washington law, if a defendant is convicted of a crime that constitutes an act of domestic violence, the court may find that aggravated circumstances are present that warrant an exceptional sentence. Recently, a Washington appellate court denied a criminal defendant’s challenge to such a sentence, finding that the defendant’s interpretation of the relevant statute was flawed and would lead to an absurd result. If you are accused of committing a crime of domestic violence, it is wise to meet with a knowledgeable Washington domestic violence defense attorney to talk about your options.

History of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant and his wife were separated when the defendant visited the wife in the marital home. They were embroiled in an argument when the husband took out a gun and threatened to kill himself. At that time, the wife was in the bedroom, holding the couple’s infant daughter. The defendant calmed down and tried to uncock his gun. In doing so, he accidentally discharged the weapon, shooting the wife through the bedroom door.

It is reported that the wife subsequently died from her injuries, and the defendant was charged with first-degree manslaughter. During the trial, the judge gave the jury an instruction on the elements of an aggravated domestic violence offense. The jury found the defendant guilty of manslaughter and found that the evidence supported the conclusion that the act was an aggravated domestic violence offense. The court imposed an exceptional sentence above the standard range, and the defendant appealed.

Aggravated Domestic Violence Crimes Under Washington Law

On appeal, the defendant argued that the statute defining aggravated circumstances only applied if two or more children witnessed the alleged offense. The court disagreed. The court went on to explain that the relevant statute provides that a court can impose a sentence outside of the standard range if compelling and significant reasons justify such a sentence. The statute also sets forth a list of aggravating circumstances that would support such a sentence, including an act of domestic violence that occurred within the sound or sight of either the defendant’s or the victim’s minor children.

Thus, the question on appeal was whether the term children could mean a single child. The court explained that, under Washington law, courts might construe plural words as singular and singular words as plural, unless such an interpretation would be contradictory to the legislature’s intention or objectionable to the context of the law. This method of interpretation has been codified as well, and under the code, the word children is specifically indicated to include a child. Based on the foregoing, the appellate court found that the trial court properly interpreted the statute and advised the jury, and therefore, the defendant’s sentence was appropriate.

Confer with a Trusted Washington Attorney

A court will weigh numerous factors in assessing an appropriate sentence for a person convicted of a crime, including whether the offense is considered an act of domestic violence. If you are accused of committing such an act, the trusted Washington domestic violence defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White may be able to offer you a compelling defense to help you seek a favorable legal result. You can reach us through our online form or at 253-363-8662 to schedule a conference.