To convict a person of a Washington crime, the state must prove each element of that crime. In a recent case, a defendant appealed a conviction for felony violation of a domestic violence no-contact order, arguing the state had not shown he had knowingly violated a no-contact order.
According to the appeals court’s opinion, the defendant went to his grandmother’s home on September 24, 2020. He asked to come in for a shower and some food. The grandmother let him in, but told him she would call the sheriff because he was “not supposed to be [t]here.” When officers arrived, they arrested the defendant.
A domestic violence no-contact order had been entered against him on June 14, 2019, prohibiting from contacting his grandmother or coming within 1,000 feet of her home. The order was still in effect in September 2020. The defendant had been convicted of violating a court order two previous times, so he was charged with felony violation of the no-contact order.
When asked if he thought there was a no-contact order in place when he went to his grandmother’s, the defendant said he “was not sure” and “didn’t know.” He acknowledged being in court when the order was entered, signing it, and receiving a copy.
The defendant was convicted and sentenced to a standard range sentence. The defendant appealed.
He argued that the evidence in support of his conviction was constitutionally insufficient. He argued that the state had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew there was a no-contact order and knowingly violated it.
Under former RCW 26.50.110(1), violation of a no-contact order occurs when there is an applicable no-contact order against the defendant, the defendant knew the order existed, and the defendant knowingly violated one or more of its provisions. Pursuant to former RCW 26.50.110(5), a no-contact order violation is a felony if the defendant had two or more prior convictions for violating a court order. To convict, the jury must find the defendant had actual knowledge, but may do so based on circumstantial evidence. The jury may infer actual knowledge if it finds the defendant had information that would lead a reasonable person in the same situation to believe the existence of a fact. RCW 9A.08.010(b)(ii).
There was evidence that the no-contact order prohibited the defendant from contacting his grandmother or being within 1,000 feet of her home. The order was effective until June 14, 2021. There was also evidence the defendant knew the order existed, was in court when it was entered, signed it, and received a copy. There was also evidence the defendant knowingly went to his grandmother’s while the order was in effect. Additionally, there was evidence the grandmother warned him she would call the sheriff because he was “not supposed to be [t]here.”
The jury did not have to believe the defendant’s testimony he did not know if the order was still in effect. The jury could find the defendant knowingly violated the order if it determined he had information that would lead a reasonable person in the same situation to believe the order was still in effect. The appeals court determined that a rational fact-finder could have determined the defendant knew that the order was in effect and knowingly violated it, based on the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the state. The appeals court found there was sufficient evidence supporting the verdict.
The appeals court affirmed the judgment, but remanded the case for the trial court to strike the community custody supervision fees because it had found the defendant was indigent.
This defendant was convicted under former no-contact order laws, but current RCW 7.105.450 contains similar language. If you have been accused of violating a no-contact order or a civil protection order, a Washington civil protection order attorney can work with you to identify any possible defenses. Call us at (206) 622-6562 to set up a consultation.