Domestic Violence; Self Defense

In the relatively recent domestic violence case of City of Tacoma v. Driscoll (Wash. Ct. App. Mar. 22, 2016), The Court of Appeals, Division II reversed a conviction, and remanded the case for a new trial because it found that the lower court violated the defendant’s right to present a defense when it excluded the defendant’s testimony about two prior incidents where the victim had attacked him.

According to the facts of the case, a witness had called police to a bus shelter after observing the defendant kneeing the alleged victim in the head. The defendant told officers, however, that he was acting in self-defense. The defendant was subsequently charged with one count of fourth-degree assault involving domestic violence. At trial, the defendant offered evidence of three prior incidents wherein the victim had attacked him. One of the attacks, in fact, had resulted in a charge of second-degree assault against the victim; the other two attacks could not be corroborated by documentation or evidence other than the defendant’s testimony, however. The trial court allowed the defendant to present evidence of the first attack because it was documented, but not the other two attacks. On appeal, the defendant argued that his constitutional right to present a defense was denied when the trial court excluded his testimony regarding the two unsubstantiated incidents.

As all Washington domestic violence criminal defense lawyers know, a self-defense claim requires proof that the defendant had a subjective fear of imminent danger of bodily harm, that this belief was objectively reasonable, and that the defendant exercised no more force than was reasonably necessary. Evidence of a victim’s prior acts of violence known to the defendant is relevant to a claim of self-defense because it can substantiate the state of mind of the defendant, and it can also indicate whether, at that time, the defendant had reason to fear bodily harm. Thus, whether evidence of a prior act of violence was corroborated only goes to the weight of the evidence, not to its admissibility into evidence.

In consideration of the foregoing, the Court of Appeals, Division II concluded that the evidence of the victim’s prior attacks on the defendant were, in fact, relevant because they had a tendency to make the fact that the defendant subjectively feared the victim more likely than not. The court also concluded that the prior attacks were not offered as character evidence against the victim, but to show the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the domestic violence event. The Court of Appeals, Division II ultimately reversed the lower court’s conviction of the defendant and remanded the case for a new trial.

If you (or a loved one) find yourself facing a DV related criminal charge, it is infinitely important to immediately contact and hire a Seattle domestic violence attorney. The Seattle domestic violence attorneys that make up the criminal defense team of SQ Attorneys are highly qualified and reputable Seattle domestic violence 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.

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