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Court Discusses Criminal Charges Against Minors in Washington

Although all citizens of Washington are expected to comply with the law, regardless of their maturity, the law presumes that children under a certain age lack the capacity to commit a crime. Thus, if a defendant charged with a criminal offense is under the age of twelve, the State must prove that the person understood the act he or she committed and knew that it was wrong. What constitutes evidence sufficient to overcome the presumption was discussed in a recent Washington assault case in which the court found the State failed to meet its burden of proof and reversed the defendant’s conviction. If you or your child are charged with assault, it is critical to retain a seasoned Washington assault defense attorney to assist you in fighting to protect your rights.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant, who was eleven years old, was confined to a juvenile detention center after she was charged with assaulting her grandmother, who was her legal guardian. While she was at the center, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and attention deficit hyperactive disorder, stemming from her troubled and traumatic childhood when she lived with her parents who suffered from mental illness and drug addiction.

Allegedly, while the defendant was at the detention center, she was charged with custodial assault. Before the trial on the custodial assault charge, the court held a capacity hearing and ultimately found that the defendant possessed the ability to commit the charged offense. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court incorrectly understood the law regarding juvenile capacity and therefore applied the wrong standard.

Juvenile Capacity to Commit Crimes

Under Washington law, a child between the ages of eight and twelve is presumed to lack the capacity to commit a crime. The presumption, which is referred to as the infancy defense, protects children, who are less capable than adults of understanding the wrongful nature of their behavior, from the criminal justice system. Thus, if the State wishes to overcome the presumption, it must show that the child had the ability to understand his or her behavior and to know that it was wrong.

Further, the presumption can only be overcome by evidence that is convincing and clear. In other words, it must demonstrate that it was highly probable that the child understood the nature of his or her act. A court weighing whether a child had the capacity to commit a crime will weigh several factors, including the nature of the crime, the child’s age, consequences of the conduct, and any acknowledgment that it was wrong.

While the State does not need to prove a child had actual knowledge of the repercussions of his or her conduct, the law is clear that the State must show that the child could harbor criminal intent to prove capacity. In the subject case, though, the trial court stated that criminal intent had nothing to do with capacity findings. Thus, the appellate court found that the trial court incorrectly applied the standard and reversed the finding of capacity.

Speak to a Skillful Washington Attorney

Children that are charged with crimes have numerous protections under the law, and in many cases, the charges against them will be dismissed. If your child was charged with assault, the skillful Washington assault defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White can advise you of your child’s rights and aid you in seeking the best result possible under the facts of your case.  We can be contacted through our online form or at 253-203-1645 to set up a meeting.

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