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Washington Court Overturns Assault Conviction on Double Jeopardy Grounds

While a person can be convicted of more than one crime for acts that occur during a single event, state and federal law prohibits a person from being convicted for the same criminal activity more than once. Thus, if a defendant is convicted multiple times for essentially the same crime, it may constitute a violation of the rule against double jeopardy and may be grounds for reversal. This was discussed in a recent Washington case in which the defendant was convicted for both second-degree and fourth-degree assault, for a single act. If you are accused of an assault crime, it is in your best interest to speak to a dedicated Washington assault defense attorney regarding your rights.

The Alleged Assault

It is reported that the police responded to a report of a domestic violence incident between the defendant and his victim. When the police spoke to the victim, she stated that the defendant had strangled her and bit her thumb and upper lip. The victim was covered in blood as well. The defendant was charged with second-degree assault for strangling the victim and two counts of fourth-degree assault for biting her.

Allegedly, during the trial, the victim testified that the defendant held her down rather than strangling her, and while he was holding her down, he bit her thumb. She denied that he bit her lip or that she advised the police that he bit her lip. The defendant was found guilty of second-degree assault and one of the counts of fourth-degree assault. The defendant appealed, arguing the acts for which he was convicted happened in a single assault and convicting him more than once constituted double jeopardy.

The Double Jeopardy Clause

On appeal, the court explained that both the state constitutional protection against double jeopardy and the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibits multiple penalties for the same offense. Further, the court stated that pursuant to Washington case law, a court must apply a unit of prosecution analysis to determine whether multiple convictions for assault violate double jeopardy.

Under this review, the court will ask what course of conduct or act the legislature has defined as a punishable offense. Thus, under the rule of lenity, Washington courts have held that assault should be treated as a course of conduct offense unless and until the statutes dictate otherwise. The court went on to explain that whether multiple acts should be considered a course of conduct is fact-dependent and requires an examination as to the length of time the assault occurred, where it took place, and whether they were interrupted. Based on the foregoing and the facts of record, the court granted the defendant’s motion and vacated his conviction for fourth-degree assault.

Confer with a Knowledgeable Washington Attorney

A defendant can only be tried or convicted for a criminal act once, and if the State charges or convicts a person of multiple offenses for a single act, it may be unconstitutional. If you are accused of assault or any other crime, the knowledgeable Washington assault defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White can advise you of your rights and help you to fight for a just outcome. You can contact us at 253-203-1645 or through our online form to schedule a conference.

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