Domestic violence violation of a protection order is generally a gross misdemeanor under Washington law, but it can be a class C felony if a violation of the order is also an assault or if the defendant has at least two prior convictions for violating a protection order. RCW 26.50.110. The Washington Supreme Court considered whether a jury has to reach a unanimous decision as to which of these alternatives forms the basis of the verdict in a recent case.
At the time of the incident, there was a no-contact order prohibiting the defendant from contacting his former partner. When the defendant’s former partner learned that he was at a nearby bus, she went there to address some items she had to return to him. She testified that the defendant got angry and struck her twice. She then ran to a gas station, and the defendant followed her. The store clerk testified that the defendant followed the woman around the store for several minutes. The defendant left the store when the clerk called the police.
The jury was instructed that there were five elements that must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. One of those elements was that either the defendant’s conduct was an assault, or the defendant had been convicted of violating a court order twice previously. The court instructed that these were alternative elements, and the jury did not have to be unanimous as to which of the two alternatives had been proved, as long as each juror found that one of the alternatives was proved. The defendant did not object to the instruction or to the prosecutor’s discussion of the instruction in the closing argument.