In Washington, if someone is charged with the crime of assault (domestic violence related or otherwise), he may have the right to allege that he acted in ‘self-defense’. To be applicable, however, a self-defense claim requires that the Defendant prove that: (1) he had a fear of imminent danger of bodily harm; (2) that the subjective fear was objectively reasonable; and (3) he exercised no more force than was reasonably necessary to thwart the danger he faced. Interestingly, evidence of a victim’s prior acts of violence known to the Defendant may be relevant to a claim of self-defense because it can reveal the Defendant’s ‘state-of-mind’ as well as indicate whether the Defendant had reason to fear bodily harm. A relatively recent Washington case, City of Tacoma v. Driscoll (Wash. Ct. App. Mar. 22, 2016), ruled that whether evidence of a prior act of violence was corroborated goes to the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility. This is a big win for the defense bar and Defendants alike.
In City of Tacoma v. Driscoll the Defendant argued that the lower court violated his right to present a defense when it excluded his testimony regarding two prior incidents of the victim attacking him. The Court of Appeals agreed with the Defendant, reversed the conviction, and ordered a new trial.
A synopsis of City of Tacoma v. Driscoll is as follows: A witness called police officers to a bus shelter after observing the Defendant kneeing the victim in the head. The Defendant told officers he had acted in self-defense. The defendant was subsequently charged with one count of fourth-degree assault involving domestic violence. At trial, the Defendant asserted his actions were done in self-defense, and he offered evidence of three prior incidents in which he alleged the victim had attacked him. One of the attacks resulted in the victim of Driscoll’s case being charged with second-degree assault; the other two attacks could not be corroborated by documentation or evidence other than the Defendant’s testimony. The trial court allowed the Defendant to present evidence of the first attack because it was documented, but excluded the other incidents. The Defendant appealed the ruling claiming his constitutional right to present a defense was denied when the trial court excluded his testimony regarding the two incidents. The Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence of the prior attacks on the Defendant was relevant because: (1) it had a tendency to make the fact that the Defendant subjectively feared the victim more likely than not, (2) excluding such evidence because it was uncorroborated would be improper, and (3) the prior attacks were not offered as character evidence against the victim, but for the permissible purpose of showing the Defendant’s state of mind at the time of the event giving rise to the charge of assault.
If you or a loved has been arrested for a domestic violence related crime in King County, Washington immediately contact a Seattle domestic violence attorney to protect your rights and interests. The Seattle domestic violence attorneys that make up the criminal defense team of SQ Attorneys are highly qualified and reputable Seattle domestic violence criminal defense lawyers that are dedicated to providing top notch, aggressive representation for those arrested for crime all across Western Washington and the Greater Puget Sound region. The team creates success by working with law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney’s office to ensure that all facts and circumstances related to the criminal allegations are considered in creating the fairest, most equitable and just resolution possible in light of all the surrounding circumstances of the given case. So, whether cited for domestic violence related assault, malicious mischief, property destruction or some other crime, protect yourself … call SQ Attorneys immediately at 206.441.0900.