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Washington Court Discusses Evidence of Prior Wrongs in Domestic Violence Cases

On Behalf of | Feb 14, 2021 | Assault

Generally, the State is not permitted to introduce evidence of prior bad acts or wrongs to establish that a person violated the law on a certain occasion. In other words, the State cannot point to previous behavior in an effort to convince a jury that a defendant acted similarly on the date of an alleged crime. Evidence of other wrongs may be admitted for other reasons, however. The grounds for admitting evidence of prior acts of domestic violence was the topic of a recent Washington opinion, in a matter involving a felony violation of a no-contact order. If you are accused of a domestic violence offense, it is advisable to speak to a capable Washington domestic violence defense attorney about your rights.

The Alleged Crime

It is reported that the defendant and the victim became romantically involved when they were co-workers. At some point, a no-contact order was entered, preventing the two from associating with each other. Regardless, they saw each other at a party for their former employer. Later that evening, the victim sent a friend messages indicating she had been assaulted by the defendant. The friend went to the victim’s house and observed marks on her leg and face. He then heard someone in the garage and hid in the bathroom, and called 911.

Allegedly, during the 911 call, the defendant could be heard engaging in an altercation with the victim. The police arrived and arrested the defendant, who was charged with felony violation of a no-contact order. He was convicted, after which he appealed, arguing in part that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of prior acts of domestic violence at his trial.

Evidence of Prior Wrongs in Domestic Violence Cases

The Washington rules of evidence prohibit the admission of evidence of previous bad behavior for the purpose of establishing a person’s character and proving that the person’s acts align with that character. Such evidence may be admitted for other reasons, though, as long as it is relevant, and its probative value does not outweigh the risk of prejudice.

The court explained that Washington courts repeatedly admitted previous acts of domestic violence to help a jury assess the credibility of a victim that retracts allegations of harm or makes inconsistent statements. In the subject case, the court noted that the victim stated at trial that she was not assaulted by the defendant and merely stated that she was because she was drunk and wanted attention. Thus, the court found that the evidence of the defendant’s prior acts of domestic violence fell within the exception and affirmed his guilty verdict.

Confer with an Assertive Criminal Defense Attorney in Washington

A conviction for a domestic violence crime can permanently harm a person’s rights and reputation. If you are charged with a crime of domestic violence, it is wise to confer with a lawyer to determine your potential defenses. The assertive criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White can inform you of your rights and help you to seek the best outcome available in your case. You can contact us via the online form or at 253-363-8662 to set up a meeting.