Error in Washington Protection Order Does Not Necessarily Invalidate the Order

When a Washington civil protection order is issued, the parties generally know who the protected party is.  In some cases, however, there may be errors in the identification of the protected party in the order.  A defendant recently challenged his conviction for violation of a domestic violence court order because the domestic violence no-contact order identified a race for the protected party that did not match his wife’s race.

In 2013, the court issued a domestic violence no-contact order that prohibited the defendant from contacting a named individual.  The order included the protected party’s birthdate. It included a finding of fact that the protected party was the defendant’s “[i]ntimate partner.” The name and birthdate of the protected party matched that of the defendant’s wife. The order also stated the protected party was a black female.  It expired in July 2018.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the defendant’s wife called 911 in February 2017 and reported that the defendant had assaulted her.  The defendant told the responding officer that his wife had assaulted him at her home.  He acknowledged there was a no-contact order that prohibited him from contacting his wife, but stated he thought it had expired.

The court’s opinion stated that the defendant’s wife called 911 in February 2017 and reported that the defendant had assaulted her.  The defendant told the responding officer that his wife assaulted him at her home.  The opinion stated that the defendant acknowledged there had been a no-contact order, but said he thought it had already expired.  The officer verified the wife’s birthdate matched that of the protected party in the no-contact order.

The defendant was charged with two counts of violation of a domestic violence court order.  The defendant’s wife and the responding officer testified, but the defendant did not present any witnesses.  The trial court admitted the no contact order into evidence.  The defendant’s wife testified she was the protected party and verified her birthdate matched the one of the protected party.  She also stated she and the defendant had been married since 2009.  She also testified that she “identif[ied] as being Caucasian.

The defendant moved to dismiss both counts, arguing the state failed to prove the defendant’s wife was the protected party.  The court denied the motion, but allowed the defendant to argue this point.  The defendant’s attorney argued the defendant’s wife was not the protected party because she was not African-American.  The state pointed out the defendant admitted there had been a protection order keeping him from contacting his wife.

The jury found the defendant guilty of one count of violation of a domestic violence court order.  He appealed.

The defendant argued there was not sufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict because the no-contact order prohibited him from contacting an African-American female and there was no evidence his wife was African-American.  The appeals court found that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find the defendant violated the no-contact order because there was evidence that his wife was the protected party.  Although her race was mis-identified on the no-contact order, her full name and birthdate matched those listed for the protected party.  Additionally, the no-contact order stated the protected party was the defendant’s “[i]ntimate partner.”  She had testified she was the defendant’s wife and that they had been married when the no-contact order was issued.  The appeals court found this evidence “clearly sufficient” for the jury to find the defendant’s wife was the protected party.

The defendant also argued the protection order violated due process because it failed to give notice of who the protected party was.  The appeals court noted the defendant did not cite any authority requiring a no-contact order to provide an exact description of the protected party.  The appeals court found there was fair notice of the proscribed conduct.  There is fair notice when a person of reasonable understanding does not have to guess the nature of the prohibited conduct.  Here, the defendant had not shown that he would have to guess the identity of the protected person due to the error.  The no-contact order identified his wife’s name and date of birth and stated the protected party was his intimate partner.  The appeals court found there was sufficient information in the protection order to give the defendant warning that his wife was the protected party.

The appeals court affirmed the conviction.

This case shows that an error in a protection order will not necessarily invalidate the order.  If there is sufficient correct information in the protection order to allow the defendant to identify the protected party, then a conviction may stand even if there was an error in the protection order.

If you are pursuing or fighting a protection order, an experienced Washington civil protection order attorney can help you.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, to set up an appointment to talk about your case.

More Blog Posts:

Evidence in Washington Domestic Violence and No Contact Violation Cases

Washington Petitioner for Domestic Violence Protection Order Must Show Relationship