A recent opinion from the Washington Court of Appeals offers an important reminder about the significance of lesser included offenses in a criminal trial. In this recent case, a man was able to get a conviction overturned because fourth-degree assault was a lesser included offense, but the trial judge refused to give the jury the instruction on fourth-degree assault that the accused man requested.
In criminal law, there are certain issues in which the defendant’s state of mind or knowledge are vitally important matters to determining his level of guilt. In other areas, the defendant’s mental state is completely irrelevant. This distinction is what unraveled one Navy seaman’s defense against a charge of assault on a police officer. The seaman sought a self-defense jury instruction, based upon his alleged lack of knowledge that the man detaining him was a police officer. The Washington Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling because, in the seaman’s case, it didn’t matter what he did or didn’t know about the officer. It only mattered that the officer’s detainment of him was lawful, which the seaman did not contest.
In an important new ruling from the Washington Court of Appeals that shows just how broad the state’s electronic surveillance law is, the appeals court threw out an attempted murder conviction against a husband whose threats to kill his wife were accidentally recorded on a cell phone’s voicemail application. Even though no third person was involved in secretly recording the exchange, the fact was that neither the husband nor the wife had consented to being recorded, which triggered the electronic surveillance law and made the recording inadmissible in the husband’s trial.
A famous song from the 1960s, borrowing from Jewish and Christian scriptures, states that there is a “time to every purpose under heaven.” Encounters with police can be like that. Which is to say, when interacting with the police, there is a time to be very forthcoming, and there is a time to refrain from speaking. Suffice it to say, whatever the specifics of your situation may be, the first thing you say when you encounter a law enforcement officer should probably not be, “I did it.” One man from southwestern Washington made that mistake in his case, a case in which the Washington Court of Appeals upheld his conviction.
A spilled beer at a bar escalated to a physical conflict and ultimately led to a customer’s stabbing of a guard. In the customer’s assault trial, he argued unsuccessfully for a jury instruction about self-defense. The Washington Court of Appeals upheld the decision not to issue the instruction. The law requires the defendant to have evidence of three things in order to warrant the instruction, and this defendant had none of the three.
There are a few, but only a limited few, reasons that a law enforcement officer can search your person or possessions without a warrant. If the officer conducts a warrantless search and obtains evidence against you, and you challenge the admission of this evidence at trial, the law requires the state to prove that the warrantless search fit within one of the valid exceptions to the prohibition against warrantless searches. In one recent vehicular assault case, a deputy conducted a warrantless search of a driver’s purse in order to expedite the towing of her car. The trial court said that this was part of the the officer’s “community caretaking” function, but the Washington Court of Appeals later reversed that ruling and awarded the driver a new trial. Without proof that the search was necessary for some health-and-safety-related reason (which the state did not have in this case), the search was not within any exception and therefore was illegal.
A recent case involving an alcohol-fueled quarrel that devolved into a knife attack, while yielding an outcome unfavorable to the woman accused of assault, offers some helpful information on the law of self-defense in assault cases. The Washington Court of Appeals decision, which upheld the set of jury instructions the trial judge gave before the jury found the woman guilty, demonstrates what a claim of self-defense may and may not mean in a criminal trial in relation to the instructions the judge gives the jury. In this case, the instructions were not worthy of reversal because the instructions the judge gave were justified by the evidence, and they did nothing to impede the accused woman’s ability to present her defense fully.
A man facing numerous charges stemming from a physical altercation with his girlfriend was able to prune one but not two convictions off his record in the case. While the state conceded that the two second-degree assault charges against the man were both from the same criminal conduct, the man’s assault charge and harassment charge were separated by a period of time during which he appeared calm and had time to pause and reflect. This gap in time was enough to create two separate criminal intents and allow both charges to withstand the man’s appeal to the Washington Court of Appeals.
A trial court’s decision to sentence an offender, who was only 16 at the time of his crimes, to more than 92 years in prison for his involvement in a drive-by shooting was overturned recently. The trial judge stated that he could not use the offender’s young age as a basis for giving him a lighter sentence. The Washington Court of Appeals said this was incorrect because, in the wake of a 2015 Washington Supreme Court ruling, courts are required to analyze whether an offender’s age affected his culpability.
The U.S. and Washington constitutions give criminal defendants certain clear rights. In Washington, one right accused people have is the right to a public trial. There are several procedural obligations that the courts must follow in order to ensure that an accused person’s trial meets this requirement. One requirement that does not exist is that prosecuting and defense attorneys cannot use sidebar to submit peremptory juror exclusion choices. The Washington Supreme Court, in a recent decision explaining the extent of the public trial right as it relates to submitting peremptory challenges, concluded that attorneys could make these challenges at sidebar as long as certain other processes are followed.