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Washington Court Explains Expert Opinion Evidence Admissible in Criminal Trials

On Behalf of | Mar 27, 2023 | Assault and Evidence

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In Washington criminal matters, the State bears the burden of showing, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the charged offense. The State can rely on direct and circumstantial evidence to prove its case. Generally, any evidence that is relevant is admissible as long as it does not confuse or mislead the jury and is not overly prejudicial. Recently, a Washington court discussed whether the use of expert testimony in criminal matters is permissible in a case in which the defendant appealed his conviction for assault. If you are accused of assaulting another person, it is smart to talk to a Tacoma assault crime defense attorney to determine what evidence the State may use against you.

Background of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant and his girlfriend had a tumultuous relationship. One evening when the girlfriend was at the defendant’s house, they had a disagreement. The girlfriend attempted to leave, but the defendant locked her out of the house without her possessions or car keys. The girlfriend then laid in the bed of the defendant’s truck, and when the defendant saw her, he began grabbing her to attempt to get her to leave.

Reportedly, the defendant placed his arms around the girlfriend’s neck until she began to see spots. She told the defendant she could not breathe, and he eventually let her go. Two days later, the defendant was charged with second degree assault by strangulation. During his trial, the State filed a motion to admit testimony from a medical expert regarding how strangulation happens and what issues are common following strangulation. The defendant objected to the motion, but the court granted it despite his objections. He was convicted, after which he appealed.

Evidence Admissible in Criminal Trials

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in allowing the State to present expert testimony on the issue of strangulation on the grounds that it was not helpful to the jury. Alternatively, he argued that it was cumulative and confusing. The court disagreed and affirmed his conviction.

In doing so, the court explained that under the Washington Rules of Evidence, expert testimony is admissible if the witness in question is qualified to testify as an expert, their opinion is based on a theory generally adopted in the scientific community, and their testimony would be helpful to the fact finder. Expert testimony may nonetheless be precluded if it is confusing or misleading. In the subject case, the court found the testimony in question to be helpful to the jury and did not find it to be confusing or misleading. Thus, it affirmed the trial court ruling.

Consult a Skilled Tacoma Attorney

During trials for assault, the State will most likely attempt to introduce any evidence that demonstrates the defendant’s guilt, but not all evidence is admissible. In this case, perhaps the defense should have hired their own expert to rebut the State’s nurse.  If you are charged with an assault crime, it is important to understand your rights, and you should consult an attorney as soon as possible. The skilled Tacoma criminal defense lawyers of The Law Offices of Smith & White can evaluate the evidence against you and formulate persuasive arguments on your behalf, to provide you with a strong chance of obtaining a favorable outcome. You can reach us via our form online or by calling us at 253-363-8662 to set up a conference.

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