Many crimes have degrees, and a defendant charged with one crime may ultimately be found guilty of a less serious offense that carries reduced penalties. Thus, in many instances, a defendant will request that the jury receive a lesser included offense instruction in hopes of avoiding a conviction for the more serious charge. A lesser included offense instruction is not appropriate in every case, but if a trial court errs in determining that such an instruction is not warranted, it may constitute grounds for reversing a conviction, as demonstrated in a recent Washington ruling issued in an assault case. If you are charged with an assault offense, it is in your best interest to speak to a trusted Washington assault defense attorney as soon as possible to assess your options.
The Alleged Assault
It is reported that the defendant lived with the victim, who was his girlfriend. The couple got into an argument, and the defendant pushed the victim to the ground. While the exact details of what transpired after that are disputed, the defendant admitted that he pinned the victim to the wall. The victim stated that he strangled her and dragged her through the apartment. The defendant was charged with second-degree assault by means of strangulation and fourth-degree assault. During his trial, he asked for a lesser included offense instruction for the fourth-degree assault charge. The court denied his request, and he was convicted on both counts. He then appealed, arguing the trial court erred in denying his request.
Lesser Included Offense Instructions
Pursuant to Washington law, a defendant is entitled to a lesser included offense instruction if every element of the lesser included offense is a necessary element of the charged offense, which is referred to as the legal prong, and if the evidence in the case supports an inference that the defendant committed the lesser offense crime, which is known as the factual prong. The court explained that while the applicable test was still valid, recent rulings had caused confusion as to whether the factual prong required evidence that only the lesser included offense was committed, to the exclusion of the greater crime. Continue reading