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Tacoma Washington Court Discusses Willful Violations of No Contact Orders

by | May 21, 2024 | Domestic Violence

People subject to no-contact orders can be charged with domestic violence crimes if they violate the terms of the orders. Generally, such violations must be willful. As discussed in a recent Washington case, however, the prosecution can demonstrate a person’s actions were willful by showing they acted knowingly. If you are accused of a domestic violence offense, it is critical to confer with a Tacoma domestic violence defense attorney about your possible defenses.

History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was subject to a domestic violence no-contact order that prohibited him from coming within 1,000 feet of his girlfriend’s residence, school, workplace, or any known location. The defendant signed this order. In July 2022, a funeral home reported a trespassing incident involving two individuals. When a police officer arrived, he found the defendant and his girlfriend sitting on a curb five to eight feet apart. The defendant had blisters on his face and an open wound on his arm.

It is alleged that the officer, who was concerned about the defendant’s health, provided him with water and transported him to the hospital. Subsequently, the State charged the defendant with a felony violation of the no-contact order. The defendant moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that the information was constitutionally deficient because it did not include the element of willfulness and that the State had not presented sufficient evidence of a willful violation. The trial court denied the motion, equating “knowing” with “willful,” and the jury found the defendant guilty. He then moved to challenge the verdict.

Willful Violations of No Contact Orders

Prompted by the defendant’s assertions, the court reviewed the sufficiency of the charging information and the evidence presented at trial. The defendant contended that the omission of “willfulness” from the charging document rendered it constitutionally defective. The court noted that under Washington law, a charging document must include all essential elements of a crime. While the no-contact order statute requires a willful violation, another applicable statute states that “willful” is satisfied if a person acts “knowingly.”

As such, the court found that the charging document’s use of “knowing” was adequate because, under statutory interpretation, “knowing” and “willful” are synonymous and concluded that the information was sufficient to apprise the defendant of the charges.

Regarding the sufficiency of the evidence, the court upheld the conviction, determining that a rational trier of fact could have found the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidence showed that the defendant and his girlfriend were seated next to each other, which implied willful contact, especially given their relationship and his prior violations. The court also addressed the jury instruction, stating that the instructions provided, which included definitions of “knowledge” and “intent,” were appropriate and allowed both parties to argue their theories of the case effectively.

Talk to a Capable Tacoma Attorney

If you are charged with a domestic violence offense, it is advisable to talk to an attorney about your rights. The capable Tacoma domestic violence defense attorneys at The Law Offices of Smith & White can evaluate your case and inform you of your options for seeking a favorable result. You can reach us through our form online or by calling us at 253-203-1645 to set up a conference.