Challenging irrelevant or prejudicial evidence is often a significant part of defense in a Washington state criminal case. Evidence of prior bad acts by the defendant is not admissible to show the defendant’s propensity to commit the charged crime, but may be admissible for other purposes, such as showing intent or motive. Even if there is an allowable reason to admit evidence of a prior bad act, it must be excluded if the risk of unfair prejudice substantially outweighs its probative value.
A defendant successfully challenged his conviction after a trial court allowed evidence of an alleged assault on his girlfriend that occurred prior to the events leading to the charges. His girlfriend called 911 and reported being assaulted by the defendant. She said he was intoxicated and had punched her. There were then sounds of her screaming and repeatedly saying “Stop” on the recording. There were also what the appeals court referred to as “hitting sounds.” Someone else then told the operator that the girlfriend looked to be “hurt quite badly” and provided a description of the defendant and his vehicle. The girlfriend provided the defendant’s name and said he had beaten her.
According to the appeals court opinion, the defendant later wrecked his truck. A woman subsequently found the defendant coming up her basement stairs. He told her he was hiding from the police because he had been abused and framed by his girlfriend. The woman ultimately called 911. Law enforcement found a large knife belonging to the woman in the defendant’s waistband when they arrested him.