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.
A man who was facing assault and weapons charges decided to represent himself, only to fail in achieving the outcome for which he’d hoped. After a trial, a reversal, and a new set of charges, the man finally pled guilty to second-degree assault. Ultimately unhappy with this outcome, the man attempted to challenge his case on the grounds of two violations of the U.S. Constitution — the protection against double jeopardy and the right to an attorney. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the plea violated neither constitutional provision, and the plea deal was proper, with the man’s case highlighting the clear risks involved in representing oneself in criminal cases.
In a criminal trial, the accused person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Once a jury convicts, however, the standards change. After a guilty verdict, an appeals court is required to rule the evidence to be sufficient and uphold the conviction if, when construed in the manner most beneficial to the prosecution, there is any way a rational trier of fact could have found the accused guilty of the crime. Based upon these rules, the Washington Court of Appeals rejected a jail inmate’s argument that his testimony at trial proved conclusively that he could not have held the required criminal intent to commit assault. Making determinations regarding which witnesses are (or are not) credible and which evidence is (or is not) persuasive are among the duties of a jury, so appeals courts will generally defer to the factual conclusions they make, as the court did in this case.
One of the proclaimed hallmarks of the United States, including Washington’s, judicial system is the fact that everyone is innocent until they are proven guilty. This applies to all people. So this applies to any accused person no matter what they are accused of. So this should apply to people accused of domestic violence.
However, if you or someone you love has been accused of domestic violence you probably feel like you are already being punished. You probably especially feel unjustly punished if you are the alleged victim and had no intention of pressing charges but your partner was arrested anyway because of the mandatory arrest law. You will have had a no contact order put on you. This will have made it impossible to converse with your partner either directly or indirectly. It has probably kept you out of your home. It may have made it difficult to go to work. It will have kept you from any children you have with your partner. You have had your gun rights taken away. If you have a job where a gun is required, you are out of work. You may have been ordered not to drink alcohol or have had other restrictions put on you. You probably already feel stigmatized by your family, friends or any else who is aware of the accusations.
Undoubtedly you want this whole experience to be over. Your defense attorney is required to bring you any plea bargain that the prosecution proposes. When he does it is likely that he will counsel you against taking it. You, on the other hand, may see it as a way out your current mess and may very well want to take it. It would be wise to listen to why he counsels against it. He knows what you are facing for the rest of your life if you accept. Continue reading