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Washington Court Discusses Fifth Amendment Rights in a Domestic Violence Case

On Behalf of | May 14, 2021 | Domestic Violence

One of the fundamental rights provided by both the Constitution and state law is the protection against self-incrimination. In other words, parties cannot be compelled to submit to interrogation that would force them to make statements that would implicate their guilt. If a party says something incriminating on his or her own volition, though, the statement may be admissible as evidence at a criminal trial. In a recent Washington domestic violence matter, an appellate court issued an opinion discussing the nuances of the right against self-incrimination, ultimately upholding the trial court’s decision to admit incriminating statements. If you are charged with a domestic violence offense, it is smart to meet with a Washington domestic violence defense lawyer to discuss your rights.

The Alleged Attack

Reportedly, the defendant became suspicious that his girlfriend was having an affair. He drove to a location where she was meeting with another man and, when he arrived, slammed his truck into reverse, striking his girlfriend’s vehicle. The defendant’s girlfriend, who was getting into the car at the time, fell to the ground, suffering injuries. The police arrested the defendant and charged him with numerous crimes, including domestic violence assault. Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress statements he made in a phone call to his girlfriend regarding the assault, but the court denied his motion. He was convicted, after which he appealed, arguing, in part, that the trial court erred in denying his motion.

Protections Against Self-Incrimination

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court deprived him of his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Washington law because the phone call with his girlfriend constituted a custodial interrogation. The court rejected his argument. The court explained that pursuant to the Miranda ruling, a person accused of a crime has the right to an attorney during a custodial interrogation, even if the State has not filed formal charges against the person.

If a person accused of a right invokes the right to remain silent, the police may not continue to interrogate the individual until he or she has been provided with counsel or waives his or her rights. Not all attempts at questioning a suspect about his or her crimes are considered interrogations, however. Here, the defendant called his girlfriend from jail after informing the police he wanted to speak to an attorney but answered his girlfriend’s questions about the incident regardless. The court ultimately found that the defendant was not in custody at the time of the conversation, and therefore, it was not considered a custodial interrogation. Thus, his conviction was affirmed.

Speak to a Trusted Criminal Defense Attorney in Washington

People charged with domestic violence crimes have numerous rights, including the right to avoid incriminating themselves, and if their rights are violated, the evidence against them may be inadmissible. If you are accused of a crime, it is smart to speak to an attorney about your possible defenses. The trusted Washington domestic violence defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White assess the facts of your case and aid you in seeking the best legal result possible. You can contact us through our online form or by calling 253-363-8662 to set up a consultation.