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Washington Court Discusses Evidence of Other Acts in Assault Cases

On Behalf of | Mar 16, 2021 | Assault

Criminal defendants are afforded the right to a fair trial. Among other things, this means that the State cannot introduce evidence that a defendant engaged in other wrongs, crimes, or bad acts to show that the defendant has bad character and acted in conformance with that character in committing the underlying offense. Such evidence may be admitted for other reasons, though, as long as it is not overly prejudicial. Recently, a Washington court issued an opinion discussing the preclusion of evidence of other wrongs and crimes in a case where the defendant appealed his numerous convictions for assault. If you are accused of committing an assault crime, it is in your best interest to meet with a trusted Washington criminal defense attorney to assess your possible defenses.

The Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was arrested and charged with two counts of fourth-degree assault. The charges arose out of an altercation with his girlfriend. Prior to trial, the defendant moved to preclude the State from introducing evidence that he owned weapons. The trial court denied his motion, and during the trial, the State offered testimony indicating that the defendant owned a gun and kept it in the home he shared with his girlfriend. The jury found the defendant guilty as charged, after which he appealed, arguing the trial court erred in admitting evidence of his gun ownership.

Admission of Evidence of Other Crimes, Bad Acts, and Wrongs

Under Washington law, evidence of bad acts, crimes, or wrongs is inadmissible to demonstrate a person’s character or to show that the person acted in conformance with that character. Trial courts have to begin with the assumption that such evidence should not be admitted. It is permissible to admit it, however, if it is introduced to show intent, knowledge, or a lack of mistake.

Prior to admitting such evidence for these limited purposes, though, a court must find by a preponderance of the evidence that the wrongful act occurred and identify the reason the party seeks to introduce the evidence. The court must also determine whether the evidence is relevant for purposes of proving an element of the charged offense, and whether its probative value outweighed its prejudicial effect.

In the subject case, the appellate court found that the defendant’s gun ownership may constitute an act, and could potentially fall under the umbrella of the exclusionary rule. But, as evidence the defendant owned a gun was not offered to show that he acted in conformity with a certain character on the date of the crime, it should not have been excluded. As such, the appellate court found that the trial court did not err in admitting it.

Meet with an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Washington

An assault conviction can result in significant penalties, but there are often numerous defenses a party charged with assault can assert. If you are faced with assault charges, the experienced assault defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White can assess the circumstances surrounding your arrest and help you to pursue the best legal result available in your case. You can contact us through our form online or by calling (253) 203-1645 to set up a meeting.