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Court Assesses Admissibility of Recorded Jail Calls in Washington

by | Apr 29, 2024 | Assault, Assault and Evidence, Domestic Violence, Evidence

Under Washington law, the prosecution bears the burden of proof in criminal trials. The State is permitted to use various means to establish a defendant’s guilt, including, in some instances, business records, which include recorded phone calls. As discussed in a recent Washington domestic violence case, however, such records are only admissible if their authenticity is established. If you are charged with a domestic violence offense, it is important to understand what evidence the court may introduce against you, and you should talk to a Tacoma domestic violence defense attorney as soon as possible.

History of the Case

It is reported that police officers responded to a 911 call at an apartment complex. Upon arrival, an officer was informed by a man that his wife’s nephew was involved in an argument with his girlfriend. They led the deputies to the apartment, where they heard a verbal altercation from the bathroom. The officer announced himself as the police, but receiving no response, kicked the door open. Inside, they found a woman, later identified as the victim, and a male, later identified as the defendant.

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with unlawful imprisonment, a domestic violence offense. Subsequently, the court issued a pretrial no-contact order against the defendant. During the trial, the State presented recorded telephone calls allegedly made by the defendant to the victim from jail despite the no-contact order. The trial court provisionally admitted these calls, subject to future redactions. A jury convicted the defendant. During sentencing, the court imposed penalty assessments. The defendant appealed.

Admissibility of Recorded Jail Calls

On appeal, the court examined the admissibility of the recorded jail calls. The defendant argued that the State failed to establish a proper foundation for their admission under RCW 5.45.020. However, the court found that authentication of the recordings could be achieved through various means and did not solely rely on RCW 5.45.020. Specifically, the court stated that authenticity could be established through circumstantial evidence and witness testimony, pursuant to case law and the Rules of Evidence.

In this case, the State provided evidence identifying the voices on the calls as belonging to the defendant and the victim, along with circumstantial evidence from the conversations. Additionally, the court noted the testimony of the jail’s records specialist confirming the accuracy of the recordings and their storage procedure. Therefore, the court upheld the trial court’s decision to admit the recordings as evidence, finding no abuse of discretion.

Regarding the defendant’s appeal for reconsideration of the penalty assessments, the State conceded to the defendant’s request; as such, the court agreed to remand the case to strike the victim penalty assessment. The court also directed the trial court to reconsider the imposition of the domestic violence assessment fee, considering the defendant’s indigence and the intention to impose only mandatory legal financial obligations.

Talk to a Capable Tacoma Attorney

In domestic violence cases, the State bears the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, while the defendant does not have to offer any proof, but in some cases it may benefit them to do so. If you are accused of a domestic violence offense, it is smart to talk to an attorney about your options. The capable Tacoma domestic violence crime defense lawyers of The Law Offices of Smith & White can advise you of your rights and formulate compelling arguments on your behalf. You can contact us via our form online or by calling us at (253) 203-1645 to arrange a conference.