Generally, Washington’s “corpus delicti” rule requires the state to prove that the crime occurred, independent of the defendant’s own statements. The state must provide sufficient evidence in its case-in-chief. However, if the defendant presents evidence during their case-in-chief, they waive the challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence as of that point and an appeals court may consider all of the evidence to determine if there was sufficient evidence to support an inference that the crime happened.
A defendant recently challenged his conviction for felony violation of a protection order, arguing the state had presented insufficient evidence of the knowledge element of the corpus delicti because it relied on statements he had made to the responding officer.
The defendant’s grandaunt obtained a temporary protection order prohibiting the defendant from coming within 1,000 feet of her home on January 18, 2022. According to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion, the next day she heard someone try to unlock her door and saw the defendant through the peephole. She told him he was not supposed to be there and he had to leave. He first sat down and smoked a cigarette before leaving.
The grandaunt called 911. The responding officer found the defendant about eight blocks away. The defendant flagged the officer down and told him he needed help getting his things from the house because there was a protection order. He said an officer told him the previous night that he needed to schedule a civil standby so he could get his things. The defendant said he tried to get his personal belongings earlier that day because he thought he had 24 hours before the order took effect.
The state charged the defendant with felony violation of a protection order. The state used the defendant’s statements to the officer to show he was aware of the protection order when he went to the house.
The defendant moved to dismiss the case, arguing there was insufficient evidence of the corpus delicti of the crime because the state failed to prove he had knowledge of the protection order. He argued the state could not prove there was a valid protection order because it had not provided any evidence he was served.
The court denied the motion, concluding the statute only required evidence the defendant knew the order existed and did not require proof of service. The court further determined that knowledge of the protection order was not an element of the corpus delicti. The state therefore did not have to present evidence corroborating the defendant’s statement to establish knowledge.
The defendant testified he knew about the order when it went to the house. The court found him guilty of the charge, finding he knew about the order.
The defendant appealed, arguing the state failed to corroborate his statement to the officer to establish the knowledge element of the corpus delicti. The state argued knowledge is not an element of the corpus delicti of violation of a no contact order.
In this case, the defendant testified that he had made the statement to the police officer. He also testified that other officers had informed him of the temporary no-contact order the night before. He said they gave him the order. He also testified that he went to the location identified on the protection order to retrieve his belongings despite knowing he was not supposed to go there.
The appeals court determined the defendant’s own testimony corroborated his statement to the officer. With that corroboration the conviction did not violate the corpus delicti rule and the appeals court affirmed the conviction.
As this case shows, statements to a police officer can be used against a defendant. If you are uncertain about the terms of a protection order, an experienced Washington civil protection order attorney can advise you. If you believe you may have violated a protection order, you should consult with an attorney before making a statement to the police. Blair & Kim, PLLC, is experienced in both civil protection orders and criminal defense. Contact us at (206) 622-6562 to schedule a consultation.